Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Lindens plan to become art patrons

Lorenzo de Medici, Italian merchant prince and patron of the arts

Evidently, someone at the Lab has been reading Aristotle and Machiavelli. Today, Niko Linden made an announcement that LL would be starting "a Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) program which will help support, encourage, and highlight Second Life artists and their work."

So....the Lab is taking on the role of Renaissance prince: who knew that "M" stood for "Medici" Linden? Here's a key bit from Niko's blog post:

"The Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) program's goal is twofold:

To create an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community

To provide a new way for artwork to live on within our ever-changing virtual world.

While still under design, this program will be a partnership between Linden Lab and Second Life artists, with the additional objective of gathering, displaying, and maintaining art at an inworld Arts Hub. We are currently building the LEA organizing committee, which will include members of the Second Life artist community and Linden Lab employees, to guide the program's management. Under the creative direction, organization and guidance of the LEA committee, we will hold biannual art exhibitions, highlighting the most creative artwork happening inworld."

It seems that the Lab is looking at two key strategies: to create a "hub" or concentration of Linden-supported artistic endeavor; and to have its employees--including M--take a direct role in managing the program.

Niko's blog has already generated some interesting comments (as well as the usual banalities). One of my favorites so far was posted by a resident named Escape Unplugged:

"Live music. Dance. Drama. Storytelling. Performance art. Machinima.

All arts that are happening in SL. Quite possibly they're all happening right now. The endowment HAS to include these other artistic expressions in SL if it truly to "create an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community"

I'm fortunate enough to have an involvement in most of those creative and artistic mediums in SL (including rezable art) but to think that friends and/or artists I admire would be excluded simply because they don't create the "right type" of art is concerning.

Please can you clarify this Niko?"

Here's my own response, which builds on Escape's comment:

" Escape: Glad to see that you included storytelling in the list of art forms. As for your including "drama" in the list, my initial reaction was, "ah yes, we do have a number of residents who have raised their drama-making to the level of an art form."

But seriously, yes, I know what you meant, I just couldn't help but think of it the other way.

Niko, I do think this is an intriguing possibility, but your piece immediately brings up a couple questions:

What precisely is meant by creating "
an immersive space for artists to share their art, build connections, and prosper in the Second Life community?"

Are you proposing a Linden-controlled arts venue that will in essence concentrate the Linden supported artistic endeavor in a ghetto? What about those artists and arts groups who wish to continue to carry out their activities in environments and venues over which they have more control, and which function in an organic way that is interconnected with one of the diverse communities that already are thriving on the grid?

Will the artists or groups who don't wish to confine themselves within the official Linden-supported arts "immersive space" still be eligible to apply for support of their projects and programming that they present in the independent, resident-controlled spaces?

Somewhat related to that, you also talk about
"highlighting the most creative artwork happening inworld." That makes me really curious. So who will decide what qualifies as "the most creative artwork?"

There certainly have been serious disagreements in the past between Lindens and residents as to what constitutes "creative" as well as what is considered "quality" in the arts.
I trust that you do realize that you are entering sensitive territory and that there will be issues that require careful consideration with genuine participation from a wide range of interested resident stakeholders, and not just the "usual suspects."

I am curious about what the larger goal is here: to keep artists from leaving SL for other platforms? To ensure that the diversity of artistic activity? To make more of the residents--and potential residents--aware of this aspect of life on the grid, and to encourage them to appreciate and support what is going on...or maybe even to encourage more residents to take their own shot at expressing themselves through art?

I sincerely hope it will take a more inclusive approach, rather than overly selective and elitist. After all, one of the beauties of the platform has always been that anyone and everyone can try to use it as a tool of artistic self-expression.

I really do wonder what the ultimate goal is here, because what Niko describes as "goals" arguably qualify more as "strategies" than underlying reasons for executing this plan.

They want to "create an immersive space to facilitate artists sharing their work (getting people to see it), building connections (With other artists? Or a broader audience? Not sure about that one), and prospering. They also want a way for "artwork to live on within our ever-changing virtual world. I assume what they mean by that is LL wants to develop a system to preserve Cool Stuff and make it so that someone's artwork doesn't just disappear when they can't afford to pay their rent or tier, or they decide to go to Blue Mars.

So why would do the Labsters want to do these things--to help artists build audiences and prosper and for their art to have more permanence?

One real good possibility is that they want to create greater awareness of the arts in SL as part of their new marketing efforts. A lot of folks do a lot of way cool creative stuff in-world, and one of the frustrations with all the half-assed articles that drip with the "SL is dead" meme is that they focus on the lurid, sexy stuff and not much else. That has got to be driving the Lab folks foam-at-the-mouth, whacko crazy as much as it pisses off those of us who are trying to do creative non-salacious things with the platform. Supporting--and highlighting--arts activities in-world would go a long way towards polishing up the image of SL as something that has more purpose than facilitating masturbatory fantasies.

Preserving in-world artisitic works would also help head off the embarrassment that happens when you tell some new guy, "hey you gotta see this artistically awesome amalgamation of utter awesomeness"...

...and they go to see it and it's gone because the artist/resident pulled up stakes and got the fuck out of Dodge. And then Disappointed New Guy thinks you're a eye-rolling idiot.

