By Matt Peiken
If you were to ask Cincinnati’s arts leaders about their most vexing challenges, they might not answer the obvious – selling tickets, courting donors or mastering the shifting social media landscape. Instead, through the second annual ArtsWave Tidal: Arts x Tech – April 21-23 at Union Hall in Over-the-Rhine – arts leaders presented the kinds of challenges that impact their everyday lives.
Two teams of coders, designers and digital strategists walked away with grants of $5,000 for the solutions they came up with during the Tidal weekend. Team Aria took the grand prize for its approach to a challenge presented by Xavier University – managing and maintaining musical instrument inventories. Team smART was awarded the same amount to pursue how Cincinnati arts groups can better track, share and encourage volunteerism.
Members of these teams were among more than 50 people who spent the weekend brainstorming solutions to problems presented by local arts organizations. The $10,000 in grants, possible through the support of Fifth Third Bank and Cintrifuse, will help bring the two winning proposals to life.
Here are the backstories and looks ahead at the winning ideas:
Challenge: Instrument Inventory Management
Organization: Xavier University
Solution: Inventory management at your fingertips
Name a facet of life or business and, as the modern phrase goes, there’s probably an app for that.
Members of Team Aria found a hole in that theory when they examined a question nagging school and university bands everywhere: Where are all our musical instruments?
This isn’t a trivial issue. Twenty million instruments belong to about 40,000 schools around the country. At any given time, half are checked out to students, at repair shops or on loan. Ohio State University’s musical instrument inventory, alone, is valued at $1 million. These numbers come from Xavier University’s band director, who told ArtsWave that organizing and streamlining instrument inventory is his department’s most vexing challenge.
“It’s very hard and time-consuming to track these very valuable and expensive pieces of equipment,” said Rolando Archila, a strategy innovation consultant and member of Team Aria.
Like most Tidal participants, Archila and his teammates had little warning they would spend an entire weekend mulling the problem and solution. None of the seven who volunteered to tackle this specific problem had worked together, and only design strategist and self-described Turpin High School band mom Jennifer Mayhall was even remotely attuned to the dilemma.
By Sunday afternoon – just two days after meeting at their first Tidal huddle – members of Team Aria had a working prototype of an app.
“In a way, everything went by so fast, there was almost no time for hiccups,” Archila said. “Get the problems Friday night, and have nothing Saturday morning.”
In early mockups, the app appears simple to understand and navigate. With barcodes affixed to every instrument in a school’s inventory, the app connects repair shops, band directors, administrators and suppliers/vendors, coordinating and communicating every step of an instrument’s life.
Team members are working to build their prototype to a “minimum viable product” stage so they can test it, optimally by fall, with Xavier’s band.
“If nothing else, we all came in thinking it would be a fun weekend. Now we all have something to work on,” Archila said. “We have our own lives and careers and projects we’re all working on, but we’re all excited about this.”
Challenge: Collaboration Across the Ecosystem
Organizations: Cincinnati Art Museum, ArtsConnect, Cincinnati Museum Center, Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park
Solution: Connecting venues, volunteers and resources
Had Antwoine Flowers scrutinized details of the email advertising ArtsWave Tidal, he said, he probably would have steered his weekend elsewhere.
“I thought it was just a tech event that sounded interesting. I was actually pretty apprehensive when I was there and learned what was actually involved,” said Flowers, a quantitative analyst with Fifth Third Bank. “But once we got into what the Cincinnati arts community was all about and the challenges they face, I thought it was really interesting and something I could get into.”
Flowers was one of six members of Team smART, which devised a system for all Cincinnati arts groups to coordinate, connect and share volunteers, largely around special events requiring the help of certain numbers of people. This system came in response to a challenge presented through Tidal by the Cincinnati Art Museum, ArtsConnect, Cincinnati Museum Center and Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park.
This is how Flowers and his teammates understood their collective problem: With every event, an organization undertakes a drive for volunteers by drawing from a spreadsheet of past participants, with responses ranging from 20 to 30 percent. These volunteers tend to work in a funnel, with participation – and any rewards of volunteering – limited to that specific organization and community.
After looking at existing communications tools, Team smART devised a platform from scratch. Its mobile app shows volunteers a citywide list of arts events needing their help. Organizations can accurately track the hours put in by each person, and volunteers can rack up and redeem reward points through all participating arts groups. The system rewards organizations with layers of data about volunteers they can’t acquire on their own.
“It’s really about the arts organizations engaging with one another,” Flowers said. “Small arts organizations don’t have much staff time or resources to spend on volunteers, and larger organizations want to reach past their core audiences to people interested in dance or visual arts to check out theater. And everyone gets the support of the ecosystem itself.”
The app already has had a profound impact on one person – Flowers – who has put off an imminent career move within Fifth Third Bank to Chicago.
“I want to start a company of my own someday and thought I needed to move to a bigger city to do that, and (Tidal) taught me I don’t need to do that,” he said. “I can do it with the talent and drive that exists right here in Cincinnati.”