Blueskying a Social Media Platform for the Arts

Hosted by
the Social Media Narratives Class
Art and Technology Studies
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Facebook and Google Groups
November 7 - 12, 2019

George Fifield
Founder and Director of Boston Cyberarts


image of George

George Fifield is the founding director of Boston Cyberarts Inc., a nonprofit arts organization, which programs numerous art and technology projects, including Art on the Marquee on a large public LED screen in front of the South Boston Convention Center, and running the Boston Cyberarts Gallery in Jamaica Plain. The Boston Cyberarts Festival (1999-2011) was an international biennial Festival of artists working in new technologies involves exhibitions of visual arts; music, dance, and theatrical performances; film and video presentations and symposia throughout Greater Boston. He is an independent curator of New Media with numerous projects here and abroad. For thirteen years until 2006, Fifield was Curator of New Media at the DeCordova Sculpture park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. He was executive co-producer for The Electronic Canvas, an hour-long documentary on the history of the media arts that aired on PBS in 2000. Fifield writes on a variety of media, technology and art topics for numerous publications. In 2006, the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Boston Chapter honored Fifield with the First Annual Special Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Arts Community. In 2007 the Boston Cyberarts Festival was the recipient of the Commonwealth Award in the category of Creative Economy.

Early Social Media Platforms and the Role of Building Community

I never had much truck with social media although I had to maintain a professional presence on much of it. I was an early explorer of the internet. When the world wide web came along, I had an early AOL account but ignored it to explore the ungated parts of the web and am still shocked to find out all the social media groups that cropped since Facebook, that I have never been a part of.

My first internet social media experience was Usenet. It really was like a giant bookstore that one could serendipitously discover all sorts of thing of interest. Here for example is the beginning of the FAQ for the Usenet group Alt.Magic from 1995.

"alt.magic is a public newsgroup with an estimated readership of 41,000+
ALL postings should be made with this in mind.

Q) What is the purpose of this group?
A) This group is for the discussion of magic as entertainment, including but not limited to close-up, sleight of hand, platform, stage, and illusion magic. For discussions of pagan, occult, and spiritual magic try alt.magick (note the "k"), alt.paranormal, alt.divination, or alt.pagan. There are also alt.skeptic, alt.hypnosis, and alt.paranormal for other non-magic discussions. It is also not for discussing Magic the card game...."

Another place we I spent way too much time was a dial-up BBS, (Bulletin Board System) called the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, normally shortened to The WELL. A problem was that it was it was based in San Francisco and I was in Boston. The long distance phone charges (remember them) were killer. But it was here I first found out about Patrick O'Brianís novels, for example.

There was much I missed. I wish I had been aware of the net art site, The Thing, started as a BBS in Cologne by Wolfgang Staehle in 1991 or the original šda'web curated by Benjamin Weil when it went up in May 1995 before the Walker preserved it.

Of course, by this point, I had whole-heartedly bought the "information should be free,: Kool-Aid. The WELLís slogan was Steward Brand line, "You Own Your Own Words." But I and most others were fooled by the concept of the "free" web. Facebook figured out as well as all the others that they could be "free," because they could monetized themselves by selling the information we freely gave them.

By the time Facebook showed up I was jaded. I would explore it a little bit but never found anything of interest. Although an assistant of mine keep referring to it as FaceCrack. I would tell people I know, donít friend me on Facebook as I wonít reply. Still be that as it may, I find myself today with over 1000 "friends" on a site I pay no attention to. Actually, I have two Facebook accounts as Boston Cyberarts needs one. So www.facebook.com/bostoncyberarts/ exists and get way more traffic than I do.

And then Ning came along. On Ning I could create my own custom social networks. Ning was co-founded by Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini and launched in October 2005. And until 2010 it was free. By June 2011 there were over 90,000 social websites running on the Ning Platform. So I created a dozen social networks for all the important groups on my life. I had all these separate groups I was a part of, since I was organizing the Boston Cyberarts Festival then. And here I learned my greatest social network lesson. Out of all these social networks I built only one ever took off. Everyone I invited to the others ignored it. Or they joined for a few posts and never came back.

Building community was a great deal harder than I thought it would be. What is the secret for that? I think before a new social network for the arts comes along, the secret of building community should be addressed. One focused art community to look at is NEW-MEDIA-CURATING or CRUMB (Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss.) It is a social media site for curators of new media founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in England. It has been a huge success in attacking a loyal community of participants.


Transcript of George Fifield's Google Docs conversation
for the Issues in Social Media for the Arts 2019 panel


Judy Malloy:
Introduction to the Panel

Overviews, Ideas, Histories, and Observations

from Curators and Critics

George Fifield
Founder and Director of Boston Cyberarts

Isobel Harbison
Art Critic and Lecturer in the Department of Art

from Policy Makers and Advocates

Juana Guzman
National Arts Consultant and Arts Advocate

Dal Yong Jin
Professor, School of Communication at Simon Fraser University

Richard Lowenberg
Founding Director of the 1st-Mile Institute, and of NM Broadband for All

Marisa Parham
Professor of English, Amherst College, Director of the Immersive Reality Lab

Ellen Sandor
Founding Director of (art)n, chair of the Gene Siskel Film Center

from: Artists/Educators

Adriene Jenik
Artist, Professor of Intermedia in the School of Art, Arizona State University

Tom Klinkowstein
President, Media A LLC, Professor, Hofstra University, Adj. Professor, Pratt Institute

Wendel A. White
Photographer, Distinguished Professor of Art, Stockton University

from Artists/Designers

Deanne Achong
Artist and Designer

Tommer Peterson
Theatre Artist and Designer


SAIC ATS Class in Social Media Narrative
Vee Nyah Culton, Terrell Davis, Adriana Guillen Santalla, Samuel Han, Xavier Hughes, Yoon Joong Hwang, Olivia Paige Johnson, Mara Iskander Mirzan, Keun Mok Park, Richard Park, Wayne P. Tate, Ruby Hana Williams, and July Yoon

SAIC ATS Part-time Faculty: Judy Malloy