Orlando arts groups meet their fans online

Orlando arts groups meet their fans online
posted by emaupin on Apr 14, 2009 12:36:48 PM

By Elizabeth Maupin
Sentinel Staff Writer

Shanon Larimer, the new executive director of Orlando’s Downtown Arts District, had to find a way to get his message out.

In olden days he would have rented a billboard, sent out a mailer, taken out an ad. But these aren’t olden days, and the old ways cost money the arts dustrict doesn’t have.

So Larimer got creative: He launched an online social network, OrlandoSlice.com, meant to bring together the downtown enthusiasts the arts district needs.

The cost? Less than $100 a month in web-hosting fees.

Larimer isn’t alone. All around Orlando and across the U.S., arts groups are using social media — Facebook, Twitter and other online sites — to draw people in. Some of those people are simply onlookers. Some become audience members. And some become participants in new kinds of online art.

Fans of Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Ballet and others find news of the groups’ latest activities on Facebook. Followers of the Orlando Fringe kept up with Monday night’s preview party on Twitter. Performance artist Brian Feldman uses Facebook and Twitter to get what are popularly known as “butts in seats” — but on Twitter he also does whole performances, shows such as @txt_show and #tots.

One fan, @funkyrobot, wrote (via Twitter, of course, and all in lower case), txt_show was the most fun you can have in 140 characters or less! great con...

(For the uninitiated, Twitter forces its users to say whatever they have to say in 140 characters or less.)

In the ongoing #tots, otherwise known as Twitter of the Shrew, Feldman has 356 people following the show’s main Twitter account and another 829 spread across 19 other accounts assigned to individual characters.

“If social media didn’t exist, there’d still be people to connect with one-on-one,” Feldman writes via Twitter. “Twitter’s just cheaper than a 42¢ USPS stamp.”

At the Downtown Arts District, Larimer and technical guru/volunteer David Wheeler seem to be among the first anywhere to start a whole social networking site to push their group. The idea came about, Larimer says, because he needed to conquer various hurdles — building a better website, improving communications, finding donors and sponsors — and had no money to pay for any of it.

“Tough times force creativity,” he says.

So the two men made their own social network, which looks and works a lot like Facebook, with places to join, invite friends and so on, but also places where downtown arts groups can post their own events, photos and videos, along with a prominent button where followers can make donations.

The site went online last week, and within six days, with no publicity, there were more than 100 members.

Larimer isn’t trying to replace existing sites such as RedChairProject.com, which sells arts and cultural tickets, or the Orlando Sentinel’s Calendar, which lists events throughout Central Florida. Rather, he’s using OrlandoSlice.com — Wheeler calls the arts district “a slice of Orlando” — to drive people and events downtown.

Other arts groups are working toward different goals but with equal fervor. Orlando Opera’s Andy Howard has been an avid user of online sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, both for his clogging group, American Racket, and for the opera.

On the opera’s Facebook page he has added lots of rehearsal shots, tagged people in them and encouraged singers to add their own content. The idea is to persuade friends and acquaintances of the opera’s performers to follow their work in person.

“The key to Facebook is the one-on-one relationships,” he says. “If it’s done effectively, it can be pretty powerful.”

At the arts district, Larimer and Wheeler are watching it happen firsthand.

“We just built the park,” Larimer says. “Now let the kids come and play.”

Elizabeth Maupin can be reached at emaupin@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5426. Read her Attention Must Be Paid blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/Attention.

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Comment by David Wheeler on April 15, 2009 at 11:36pm
Thanks for posting this for THE SLICE and the Downtown Arts District!

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