Day 28: Drupal in the Arts Recap

You guys! I ran a BoF at DrupalCon! I've made it! Next....the world!

Okay, maybe that's not next. But it was exciting to be driving the conversation at this big convention, not just soaking it up. I was worried no one would come. I had to review my session description to remind myself of what we might cover. But we had a group of about ten people and a great discussion.

I posted the notes on Twitter, but they're a bit opaque and definitely not accessible. So, to correct both problems, here are my notes as best I can remember. I don't have any notes on who said what, so I'm going to go with the ever-helpful "people". If you want credit, let me know.

I asked the group to volunteer topics they wanted to discuss, and we ended up with:

  • Managing Media Assets
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Accessibility
  • Non-technical clients
  • Budget

Each topic got a little less than ten minutes, except budget, because we ran out of time. (As one participant said, "Budget always gets cut.")

Managing Media Assets

In the arts world, we tend to have a lot of STUFF to manage. Image, video, audio, text. Pain points mentioned were having giant archives as well as high staff turnover. The high staff turnover is a problem in this area because the systems needed to track metadata can be complex and institutional knowledge of how to manage these assets can degrade rather quickly.

People mentioned solutions:

  • Media module
  • File Entity module
  • Using a CDN to track metadata (ResourceSpace was named specifically)

We also talked about the need to have true archives, and what exact metadata we should be tracking. Both were a little bit outside the scope, but for arts organizations who are storing a back catalog of shows, exhibitions, artworks, etc., I think taking care of those archives is every bit as important as the initial documentation and is a core component of any organization's legacy.

Work/Life Balance

In an exciting turn of events, almost everyone in the room was a Drupal person AND an artist! Naturally work/life balance came up.

The pain points we discussed here were feelings of guilt for having a split focus and mindlessly giving away your time and energy. Amen to that from me.

We discussed the importance of having an uninterrupted morning and scheduling the most important things first. We also talked about setting priorities and making intentional sacrifices--knowing that sometimes, we will need to be all-in on work and other times we will be all-in on our artistic practices. We talked also about gratitude, and about following your instincts/passion and creative style. One person compared getting into a rhythm at work to the musical rhythm of their work, which was a great way to reframe that discussion.

One person suggested using Drupal ALL the time--they tried to centralize tools as much as possible. This was an interesting strategy to me--I have probably 50 accounts to different services I use (WorkFlowy, TeamWork, 750Words, Draft, my bullet journal, Contactually, Gmail, Drupal, etc). I am trying to cut them down but never considered building myself an all-purpose organizing tool for my life in Drupal.

In many ways, organizing this BoF was one strategy in managing my own work/life balance. I frequently feel alienated and start to believe I'm the world's only choreographer/Drupal developer, which is a) false and b) destructive. By inviting my peers to discuss with me, I found people who are in the same boat I am. It felt really, really great.


This discussion came up based on the conflict that can sometimes arise between accessibility and strong artistic/creative vision from the client. The example was a client who insisted on a slideshow despite knowing it was inaccessible. Some other contributing factors are clients who are not always up to speed on the latest web trends and capabilities, as well as clients who have a history in print design or other forms of fixed media (the discussion bled into responsive design as well).

I loved this part of the discussion. A lot of what we discussed was various metaphors for explaining accessibility and responsive design in performance metaphors:

  • No performance is ever the same.
  • What you see depends on where you sit in the audience.
  • The relationship and interaction between elements is more important than the exact layout.
  • The web is a living thing.

I have spent a lot of time in my mind working out a choreographic metaphor for software, so these really resonated.

On a more practical level, we discussed:

  • Usability testing as a way of convincing clients just how bad the site is to those who use alternative devices
  • Providing accessible alternatives in the markup for screen readers
  • Video captioning
  • Facebook's captioning tool

Non-Technical Clients

I know that this is not limited to the arts world, but it certainly occurs in this realm. A non-technical client often doesn't use the internet all that much, doesn't know what is possible, and is sometimes working with an outdated mental model of what websites should or should not do. There can also be issues with communication and clients using descriptive words that don't actually describe anything ("edgy" or "wonky").

This subject brought up a ton of soft skills discussions:

  • Running focus groups to show them what their users actually like
  • Showing them something better than they imagined (sometimes I use this at the proposal stage)
  • Teaching them how to give feedback or creating a feedback protocol (which is a technique I picked up as an artist)
  • Getting to know your clients' worldviews and metaphors, and using it in teaching them how to use the site
  • Asking them to demonstrate what they like by having them research other sites

A few tools we discussed:

  • Peek Free User Testing
  • Google Analytics
  • ChalkMark

Overall it was a great discussion. Paired with what I learned at the Fundraising BoF, about various open-source CRM and fundraising platforms, I have a whole bunch of new ideas and techniques to bring to my work, which is always a good time.

If you are part of an arts organization and you'd like to talk about your website, check out my business and drop me a line!

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