Doing Good for March Madness

UPDATE: Congrats to JMO on reigning victorious over the March Madness magic.   We donated $500 to the American Red Cross for Japan relief efforts in his honor.

Today is the start of March Madness. In the world of Schipul, it’s my general duty to manage the office pool. As the Twittersphere started warming up for March Madness, I came across this tweet from a former Schipulite:

I pasted it, and sent it to Ed. The subject, Dear Ed, the body, Just sayin’ ;). He liked the idea, but not the reward. Instead, the Schipulites will be putting their brackets on the line for the opportunity to donate $500 to the relief effort in Japan. (and an Apple gift card, natch!)

The Final Four is kinda special for me this year, as my hometown is playing host. I’m excited that my picks this year may do more good than ever before. Good luck to all, wherever and however you play. However, if you do win a big office pool, do consider donating some, if not all, of it back to Japan.

What Would Warhol Do?

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol, 1968

I attended a screening of Warhol on TV presented by Aurora Picture Show at the Menil Collection last Friday night. The film was a collection of excerpts of works created by and featuring Andy Warhol. The film was curated by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

Andy Warhol’s obsession with celebrity and the lives of the rich in famous is well documented, and very evident in the film. What hit me was his fervent dedication to documenting his life and the world around him in photographs and video. Take this photo I took of a video of Andy being done up in drag.

In today’s pop culture, our obsession with the lives of the rich and famous is at an all time high. The entire Charlie Sheen saga has been a grim reminder of how much we thirst for a good celebrity train wreck. But a democratization of the velvet rope has occurred with the proliferation of camera phones. Whether it is the video of Cyndi Lauper singing Girl’s Just Wanna Have Fun in an airport terminal . . .

Or a little girl singing the new Lady GaGa single . . .


There are moments of Warholian fascination being born (this way) every day. It’s had me thinking about what Andy Warhol’s art would have looked like if he was armed with an iPhone. The glut of photography apps on the iPhone, particularly those dedicated to creating a vintage look to your photos, make your iPhone reminiscent of Warhol’s ubiquitous cameras. Here are a couple of my favorites

Instagram – FREE

Instagram is incredibly simple. Take a picture, apply a cool filter, share with other user and over your social networks. They recently added hashtag support allowing users to tag their photos, making them searchable. Instagram is great to get quick snaps of random things going on around you. The in-app feed is great for those moments when you want to just look at something interesting in the middle of the day. You can also like and comment on your friends photos. There is also a Popular button that takes you to a collection of the most liked photos taken by Instagram users.

Hipstamatic – $2.99 plus multiple $.99,  Hipstapaks (app currently on sale for $1.99)

I’ll warn you now, this app can lead to a serious obession. I LOVE Hipstamatic. While the app comes with a nice set of equipment up front, the real fun is adding the Hipstapaks, expanding your lens, film and camera options. I doubt I’ll ever learn how to use this app to its fullest potential, but I know it’s going to be fun trying. Another great feature of this app is the Hipstamart. You can upload photos from your phone into the Hipstamart, and order high quality prints! They come in a nifty little envelope that folds into a stand-up frame.

Hipstamatic just takes great photos. You can also share them in Instagram, doubling the AWESOME! One more thing, if you’re going to be using Hipstamatic, you might as well invest in SwankoLab as well. It’s like having an entire dark room in your pocket!

8mm Vintage Camera – $1.99

I haven’t been able to use 8mm as much as I would like. As you can probably imagine, it turns your iPhone into an 8mm camera. Like Hipstamatic, it comes with a small collection of lenses and films to experiment with. Turn your videos into home movies from yesteryear!

Fortunately, the bad fashion from the 70’s is not included.

With an iPhone and these apps, anyone can lead the life of Andy Warhol. And getting your 15 minutes of fame just got a bit easier. Happy content creating!

Sports Stadium or Art Gallery?

When you hear the name Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, the last person you’d associate with him is Dominique de Menil, founder of The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. However, you will be surprised to find they are much closer than you think.

There is an article in this month’s Texas Monthly titled Paint by Numbers that takes an in depth look at one of the most ambitious contemporary arts collections recently brought together in the State of Texas. What makes this collection unique is this “gallery” just hosted the Super Bowl XLV. I am, of course, talking about the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

I found the entire article incredibly fascinating. While some will sniff at the idea of the art in the stadium being compared to the frescoes that adorned the vomitoria (click on the link, it’s not what you think) of the Roman  Colosseum, Mr. Jones has recreated the same thing in Arlington, and he’s done so with contemporary art.

