Beta Get Your Act Together, PBS: A critical look at their new arts website
The beta version of the new subdirectory of the PBS.org website, announced with the fanfare of a media release, is not, alas, particularly user friendly. When the homepage loads we see the title “Ruin & Revival”, and collection of video shorts that focus on post-Katrina New Orleans. The clips are supposed to be a part of something called “Craft in America”, and since I wasn’t sure what that was I clicked on the phrase. I was taken to an “unable to locate” screen. Among these clips was a fragment of a Tavis Smiley interview with Branford Marsalis in what is billed as a “curated” exhibition. But we are not sure who the curator is or whether the web designers really needed to use the verb “to curate”, so wildly overused of late. Is there a thesis behind this collection of video clips? Obviously they all have to do with post-Katrina New Orleans, but beyond that there really is no rhyme or reason to them except that they all have to do with art in some way. There really is nothing much else to the homepage except for these video clips which are smack dab in the middle. There are some menu items, in small white font on a black background at the top of the page and towards the bottom of the page there is yet another row of the same video clips covering the top of the same page. The rest of the website is an archive of sorts.
The top menu includes the following items: PROGRAMS A-Z, TV SCHEDULES, SUPPORT PBS, SHOP PBS. The lower menu items are all arts related: DANCE, THEATER, VISUAL ART, FILM, MUSIC. I clicked on VISUAL ART to see where it would take me. There were three rows of six hyperlinked images that take the visitor to slide shows of images taken from different episodes of Art in the Twenty First Century (Art:21). Annoyingly, there were no links to the actual full episodes the stills are taken from. Visitors have to back track and search anew to try and discover the link to the full episodes.
I went back to the homepage and gave PROGRAMS A-Z a try. A quick search box and a number of hyperlinked icons for a number of popular PBS shows came up, but only three out of the eight shows had anything to do with the arts. Further down the page there was an alphabetical listing of many different PBS shows. The ones in the list that related to the ARTS were not singled out in any way. This was frustrating to say the least. Since there is no indication whether or not the links take you to text, images, or a video clip I decided to randomly click on one that I thought related to the arts. I clicked on “Thomas Eakins: Scenes from Modern Life” and I was taken to what was essentially an overview and advertisement for the film. So there was no real content there. Then I clicked “Power of Art” and I got the annoying 403 Forbidden screen. I was determined to find substantial content. I clicked on “Hans Hofmann: Artist/Teacher, Teacher/Artist” and I was taken to another advertisement and overview of a film that was not available for me to watch but I that I could purchase.
Finally I clicked on “Art in the Twenty-First Century” and after clicking through a few pages I was able to access Seasons 1-5 of the show. Clumsy website notwithstanding, it should be stated that this show will teach the general public more about how artists work than anything that has or likely will appear on Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist”.