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Digital Cultural Commentator

Overview

A picture paints a thousand words, the old saying goes, summing up the way in which tomorrow’s Generation Z population will choose to talk to each other. Increasingly, visually based social media networks such as Instagram and Pinterest are replacing written word rivals such as Twitter and Facebook among younger audiences. In 2016, Instagram will grow by 15.1%, compared with just 3.1% for the social network sector as a whole, and will add 26.9 million users over the next four years, almost double that of Twitter, according to eMarketer. By 2025, visual will dominate social media communications, and workers who can master this shared language of imagery will be much sought-after as communicators to mass audiences by businesses and art institutions. Museum and galleries will want their help to reach out to mass audiences through the stars of the next generation of social media, while brands will treasure their ability to use their background in art and culture to help them build new and relevant public images in cyberspace. It’s already clear that a plethora of new job opportunities will be created over the next decade in the field of visual cultural communications. By 2018, there will be a surge in demand for multimedia artists, animators, and illustrators – especially those with computer technology skills – as companies seek to talk to their customers in online and digital formats, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2016, 68% of galleries were strongly interested in learning more about how social media and online marketing can be used to engage and attract both new and existing customers, according to the UK Contemporary Gallery Report. Acting to plug an expected skills gap, universities and colleges are already moving to offer training in this emerging global industry. In 2015, Penn State Behrend in the US introduced a new major in digital media, arts and technology. The programme combines traditional liberal arts study with the technical skills needed to work across digital media. Students can choose to study any two of four fields: digital humanities, including library and archive work; storytelling through film, video and gaming; simulation and human-computer interaction; and data visualization and assessment.” Sharon Dale, associate professor of art history and chair of the DIGIT programme, says, ‘Students combine digital skills such as animation, music production, text-encoding, objectbased programming and GIS mapping with virtually any subject that interests them from history and psychology to game development. ‘They will leave us with advanced technical skills and the JOB 03 ability to think, write and collaborate creatively.’

Job Description

In the 2020s, Digital Cultural Commentator will be the secret weapon that both brands and centres of high culture will use to cut through the cacophony of online white noise to talk effectively to tomorrow’s audience. Masters of the next generation of visual social media, they will be able to bridge the gap between the arts and a digitally savvy public by using simple, impactful images to communicate complex and challenging ideas. Their skills with emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality will allow them to build relationships with Generation Z audiences in whole new worlds and spaces. Stephanie Storey, author, art history major and TV/news producer says, ‘Future art history students will have the visual vocabulary to tell compelling stories with a single image. ‘They will have an instinctual grasp of successor social networks to Snapchat and Instagram that will allow them to build online visual campaigns that go viral and connect with huge audiences.’ In the arts, their role will be central to discovering new crowd-sourced revenue streams as more public arts institutes become privatised and need to generate income from supporters and visitors. ‘In the future, these big public national collections could be majority private businesses. So they need to convert the engaged visitor into a spending customer in order to survive and thrive financially,’ says Jo Marsh, director and consultant at cultural brand strategy and communications agency, Jane Wentworth Associates. Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, believes skilled workers such as digital culture commentators will be key to enabling art institutes such as her own to attract visitor spending power and guarantee future commercial success. ‘They are the ones that will allow audiences to have a playful encounter with a museum and art gallery that doesn’t make them feel stupid, so suddenly they feel it’s a place for them,’ she says. ‘Once you’ve attracted them in that way, you can transition to a deeper, more scholarly engagement as they grow older and more experienced.’ Training in art history, curation and cultural studies will develop core skills that allow Digital Cultural Commentators to understand and communicate the context in which the arts exists. But an education in business studies, writing, marketing and PR skills, combined with a grounding in social media youth cultures, will give graduates an edge over purely academic rivals. ‘Future workers in this world will need a background in a subject like art history to have a deeper understanding of why the arts are relevant to everyone,’ says Marsh, of Jane Wentworth Associates. ‘But as we see more and more younger audiences moving from 140 characters of Twitter to Snapchat, we’ll need people who understand spontaneity and very fast interactions and can communicate serious subjects to mass audiences on those terms.’ ‘The level of visual communication is incredibly exciting, people feel like they can express a mood and a point-ofview just through imagery. People who can do that will be incredibly valuable to us.’ One of their most important jobs will be to identify and communicate with social media influencers, such as YouTube stars with multi-million-strong audiences, to supply them with images they will want to share around the world. ‘There’s a new generation of curators emerging who completely understand that it’s not enough to speak in an academic way,’ says Marsh. ‘They know that they have to use visual languages across social media to reach as many people as possible.’ However, it won’t be just the arts that are seeking future graduates with a strong combination of cultural training and visual social media savvy. Brands too will want to employ Digital Cultural Commentators to build new identities. Stephanie Dieckvoss, arts management consultant and stage 1 leader on BA culture, criticism and curation at CSM, says, ‘It seems to me that there is a lack of awareness by companies that are not trained in analysing imagery about the history and implications of visual language.’ ‘I can see that art historians and people who are trained to use images to tap into our shared cultural history could actually help brands shape their visual identity in the future.’ Her own programme combines curatorial training with writing skills and an awareness of digital images and networks. ‘Our students are very good with social media too, and often have some knowledge of web design training,’ she says. ‘These are people who know how to sell complicated ideas in the new social mediums. Some of them move into advertising and branding agencies or design studios. ‘They are interested in helping the very different worlds of culture and tech to interact, and discover new opportunities in the process.

Application Form

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