Jacob’s Pillow makes Dance Interactive!

Ted Shawn on Pillow Rock, Photo courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

Last week a small group of us dance folk gathered around my lap top to take part in a webinar from Center for Arts Management and Technology Carnegie Mellon University called Inspiring Online Audiences: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive.

At the end of March Jacob’s Pillow launched Dance Interactive – the latest offering of their “Virtual Pillow” world. Dance Interactive is an online exhibit and collection of dance videos from the early days of the festival in1932 right up to present day.

By the day of the webinar the site had been live for 6 weeks and already had over 29,000 video views!

What I found most interesting about the presentation was that the ultimate goal of Virtual Pillow was simply (Ha!) to build new audiences for dance. The staff were clear with all other departments and the board from the outset that the end purpose of the site wasn’t about increased ticket sales or donations but rather education about dance and a growing appreciation for the artform as a whole.

What makes the project unique is that rather than just being an archive they were determined to create curated content and provide contextualization for the works. Within descriptions of the videos they also link to videos by other artists and styles the choreographer was inspired by or who they in turn inspired.

Since we are increasingly a participatory culture they also recognized it was important to include a sense of play and curiosity in the site so in addition to the ability to search by artist, era or genre they also offered Dive In and Guess buttons as ways to access the site.

Dive In takes visitors to a random selection in the video archive and visitors can then narrow down their search from there based on their likes and dislikes. Meanwhile based on their popular “Trivia for Tickets” contests they’ve run on Facebook the Guess button takes visitors to a trivia type game that shows a video clip and 4 choices to choose from and you can progress through the game identifying dancers and dance works. They report that so far the Dive In feature is the most popular but I’ve spent more than an hour in the Guess feature when I likely should have been writing this post (sorry Jini but it’s addictive!)

In addition to ensuring that their goals were clearly defined from the outset the team at Jacob’s Pillow was also careful to talk before they started about how they would define engagement on the site and measure it. Besides the obvious tracking of click throughs and stats from Google Analytics they are also closely tracking how many people are “Advocating” the site.  Basically how many people are publicly sharing links but even more importantly that they aren’t just sharing but providing their own editorial (comment) about why they are sharing it. While it’s not possible to measure the true value of this yet (outside of referral traffic) they have made a point and policy to publicly thank and reward audience members who tweet, share on Facebook or mention their site on their blogs.

So when Go Girl Global a free online community for girls aged 8 to 15 featured Dance Interactive as a cool thing to check out in one of their e-newsletters the team at Jacob’s Pillow created a special Go Girl Global video playlist of intelligent, visionary female dance artists for Go Girl Global users.  Now they’ve gained access to a whole new group of girls and a great organization for the time it took to put six videos on a list and create a Facebook note.

Boston based Artistic Director Karen Krolak went one step further and used the site as part of her own audience engagement initiative by projecting it in the lobby of the theatre and allowing audience members to interact with the trivia feature , and Jacob’s Pillow is encouraging other companies to do the same.

Response to the site has been great so far, thanks in part to a feature on the New York Times website. They reported that the biggest response to the site so far has been a resounding “thank you” from dancers, dance teachers and educators who are using the site in their classrooms and in planning their lesson plans.

I’m eager for our readers to check out Dance Interactive and I wonder what our local dance companies think of the site? Would you be interested in doing a similar project here or perhaps using the site as a tool in your own arts education activities or audience engagement initiatives? Let us know in the comments below.

Shana Hillman

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