So yeah, if that is one of the goals, to make more people aware that we got something besides pixel-poking going on, and give some longevity to Cool Stuff in order to reinforce that positive impression, I'm on board.

And myabe I'm just a spit dribbling idealist, but I also hope another goal for this is to foster the idea that SL can enable artistic self-expression by everyone and anyone who wants to do so, then this becomes a powerful marketing tool for the lab. Promote the idea of SL as a place where anyone can make art happen, and it could conceivably draw in folks who haven't tried SL yet, but who will want to give it a shot when they realize what they do with it.

That is another goal that I heartily endorse. Unfortuantley I'm not so sure that is what the Labsters have in mind--people who want to actively create, rather than passivley consume, are not the massive Facebook-type demographic that the Lab seems to be hoping to attract. But hey, if the strategy draws in new creative blood as an unintended consequence of larger marketing plans, I won't be unhappy.

So, yes, I hope this works. And yeah, I do have a lot of concerns about the idea. I do worry that it could be an elitist clusterfuck with the usual suspects and sycophants getting all the benefits and the accolades--and the Linden largess--while other hard-working people get dissed or ignored. It isn't like it hasn't happened before--one example that leaps to mind was the situation when "Shakespeare in SL" was looked upon by certain Lindens as not sufficiently hip, or forward-thinking, or innovative or something, in order for it to be included in one of those SL birthday things.

I find it intriguing that they call this new initiative the "Linden Endowment for the Arts." I assume they will not literally establish an "endowment" (a fund that is invested to generate income to be disbursed in the form of grants or to support a non-profit endeavor). I suspect why they picked the name was because they hope to emulate a system like the National Endowment for the Arts in which arts organizations and some individuals (in very restricted, specific categories) compete for grants and the applications are evaluated by peer review. It's supposed to fair and democratic, and ideally the LEA should be as well. To work in that fashion, it definitely will require participation by a diverse sampling of the grid's creative types. I think I'm going to encourage some of my artsy SL friends to apply for membership as resident representatives on the LEA committee.

There have to be some DaVincis on the team to balance out the Medicis if this thing is gonna fly.


  1. So the Lindens, who steadfastly choose to remain silent on the issue of the continuing epidemic of content theft in SL, want to nurture the creative spirit of its resident "artists" and/or invite new artists in?

    I can't tell you how many supremely talented SL content creators (all of whom I would regard as artists) are sitting on amazing projects because they just don't have the heart to release something into the SL wild to only see it be immediately copied and distributed en masse across the grid for free.

    What happens when the Lindens sell this idea to high profile RL artists, who come in and discover that people are plastering their RL works onto prims and selling them without any consequences?

    If the Lindens didn't get it after the recent debacle with that Na'vi avatar being featured in a high profile marketing campaign... the likelihood they will ever get it is approaching nil. *sigh*

  2. Exactly - can you say "noob sculpture?"

  3. Hey Gals, I hear ya.

    But to be honest, I don't think their primary goal is "to nurture the creative spirit of its (SL's) resident "artists" and/or invite new artists in."

    As I said above, what I THINK the Labsters want to do with this initiative relates to their overall marketing strategy. The goal, as I see it, is to counter the widely-held impression that SL is just a bunch of pervs with a flourishing sex industry and not much else.

    In short, I firmly believe they are doing this for business reasons.

    That is why I drew the analogy with the Medici, who utilized their patronage of the arts for diplomatic and public relations purposes--at some points commissioning art that reinforced their aura of power and dynastic glory, or in other cases commissioning religious art to signal their support of the Counter-Reformation.

    So any benefits to actual artists through this program are purely a happy side effect.

    And I think it's fine if they want to be patrons of the arts on the platform for business reasons. It makes a hell of a lot of sense.

    At the same time, I think you have an important point--we still have a major issue with the misappropriation of intellectual property from our content creators.

    I agree with you Astolat, that you and others who make high quality clothing, furnishings, accessories etc. are artists. There is artistry in your work. This one of the BIG issues I have with this whole concept is the question of WHO gets to decide WHAT is "art" and what constitutes "quality" art. But let's set that aside for a moment, because I think it is going to require some serious discussion and significant verbal abuse of the Lindens and their resident-cronies.

    The thing about misappropriation of content that the Lindens should be able to understand is that in the same way that promoting "art" on the platform is good for business, protecting and encouraging our content creators is good for business as well.


    If the Lab is going to attract and retain massive numbers of users to SL, there MUST be a wide range of well-designed products for those folks to purchase.

    Yeah, LL can keep generating its own content for people to get started with. But when you look at the quality of what they are currently offering, such as the "Linden Homes" and the clothing and skin sets that are given to new residents, it's pretty mediocre stuff.

    The Lab NEEDS an extensive, diverse, and HAPPY community of content creators making and selling great stuff. It's a huge selling point for SL and if the Lab doesn't get that, then they really are the intellectually lazy, knee-walking, shit-for-brains lackwits we sometimes think they are.

    Yes Asto, they have GOT to do something about protecting content creators' rights. Just look at this Huge Fucking Kerfuffle that is going on about Skills Hak's CDS tool for booting people with "questionable" viewers from your retail property. That whole jolly mess shows how concerned and desperate the creators have become.

    It clearly is time for the Lab to pay attention to the concerns of the people who are directly responsible for one of the platform's primary selling points.