Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Mobile Glitch Proves Nonprofit a Winner

Here in Santa Cruz, it's Open Studios Art Tour season. The first three weekends of every October are given over to the visual arts as about 300 artists open their studios and share their processes with the public.

Ann Griswold Osterman & OS Art Tour Signs
The OS Art Tour here is produced by the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County (a former employer of mine) and the Art Tour itself is managed by my best friend and all-around incredible organizer, Ann Griswold Ostermann. This is her 10th year of managing the Tour and something different always seems to come up. I'm hoping to get Ann to sit still long enough to let me do an interview with her about how the Art Tour has evolved in the last decade, with a particular emphasis on social media, but in this post I'll just describe a recent bump in the road.


The OS Art Tour is like a treasure-hunting adventure: you have a guide with pics of all participating artists' works and their addresses. And you have maps. Our county is small compared to others in California, but there's still a lot of ground to cover and the landscape varies between ocean and redwood covered mountains, farmland, and city.

This is only the second year that OS has made a mobile app available and only the first year that there is both an app for iPhones and one for Android. Plus, this is the first year that Ann worked with the developer for either app.

The big glitch became apparent the first day of the Tour - when an address was not found by Google Maps, a message was supposed to be sent to the developer so the coordinates could be gotten and the address mapped. For several addresses, this did not happen and Google Maps defaulted to the geographical center of the studio's zip code, which led at least one person on a wild goose chase, looking for an artist.

How Ann Handled It

As soon as she knew there was a problem, Ann came up with a solution: she put out the word that anyone who had bought an app would be given a hard copy Guide with maps simply by showing the app on their phone to the docents at the preview gallery. This offer was repeated on the website and in an email to the artists to make sure that everyone was aware of it. No other problems were reported for the opening weekend of the Tour.

For Next Year

The Arts Council of SC was lucky that few people had bought the app, but next year there will probably be an increase and I would be surprised if - in a few years - the sales of the app doesn't outpace that of the Guide.

Next year, Ann will make sure the contract between the Arts Council and the app developer includes Quality Assurance testing and how it will be carried out. They'll start the app process a month earlier and make sure the developer has a list of coordinates for each studio. After that, there will be a weekly check-in for progress and potential changes. She will also have a number to which texts about problems can be sent and again, the hard copy Guides will be available if, for whatever reason, the apps don't work.

The takeaway from the OS Art Tour app difficulty is that now, while your audience is still getting comfortable with using their smart phones for such applications as an art tour, is the time to start working at getting them right. And for coming up with workarounds for when they don't. In the future, small nonprofits, whose staff already fill multiple job needs, will have less time available for the inevitable tech crisis, while the number of persons using that mobile tech will only have increased.

The Open Studios Art Tour in Santa Cruz is coming up on its 30th year, but in terms of mobile technology and social media, it is still learning. And so are the rest of us.

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