Free and Free By-products

“Here is a simple fact: it is a better time to be an artist than any other time in history. Whether you are a writer or a painter or a musician or a filmmaker, you were born at a lucky time. Thanks to the Internet, global distribution and organization is now available to everyone.” ~ Joseph Fink, co-creator of Welcome To Night Vale

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What does it mean to give your work away? To encourage your supporters to make and give their work away? What sustains the work in these kinds of networks, and what does it mean for education (especially the kind that is presumably meant to equip people with skills for work)? What does “work” even mean anymore?

Big Questions, Night Vale. Big. Questions.

To address some of these big questions, I’d like to think through (with you) how a free podcast that welcomes and solicits fanworks as part of its creative ethos sustains itself. Within that fan community, I’d like to look specifically at how a fiction/fanart exchange might generate interest and extend both the fictional and online communities. Along the way, I’d like us to consider together what fanworks and fan exchanges might offer to conversations about multimodal composition, fair use, and 21st Century literacies.

Though my argument is still in its formative stages, I’m especially wondering about whether the multimedia skills that are often touted as job skills might be approached more productively as community skills. Online communities offer a stage to display a wide range of talents and abilities to an appreciative audience, and in turn, they encourage the uptake of skills and habits necessary to create and share on that stage.

This reciprocal process blurs the lines between audience, creator, performer, and performance, creating a new kind of consumer culture that thrives on the opportunity to participate in its own creation, to pursue its own education, and to produce its own entertainment largely outside of monetary systems. All of this work takes place around shared narratives, so an attendant question might be: does giving your work away and inviting people to transform and remix it create a more durable community? By creating a more durable community, do you increase your chances of sustaining yourself by your art?

If you want to know more about Welcome to Night Vale before we talk about it at WIDE-EMU, check out my storify collection:

One thought on “Free and Free By-products

  1. kstedman says:

    Super intriguing stuff all around. I like it.

    Part of my thought process at first was kind of like this: “The question of motivation to share is so much bigger than just podcasts, and so much bigger even than fandom! I wonder why she narrowed in on this particular podcast?”

    On rereading, I think the answer to that comes from the Night Vale’s particular identity as a multimodal text, one that can only come together with the job/community skills you describe. Right? Someone could say, “Why not just study fic? What’s different about the podcast?” And the answer seems to be in your focus on 21st-century skills in particular.

    I wonder how deep you want to get into the psychology of motivation (something that Shirky writes a lot about in Cognitive Surplus, but from his non-specialist, “I read a lot of stuff” perspective). At least, it seems that motivation is on the edges of your conversation here, the question of why people do all this for free. I’m sure there are lots of good answers out there about why people do stuff for free (to feel competent, autonomous, connected, generous, etc.). But I guess you’re not exactly asking the why, so maybe I’m on the wrong track.

    In any case, sounds fun!

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