During the COVID-19 pandemic, many arts and culture organisations used technology to avoid closing and to engage audiences remotely. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 25 million people in the UK engaged with arts and culture online in 2020. Turning to digital technologies did not however mitigate the impact of the pandemic on arts and culture, with small organisations and freelancers significantly affected. Although digital technologies have the potential to improve engagement with arts and culture, research from the pandemic showed how pre-existing disparities impact the ability of organisations and practitioners to use technology. Most stakeholders argue that the sector is at a crucial point where it can learn from the increased uptake of digital technology during the pandemic, which can contribute to Government priorities such as Levelling Up.
Key points in this briefing
- Supporting digital innovation in the creative and cultural industries is a UK Government priority. Some arts and culture organisations however struggle to access funding for implementing digital technologies and for research and development (R&D).
- Digital technologies have the potential to positively impact audiences and improve accessibility. Evidence from the pandemic however shows that digital arts and culture engaged the same audiences as in-person activity. Disabled audiences benefited significantly from increased access online, but this has not yet translated to improving accessibility in person.
- Pre-existing inequalities in the cultural sector affect some creative practitioners’ ability to use technology. Stakeholders link some of these barriers to the wider lack of diversity in the creative sector.
- Size and location impact the ability of arts and culture organisations to use technology, with smaller organisations in deprived areas encountering significant barriers. There were some small organisations who innovated quickly during the pandemic but financial returns on digital activity remained low for most organisations.
- Many stakeholders argue there are opportunities for the sector to learn from the pandemic and develop its digital capability. They call for more funding for technological innovation in arts and culture, focusing on cross-sector collaboration and R&D. Other recommendations include bridging arts and culture and technology within formal education and improving diversity and accessibility in the sector.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
Members of the POST Board*
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport*
Professor Pascale Aebischer, University of Exeter, Pandemic and Beyond*
Dr Dan Ashton, University of Southampton
Lucy Askew, Creation Theatre*
The Audience Agency*
Hasan Bakhshi MBE, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre*
Professor James Bennett, Royal Holloway University of London, StoryFutures*
Dr Hayleigh Bosher, Brunel University*
Rafe Clayton, University of Leeds*
Design and Artists Copyright Society*
Sarah Ellis, Royal Shakespeare Company*
Dr Anita Greenhill, University of Manchester
Professor David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds*
Owen Hopkin, Arts Council England
Dr Lise Jaillant, Loughborough University*
Professor Helen Kennedy, University of Nottingham
Dr Jenny Kidd, Cardiff University*
Dr Dominic Lees, University of Reading
Dr Jorge Lopes Ramos, Greenwich University
Trevor MacFarlane FRSA, Culture Commons
Dr Paul Meller, Arts and Humanities Research Council*
Helen Meller, Arvon
Dr Helen Miles, University of Aberystwyth
Dr Richard Misek, University of Kent, Digital Access to Arts and Culture*
Fiona Morris, The Space*
Nell Nixon, Loughborough University
Professor Mike Phillips, University of Plymouth
Dr Mariachiara Restuccia, University of Sussex*
Peter Rudge FRSA, Staffordshire University
Francesca Sanderson, Nesta
Professor Paul Sermon, University of Brighton, Telepresence Stage, Pandemic and Beyond
Dr Josh Siepel, University of Sussex
Dr Jon Swords on behalf of XR Stories, University of York
Sandra Tusin, NFT Soho*
Professor Ben Walmsley, Centre for Cultural Value, University of Leeds*
Professor Simeon Yates, Liverpool University*
Dr Efpraxia Zamani, University of Sheffield*
*denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.