Culture at your fingertips: New research on digital arts engagement

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New research published by the Australian Council for the Arts examines how we engage in the arts using digital technology and what this means for the cultural sector, now and in the future.

Digital engagement with the arts has increased over the past two decades and accelerated with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Real Life: Mapping Digital Cultural Engagement in the First Decades of the 21st Century provides timely insight into how audiences are using digital technology to engage in the arts.

The Sydney Opera House digital season, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair are examples of how creative workers and institutions have adapted to present their work to the public during pandemic restrictions.

As the report points out, the rapid digital switchover poses significant political and business challenges.

Australian Council CEO Adrian Collette AM said:

Now we literally have almost endless possibilities at our fingertips to discover, connect, engage and build culture online. We have seen, especially throughout the pandemic, how digital technologies have enabled more people to access artistic and cultural experiences.

We also know that these changes – which were already happening and were accelerated by the pandemic – have profound ramifications for the creative sector. There is a need to discuss and address the main challenges, from creating sustainable business models to ensuring that all Australians, especially people with disabilities, older Australians and those in regional and remote communities, can access and benefit from ‘creative participation.

Conducted in partnership between the Australian Arts Council and the Singapore National Arts Council, the research will inform the research and strategies of both councils.

In Real Life adds to the Australian Council’s growing body of work on digital engagement, including Audience Outlook Monitor research that tracks public sentiment and behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as research reports on professional artists, artistic participation, blockchain and music exports.

Highlights:

  • Australians are increasingly interested in the online arts – and the line between “artist” and “audience” is increasingly blurred due to the rise of participatory digital technologies.
  • Public expectations are changing and now often include: the ability to fit into history, a work of art or an artistic experience; access to multiple lines of communication – with artists, audience members and other participants.
  • For many people, the live experience is no longer just a simple “in person” presence. It can mean experiencing art simultaneously with others and watching events unfold in real time.
  • Public expectations now also include significant access to arts and culture at minimal cost. Digital technology has made it more difficult for copyright owners to exercise control over works of art, but has also led to an expansion of options for sharing and remixing artistic content. New business models and the inclusion of copyright are needed to ensure the remuneration of artists and creatives.
  • Digital technology offers the possibility for a wider range of people to participate in a greater variety of creative activities. But that doesn’t mean everyone has equal access. Connectivity is unevenly distributed across socioeconomic groups, ages, and geographic locations. And there are other barriers to online participation for some groups. The Australian Council continues to work on access and inclusion in the digital world.

The research precedes the release of the Australian Council’s Digital Culture Strategy and the upcoming Arts Going Digital Forum to be held on July 12.

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