For the record, I am not a big fan of Jerry Jones, but I greatly respect what he has done here. It’s a surprisingly forward thinking move from an organization drowning in sponsorship money  from beer and soft drink companies. An NFL franchise as an arts benefactor makes so much sense, it’s hard for me to believe it hasn’t been a higher priority, if not a legislative requirement of publicly funded sports stadiums.

The amount of money pumping through the professional sports leagues is mind boggling, and incredibly hard to swallow at times. The Dallas Cowboys stadium alone carried a price tag of $1.15 BILLION. To see some of this money directed into the arts makes me happy, and hopeful we can see more money pumped into the arts communities of all cities that are home to a professional sports franchise.

At a time when government funding of the arts is in danger of being cut on all levels, it is high time owners of all professional sports franchises try harder to keep up with the Joneses.

A Reality, A Challenge, An Adventure

Performing Arts Marketing Online

I’ve been working here at Schipul for almost a year now. I came here after 4+ years of working for the Society for the Performing Arts in Houston, TX. During this time, my mind has not strayed far from trying to find better ways for performing arts organizations to harness the power of the Internet to enhance audience development and, more importantly, sell more tickets.

This post is a first step in helping performing arts institutions to better understand and use the Internet for their organizations and their artists. I welcome your feeback, and hope you forward this on to anyone you know that works for a performing arts organization if you find it useful.

A Reality: Performing Arts needs SEO

You probably think an organization like Lincoln Center wouldn’t need Search Engine Optimization.  You’re wrong.

Despite being quite familiar with their site, I had to Google them first to find their site. Today’s web user is very reluctant to start slapping .com on anything you want on the web.  For instance, try typing into your browser. You will not find our President.

Need more proof? Take a look at this report from Google Insights about searches including the words lincoln and center. NOTE: These results are from New York state.


I don’t know about you, but I know Lincoln Center is in New York City. Yet above you can see that many people actually search for “lincoln center nyc” or “lincoln center ny”. Again, these are searched from the state of New York. The point here is that regardless of how strong your brand or position is in a patron’s mind, they will more likely be Googling you or the performer first.

Wait! Don’t go optimizing your performances just  yet. You need to develop your strategy first. You’re probably thinking you’ll succeed if you start optimizing around the same time you start marketing the performances through your other outlets. That’s not going to work. You need at least three months of continuous optimization to start getting attention of the great and powerful Google. This means your online marketing should not, in any way, be tied to your other marketing plans. Why?

Newspapers are dying because they thought reprinting their paper on the web was all they needed to do. They were wrong. You must market to an online audience (i.e. Google) if you want people to find your web site. This means you need to start treating Google like your oldest subscriber and donor.

A Challenge: Performing Arts needs Video

Do you remember when we all thought how crazy it was to have a camera on a cell phone? Now we have phones offering HD video! But there’s a HUGE drawback as it’s not so easy to transmit video via today’s web. However, as the Internet continues to become more mobile, and the transmission lines get faster and more widespread, sharing video is going to become as ubiquitous as photo sharing is today.

Today, many performing artists rely on photos to tell their story. Take this image from Diavolo’s Trajectoire.

But doesn’t this video do a better job of telling their story?

Of course, it’s not just about presenting it, it’s HOW you share the video. Take this video I’ve embedded from Alvin Ailey Dance Company. NOTE: Alvin Ailey has restricted our ability to share their videos to this format.

Revelations from AlvinAileyAmericanDanceTheater on Vimeo.

Not very impressive, is it? If you do decide to click on it, you will bear witness to one of the greatest displays of American choreography the world has ever seen. But if you’re like most web users,  you are more likely to trust the Diavolo video link  (32K+ hits) over the link from Alvin Ailey (26K+ hits).

Proving a picture is worth 6,000 clicks.

Artists and presenting organizations have to work together to provide better opportunities for patron video consumption. It’s not about showing entire pieces or performances, it’s about whetting the appetite of an audience that is starved for good content. And like we’ve seen above, how you allow your patrons and fans to present is important as well.

An Adventure: Check in, Experience the Performing Arts

Do you remember your reaction when you first heard someone talk about Twitter? It was probably the same reaction you have had listening to someone talk about Foursquare, Gowalla or SCVNGR. I must admit, I long fought against the location-based check in services. However, the more I learn about them, the more I begin to see the dawning of a new level of personal interaction.

The purpose behind these services isn’t to alert people of your location, it’s to tell a story about a location. Every time you walk into a special place, like a performing arts venue, a memory is made. You are not the person you were after you’ve walked into one of your special locations.

For a performing arts organization’s patrons, this is a regular experience every time they walk into your performance hall. The hall is your sandbox, and you now have some pretty amazing toys to play with in it. Whether you create photo contests with Instagram or Hipstamatic, or offer discounts to patrons who check in via Gowalla or SCVNGR, you now have the ability, generally for FREE, to create memories and expand your patrons’ experiences beyond the stage and performance.

