06 January 2010

Off-Line & Left Behind: Why Living Artists Suck by Not Having a Web Site

ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Urban Warshirt - Metro Techno
ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert (1942–2009) / Urban Warshirt – Metro Techno 

What a way to come back from the holidays. Just this week I received my CARFAC newsletter in the mail, flipped through to the obits and found out — months after the fact, don't ya know — that one of my favourite First Nations artists had passed away. I remembered the first time I had seen Joane Cardinal-Schubert's work: it was a two-person show with Jane Ash-Poitras (who I have an unbelievable and relentless hankering for), back in the early '90s at Harbourfront. And it was awesome, particularly her The School installation, which for the record, after an hour plus of Google searching, I couldn't find a great picture of to share.

So I preface this post, smart alek subheading and all, by professing quite clearly that my subheading is meant for those of you who are still kicking around in this life. My respect for the artists that I have and will mention, who passed on in 2009, is genuinely very deep. And they all had a wonderfully, great effect on me.

I think, however, it is important to note their current legacies on-line to hammer the point home that artists need to get their Web presence together, tout suite, especially if you have done extensive indie and community-relevant work, are racialized, female, or an elder in your community.

ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Dreaming the Ghost Dance Shirts
 ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert (1942–2009) / Dreaming of the Ghost Dance Shirts

A Case Study of Artists' Web Presence (or Lack Thereof):  

Ayanna Black  (70)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: a Caribbean artist and writer who really helped to increase the awareness of Black artists here in Canada, particularly through CAN:BAIA (Canadian Artists Network: Black Artists in Action); involved with Tiger Lily, one of the first literary publications for racialized women writers; published several books of poetry as well as Black writers anthologies. WEB PRESENCE: Mentioned on several literary sites with out-of-date biographical and professional credits. Very few pictures. Tribute articles. No Wikipedia page. There is, however, another Ayanna Black whose domain definitely does NOT lead you to this writer or artist in any fashion. 

Joane Cardinal-Schubert (64)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: also an artist and educator who was instrumental in increasing the awareness and involvement of First Nations artists in this country; gave voice to historical and sociological issues experienced by the indigenous Canadian community; mentored and supported many emerging artists. WEB PRESENCE: No Wikipedia page. Mentioned on several gallery and art sites, but with no where close to a resourceful amount of art images that represents the span of her career. Again, biographical and professional information varies from site to site. I spent a long time seeking key images that I wanted to use for this post and didn't find them.

Washington Savage (46)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: well-known and established rock, jazz and classical musician; a foundation within the Black music scene; involved with numerous leading Canadian musicians, including Tom Cochrane, Jeff Healy, Molly Johnson, and Blaxam; musical director for the gospel play, Mama, I Want to Sing, the longest-running Black off-Broadway musical in American history; producer, mentor, community-minded. WEB PRESENCE: No Wikipedia page. Some tributes, but good luck finding anything that remotely gives you any idea as to who he was, the awards he was given, and his important role and contributions to the contemporary Canadian music scene.

Gwen Johnston (79)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: a beacon of the Caribbean-Canadian community; co-owner of Third World Books and Crafts; supporter of youth; provided an outlet for independently published and small press publications of titles not easily found in your mainstream bookstores, as well as a political and social hub in the city. WEB PRESENCE: No Wikipedia page. Some tributes. I wish you even better luck in finding substantial information on her or the bookstore anywhere on the Net. I stopped at page 30 of a Google search because I found the whole process quite frustrating. It became the ultimate Jedi mind trick, and I hated Star Wars.

Jim Carroll (60)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: suffice it to say, many johnny- and jenny-come-latelies would harp on his infamous past drug habit and the uber lame film treatment of The Basketball Diaries, but he was the first writer who resonated deeply with me when I was an emerging writer in my early teens (Living at the Movies is still a favourite and I caught his performance twice in the '80s); counterculturalist; musician; excellent poet; diarist, and posthumous novelist. WEB PRESENCE: Outstanding. Wikipedia page. For years, a female fan and friend of Carroll's created one of the most extensive Web sites on a writer that I've ever seen — it's ridiculous, it's so good. Other than that, he's pretty much all over the Internet like nobody's business.

ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Free Trade Flag
ARTIST: Joane Cardinal-Schubert (1942–2009) / Free Trade Flag

So Why Does Your Web Presence Suck?

So what's the reason again as to why you aren't on-line? Someone will steal your images? Most people re-post and link back to you. Cost too much? Use a blog to initiate a Web presence in the meantime: Blogger and Tumblr (especially Tumblr) are unbelievably easy to use (sorry, but Wordpress just gives me a headache). Add $10 bucks per year and you have a domain name: most of you spend more than $10 bucks a week on alcohol, smokes or irrelevant nonsense, so that excuse is beyond lame. Want it for free? Then use YourName.WhateverBlogPlatform.com and you're up and running. Concerned that too much information is available to the government? You're funny. This excuse usually comes from people who use cellphones (tracking devices), debit cards and travel regularly (what do you think that black magnetic stripe on your card and passport have embedded on it anyway? Recipes for key lime pie?). Scared of technology? Ugh, get over it. It's not that complicated if you start with a blogging platform. What's a good complement? Wikipedia, YouTube and Vimeo, depending on your needs.

These are the facts: we live in the 21st century. If you're not on-line, you don't exist. People have written about you, you say? Print publications don't hold urls forever. I found that sad fact out years ago and realized I'd have to digitize a few art reviews myself. If anyone wants to find your work, your professional history, anything related to your professional practice or business, Google is where they'll go first. Unless they're unbelievably committed to finding something, anything about you, they'll trek on through search pages to find something...but most people won't and that's your loss. Nevermind that searching several places on-line can be an irritating exercise if you want specific information now, not later.

What's that you say? You're on MySpace (the Friendster of 2-10), or some other social network? Sorry, but that doesn't count either. Your Web site is your business face on-line. If you leave piecemeal info here and there, with no home site with your up-to-date info or work and believe that past reviews or articles will make it up for you then you have allowed others to develop, what will become, an  inaccurate representation of who you are and what you do. And you know how broken telephone goes.

The worst part? Younger generations will believe that nothing else has come before them, or exist. Re-read Washington Savage's and Gwen Johnston's Web presence again, do your own search, and tell me I'm not lying. And that's the worst part: the disservice you are doing by not tooting your own horn. It's especially heinous if you are from a marginalized group, so why are you choosing to remain invisible by choice?

If you have no site, put up good quality recent work, your CV, bio and contact information. If it's a business, put up your mandate, details on your services and contact info. Keep it simple for now, but do something. It doesn't have to cost you a thing except some preparation and a little time.

Need to know how to make your initial site better once it's up and running? Use the excellent free WebGrader Tool from HubSpot and take the feedback to heart. Your learning curve will have gone up exponentially and you will have a basic presence on-line.

Who Gives Good Web?

Filmmaker Frances-Anne Solomon 
Besides her sites LedaSerene.ca, AWinterTale.ca and CaribbeanTales.ca/heartbeat, she updates her Wikipedia page regularly, as well as her Internet Movie Database (IMDB) profile. As well as a great filmmaker, Frances is the mother of Internet savvy.

Writer Anna Camilleri
Her core site, which focuses on her publishing, performances and visual art, is AnnaCamilleri.com, but she also uses a very simple, clean, and attractive looking blog for her community arts business, Red Dress Productions. Red Dress Productions is a great example of how an artist with a business can successfully use a free blogging platform professionally.

Sound Poet-Performer Sandra Alland
Sandra's core site is BlissfulTimes.ca, along with her Blog-Like Entity. But what I really like is that she regularly maintains her Wikipedia page. And the best part? She has her own Stumblintongues YouTube channel filled with live performances with her group Zorras.

How about you?
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