This interview with Medium CEO Ev Williams is hard to summarize but well worth reading if you run an arts organization. In it, he addresses the term “platisher” … what it means for Medium to be both a platform (helping people connect their writing with the world) and a publisher (curating content to “help good stuff rise to the top”). I immediately connected with it as something we do at SOMArts … providing nonprofits with platforms (eg stages, fiscal sponsorship and space) but also curating performances and exhibitions. Between the two we leverage many opportunities to amplify community voices and perspectives. And while the curated programs receive more financial and personnel support, venue requests at SOMArts increased 18% in 2014 and requests for other services were up as well.
With increasing frequency, arts organizations are operating as “plurators” offering curated programming (creative productions selected by well-qualified staff) alongside platforms—festivals, space, and support services—and often the public can’t tell the difference between the two.
Some local examples of organizations offering similar programs at different levels of curation include:
- Intersection for the Arts’ new Incubator/CORE/Accelerator model
- Headlands Center for the Arts’ fully sponsored Artist In Residence program, and the similar but only partly subsidized Affiliate program
- Z Space’s Technical Residencies and Guest Shows/Rentals
As marketing, fundraising and technical tools become more and more accessible, the old-school presenting model of nonprofit arts becomes less and less relevant. Should it matter? If so, to whom should it matter, and under what circumstances? What is Medium’s responsibility to the writers who use their platform? What are nonprofits’ responsibility to monitor controversial content of their fiscally sponsored projects or venue rentals?
In general, platforms have more elasticity and earned revenue potential but something holding us back is scalability … we encounter scaling and capacity issues when we seek to monitor cultural production. Or, we struggle to find a perfect balance : =”platform” participants are asked to pay some fees (often subsidized), meet complex mission-driven criteria and provide impact data while they carry most of the responsibilities for self production.
Noticing this trend in the arts world and parallels to startups such as Medium, I wonder if it is time to once again try some back-end collaboration between nonprofits. Eight years ago, when the recession hit, The San Francisco Foundation launched a grant for nonprofits to collaborate and/or merge. One group tried to refine their collective approach to fiscal sponsorship but arts workers with a dark sense of humor called it the “die with dignity” fund … a way for those struggling in the recession to shutter and/or merge.
And yet, the idea of merging behind-the-scenes operations still makes sense. New technology has made it easier to manage venues, program applications and fiscally sponsored projects. Does it also bode well for new ways of working together? Could nonprofits merge their platform management while retaining the unique value of their curated programming? Or, if we all become independent plurators, perhaps the increase in earned revenue can help us weather the affordability crisis in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, I’ll be following Medium to see how the “platisher” tightrope works out in the tech sector.
Image credit: modified image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/antonymayfield/