Performing Arts Online

I want to explore these and other ways the Internet can be used to tell the story of performing arts over the course of this year. I can tell you now, the performing arts groups are not fully utilizing the power of the web to further their mission and vision. My goal, my New Year’s resolution, is to help change that.

I hope this is a first step in the right direction.

You Can Always Go Downtown

When I accepted my job at Schipul back in January, I was scared.

It wasn’t the challenge of the new job, no, it was because I was leaving something, Downtown Houston, that had very much become an important part of my identity.

Downtown has long been one of my favorite places in Houston. Shortly after graduating from college, I started hitting the Flying Saucer. While attending Texas Christian University, I had begun the quest of getting a plate at the original Flying Saucer in Fort Worth, TX. During this time, I got to know Downtown, and learned it was a helluva lot easier to figure out that most people around Houston think.

I was one of the thousands of folks that celebrated the Super Bowl and the MLB All-Star game. Downtown had finally arrived, and I was in the thick of it with people I count today as my best friends.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2005, I moved into the East End, and took a job at Society for the Performing Arts. My education in all things Downtown soared to a new level. I was working and playing Downtown, and even started taking METRO to work. Thus Urban Houstonian was born. I bought a Manhattan Portage messenger bag, subscribed to some Esquire and Texas Monthly magazines (because you need something to read on the bus to work), and started blogging about my adventures.

I was getting off the 36 Kempwood/Lawndale at Dallas and Rusk, and hoofing it the rest of the way to Jones Hall and the SPA offices. It was one of the best times of my entire life. Downtown was my neighborhood, my special place where anything was possible.

But that was all set to end when I took the job at Schipul. My urban commute of 5 miles was going to balloon to 22 miles! Schipul offices are OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY?! I was bracing for the daily grind of relying on I-10 for my daily commute. I-10! The harbinger of traffic death in Houston, Texas.

O – M – G!

Some of my friends joked that I was not going to have to start calling myself Sub-Urban Houstonian. The new job eventually necessitated a move JUST outside the Loop. Yes, the Urban Houstonian now lived outside the Loop. Look for my thoughts on that soon on my blog.

But here’s the thing, I’m still a Downtown guy. I’m a  subscriber to the Houston Ballet and Houston Symphony. I volunteer for SPA, and recently got to attend the most amazing performance by MOMIX. In fact, I attend MORE performances now than I did when I was working in the Theater District! And, last night, some fellow Schipulites and I even attended the Houston Downtown Alliance Heart of the City Gala last night at House of Blues.

What I thought I was going to lose, I have gained plus MORE, and I am so grateful to the people and opportunities that have allowed that to happen this Thanksgiving. Through them I’ve learned . . .

Everything’s waiting for you . . . in Downtown.

Schipul Reviews The Social Network

It’s not often we get to talk about Hollywood here at the Official Schipul Blog. However, with the release of The Social Network, we’re rolling out the red carpet, and grabbing a bowl of popcorn (with extra butter, natch)!

The Social Network

The Social Network, aka “The Facebook Movie”, is based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Mezrich is most famous for writing the book Bringing Down the House, which inspired the movie 21 about a group of MIT students who take Vegas to the tune of $3 million. So, yeah, Mezrich knows high drama in the palaces of higher education.

Original Facebook

I saw the movie Friday night with the lovely, Caitlin Kaluza, and we  made for an interesting dichotomy of Facebook users. Caitlin is one of the lucky folks to have actually used (pictured above). I didn’t start using it until shortly after it was opened up to the general public. One of the interesting aspects of watching The Social Network is freshness of its history, the “I remember when . . .” moments.

In the end, this is where the rubber meets the road in The Social Network. It is a fast paced, intelligent, humorous romp through the history of Facebook. The payoff is going to be in the conversations the movie is sure to start amongst your friends. Indeed, I am anxious for more of my friends to watch it to hear their reactions, share their stories. I’m also fairly certain that I will be back in a theater to watch it again soon.

A lot of talk is being made about The Social Network being the “movie of a generation.”

It’s not.

It is a movie about the idea that is currently defining a generation. The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink defined a generation, and The Social Network does not compare. However, The Social Network will go down as one of the best films of 2010, and that is a distinction I feel it carries incredibly well.  By my count, I see at least 5 Oscar nominations for the film: Best Picture, Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg), Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin) and Best Score (Trent Renzor). Any more than that will be a based on whether the Academy deems this the “it” movie of the year. As for actual wins? Eh, it’s really too early to call, but I would like to see how a showdown between The Social Network and Inception plays out this Oscar Season.

In the meantime, please excuse me, I need to go share this link on my Facebook.