Here’s how it works. After you come out of a play, art show, concert, auto show … whatever …you can stop at the iCritic Detroit mobile video booth parked in front of the event and record your review. It’ll be posted on local websites and shared on social media channels. iCritic Detroit will crisscross the city, stopping at all kinds of events, large and small, allowing many of the under the radar performances to be showcased as well as those that are more well known. In short, it will let residents become part of the conversation about Detroit’s vibrant arts scene.
“I very much think it will bring more people downtown,” says Jennifer Conlin, Ann Arbor- and Detroit-based New York Times freelancer and co-creator of the project. “If you see iCritic Detroit pulled up at a venue you may be interested to see what’s being performed there. It is something fun that connects different artistic institutions in Detroit … not just the anchor ones but also the smaller regional projects with artistic bent. It will visibly attract people …It’s as much fun as running into the taco truck in Detroit.
“Video reviews allow people to be more candid and not prescribed in what they say,” she continued. “When they come out of a performance they are often excited about play, art and so on.”
Conlin also believes the video reviews will let people see Detroit’s diversity … the different ages, races, ethnicities and so on. “That may make anyone who has felt intimidated about coming Downtown more comfortable and they will want to find new places in the city to visit.”
iCritic Detroit is the brain child of Conlin and Dan Shaw, a former New York Times editor. Their idea was a finalist in a national “Community Arts Journalism Challenge” sponsored by the Knight Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Out of 233 applications, only five ideas were given funding.
“Everyone at the “Grantmakers in the Arts” conference in San Francisco, where the winners were announced two weeks ago, loved the iCritic idea and immediately wanted one in their cities,” says Conlin. “It is perfect, however, for Detroit that the first ever ‘arts reviewing vehicle’ should be created and launched in the Motor City.”
Conlin and Shaw got their idea from a similar program launched by the Barrington Stage Company, based in Pittsfield, Mass. in the Massachusetts Berkshires. They are working in partnership with that group. Its interactive iCritic Booth is located in the lobby of the theater and allows audience members to record video reviews following main stage performances. The videos are then uploaded to BSC’s iCritic Booth YouTube channel and shared through social media, email newsletters and the theater’s website.
The iCritic Detroit project is just getting off the ground. Conlin and Shaw are putting together their business plan and looking for a vehicle to house the iCritic mobile booth. Next spring Knight/NEA will choose winners from among the five finalists who will then be eligible for up to $80,000 each to put their plan into practice.
Conlin and Shaw are confident their project will move forward and are looking at specific ideas when it launches.
Reviews will, of course, be moderated for inappropriate, distasteful or bullying content but in true journalist fashion the quotes will not be tampered with and content will not be changed. However, “profanity may be bleeped out with some funny sound,” Conlin said.
In addition, the iCritic Detroit team may come out with a Top 10 reviews for a venue. “That’s where the journalism comes in,” she said. “Citizen journalism is great, but we also need to add the journalistic touch.”
Other ideas include asking local critics to put together pointers on how to do a good critique for those interested and asking them to be the first to do a critique of the performance on iCritic so there is more focus on the content of the performance, not just a review.
“These are ideas we are bantering around,” Conlin said. “Nothing is set in stone.”
To see videos of the five winning projects and read more about the Challenge, visit artsjournalism.org. Join the conversation on Twitter at #artsjourn.