Starting this May, every dance group in California from the San Francisco Ballet to the local community center hip hop group will have access to a powerful new tool for promotion and advocacy. For months, the California Dance Network (CADN), with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the California Arts Council, has been working with trend-savvy Web designers at 415, Inc. in San Francisco to create a dynamic new community driven network that promises, literally, to connect the dance dots across the state.
“The site is a significant new tool for both visibility and advancement,” says Wayne Hazzard, director of Dancers’ Group and a partner in the Network. “This will be a go to place on the Web for audience members, presenters, dancers, choreographers, students and teachers. But it will also do something that is not happening anywhere in the country and that is to comprehensively document what is happening within our state.” The site accomplishes this through an innovative, interactive mix of resources including personal profiles, event listings, feeds of media coverage on dance, featured articles, and a map that offers a visual tool for understanding dance in California.
Individual artists and groups will certainly want to take advantage of the site’s simple to use, fast loading and free personal profile pages. Performers can log on to upload photos and video. The site also allows users to quickly transfer material from online services such as YouTube in order to leverage the Websites they are already using. Additionally, artists can write about their dance activities, post news about current projects and provide contact information. Then they can select their own search tags, allowing them to control how their work is defined. “The design allows community members to optimize their presence on the Web,” says Ben Rigby of design firm 415. “Through automatic submission to Google and free Google Adwords promotion, an artist is guaranteed increased exposure.” So, while the profiles are an easy way for any dance company to substantially increase its visibility with audiences and presenters, emerging and community-based artists without their own Web pages will have a uniquely professional place on the Internet to get the word out about their work. Profiles will also be featured on the home page, providing added exposure on a rotating basis.
For dance audiences, the site is a one-stop shop for information about performances and events via a month-by-month calendar that can be searched by region, genre and more. The site will also have an event spotlight section featuring upcoming dance event picks. The CADN partners plan to promote the calendar widely to visitor and convention bureaus and other similar hubs that serve people looking for things to do around the state. The events posted on the site are also automatically submitted to Google’s events database, again increasing exposure opportunities.
This new means of connecting dancers and audiences is of critical importance to Julie Mushet, director of World Arts West and a partner in the Network. “Year after year, dancers have struggled to reach audiences to see their work,” she says. “So many beautiful performances have empty seats solely because it was too difficult and expensive to do the marketing and outreach. The new CADN Website will provide increased visibility and accessibility for our dance community in ways that have not been available previously.” Network partner and director of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance, Julie McLeod, also sees the calendar, with its class and event listings, as an excellent opportunity for dancers. “Many of our dancers travel and are interested in finding out what is new, who is teaching and what performances are going on in California,” she says. “The Website will give many answers to them and will stimulate a cohesion in our state.”
This goal of creating statewide cohesion is aided by several unique features on the site. One of its key components is an interactive map of dance in California. An array of thirteen icons appears on the map to indicate where different resources such as companies, dancers, venues and events are located throughout the state. Using a familiar Google map format, the site allows users to define their search criteria to see as much detail as they are interested in. For the dance community, it’s a gateway to community resources. For audiences, it’s an easy way to see what’s happening where. And for fundraisers, foundations and directors, it’s a great tool for making the case for additional support. “This provides us with a living census,” says Hazzard. “I think there is more dance out there than we know, but we have no way of seeing who and where we are or identifying needs regionally. Now we will.”
Another tool for understanding dance in California will be the site’s news section. Here, users can easily browse articles written about dance in California publications, along with national media sources, that are accessible on the Web. These electronic news feeds will automatically provide a snapshot of current dance coverage, opening a valuable window onto how dance is currently being covered and eliminating the need to search for this information on one’s own.
Larger issues affecting the dance community will be tackled on the site’s featured article page, designed to highlight legislative news pertaining to the arts and national news. Users will have the opportunity to post comments to this section of the site, stimulating dialogue about the most pressing concerns of the community.
All of these features are wrapped in a design that communicates the color and vibrancy of California without overpowering the contributions of the individual personalities of its users. Ultimately, 415, Inc. hopes it has created a site that is welcoming, community driven, dynamic, intuitive and, above all, useful. “The site moves way beyond traditional ‘brochure-ware’ and makes optimal use of the social Web,” says Rigby. “By using open source software and web services like Google Maps, Google Adwords, Google Calendar, Salesforce, Drupal and YouTube, we’ve built a high value resource for the California dance community that allows its members to connect with each other and audiences.”
For the CADN consortium members that have spent months working with the community and designers to create the site, the end of the road is also its beginning. “This opens doors for us all,” says Hazzard. “Now artists around the state can be seen and counted in a whole new way. The launch of this Website is thrilling and empowering.”