Artists are known for intrepid innovation, exploring new platforms and paving the way for the mainstream. Media artists have been at the forefront of technological developments, jumping on the latest distribution platforms and repurposing according to their needs. Mobile phone content (by which I mean artwork in all its formats, and not those awful frog ringtones) has become ‘de rigueur’, with festivals and ‘partnerships’ popping up all over the world. But despite the built-in revenue potential of mobile distribution, artists still remain largely unrewarded for their creativity.

This is no new issue. The same problems within media arts sustainability are as evident now as they ever have been, some even more so. Artists are still not paid a decent wage, and yet have to jump through the same business restrictions as large corporations – the artist becomes administrator (or social worker, or teacher…). Funding bodies are under even tighter restrictions, irrespective of the Government currently in place, and the maturing artist feels as foolish returning to the begging bowl as they do the job centre. Schools watch ever-widening gaps between the technical prowess of pupils and teachers. Business continues to fail to invest in innovation and risk taking, but encourages artists to approach them with innovations.

"Aware" - A research project that explored the social and cultural uses of mobile devices and produced tools which mapped the locative contexts of daily lives

"Aware" - A research project that explored the social and cultural uses of mobile devices and produced tools which mapped the locative contexts of daily lives

Beware, however, of wolves in sheep’s clothing if you put forward ‘a great idea’ before first asserting your intellectual property rights. [1]

Is there really a successful, sustainable, route-to-market for the independent artist through the mobile phone? Well, in all honesty, no. Not yet. But, oh my, are we close.

Let us just back up a bit. I have been arguing the case for a sustainable source of revenue for independent artists across the capture–distribution model of mobile communications technology through the-phone-book Limited [2] since 2000. We first ran workshops and presented our strategies at Electrofringe03 during This Is Not Art (TINA) in NSW. Keen for us to evangelise Australia into the production of mobile content, former ANAT Director Julianne Pierce had us networking our little behinds off, schmoozing corporates, academics and artists alike. Return visits resulted in more advanced production and ‘train-the-trainer’ workshops, accompanied by yet more networking. Schemes like Mobile Journeys [3] and the miniSeries [4] /miniCinema [5] programs of stories for the mobile generation allowed us to grow and share while having the best time with some beautiful people.

But enough of the love-fest. There was some serious work to be done and after 2005, we left ANAT and the creative community to get on with it. Which they certainly did – with gusto, winning an award for [6] under the expert guidance of Sasha Grbich and the team. Portable Worlds (2007) [7] went on to embellish a workshop program with a touring exhibition – not only could you make your own work at school, but you could see exemplary work from emerging Australian artists. Work to inspire you to continue developing your own craft. Portable Worlds (second edition) [8] launched in March 2008 with an even bigger legacy; not just films on mobiles, but interactive pieces in which the audiences actually use mobile devices to engage with the works.


So what next? I believe there is a real need to see the sector grow along holistic, independent models; new, ethical, business models for a new creative, economic and technological era. Mobile phones have moved away from being an emerging technology now, but we are still not at a stage of true independence and self-sustainability. Through Portable Platforms [PP], ANAT has ambitions to provide support across the entire realm – which is quite a challenge to such a small company. If the sector is to grow, legacy needs to be asserted at all levels:
1. School children need to learn how to create content, access content and maintain their own social networks responsibly.
2. College students need to maintain skills in the latest production packages and to have audiences for their work, so that peer review and quality control can be maintained.
3. Emerging professionals need to know how to assert their intellectual property rights and where to find distribution systems that – if they charge at all – share both profits and audience statistics, well before signing ancient contracts with out-of-date models for publishing.
4. Innovation and risk taking need to be supported in order for new technologies and processes to exist, which in themselves need to be fed back in to school children, so they can become college students and in turn emerging professionals who will take risks in their own right.

And so, the Portable Platforms [PP] program at ANAT is exploring a partnership with Podmo9 through the mega10 program towards the production of innovative, self-directed mLearning tools for school pupils (that’s point 1 ticked). These will be enhanced through physical training schemes to empower both teachers and learners, and to encourage them to become part of the user-producer model. Both developing and emerging artists who have been generating mobile content will be encouraged to contribute to this process, sharing their work and experiences with peers and pupils alike (point 2, tick).

ANAT also aims to work with the Podmo platform as a sustainable alternative to the corporate rip-offs otherwise known as the telecommunications networks. Instead of consumers paying a small price for the artwork but a huge price for the cost of download (with little or no return for the artist), Podmo allows both consumer and artist to manage their own microsites. The artist can decide whether or not to charge for all, or some, of their content, while the user can download the artwork across a Bluetooth network for free. Yes, that’s right, free. That’s NO cost of carriage.

The combined experiences of the-phone-book Limited and ANAT will be documented to provide resources that should help creative entrepreneurs understand the international marketplace and their rights. Our intention is to support young producers in becoming empowered self-sustaining operators. By maintaining their own economic microsystems and sharing the benefit of the audiences / consumers who visit their contemporaries, they can devise a new business model for a new economic and technological era (point 3, tick). Markets do not need to be en-mass to be big; niche is the new black – especially when it’s a global niche market – but that’s another story…

And so to point 4… over the years, ANAT‘s programs have explored all sorts of experimental, disruptive technologies; from wearable to nano, laser graffiti to robots and beyond. Bringing international artists to Australia and taking Australian artists to benchmark international communities is core to our belief that if you invest in the artist and their experimental approaches you can only generate exciting new methods and ideas. Sharing and collaboration is at the forefront of our development as a creative generation (point 4, tick).

So watch this space for more on our future portable opportunities, and be sure to keep us informed about yours: [email protected]

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