New report reveals how the arts can survive and thrive through digital engagement

This week (July 6), the Australian Council released its most recent research, In real life: mapping digital cultural engagement in the first decades of the 21st century, who shared ideas increasingly relevant to the arts sector with the accelerated digitization of our cultural experiences ushered in by the pandemic.


Although titled as a 21st century journal, the report weighed heavily on data from 2015 and beyond, providing a useful snapshot of the digital momentum that has been built over the past five years.

The report’s focus on four artistic media – loosely categorized as visual arts, performing arts, literature, and video games – reveals how the nature of these practices can impact their landscape to enhance engagement. digital.

Main conclusions:

  • Digital and analogue can no longer be seen as separate spheres.
  • Changes in audience expectations include the ability to fit into the story and the understanding of “living” that does not depend on being “in person”.
  • More and more institutions are embracing the idea of ​​open access and allowing the reuse of digitized collection items in the public domain.
  • The boundaries are blurred between “artist” and “audience” as more and more people participate in a creative way.
  • Digital disruption has reorganized the cultural value chain that encourages peer-to-peer assessment, reward and artistic development systems.
  • Digital access is unevenly distributed.


While the ethics of the digital sphere seem to herald accessibility and widespread engagement, the report identifies alarming concerns that invite deeper consideration for artistic institutions.

The report noted that over 2.5 million Australians do not have internet access and for those who are online, internet access does not equate to participation. Existing cultural capital, education, wealth and demographics are huge determinants of whether users access online art platforms.

Australian Council CEO Adiran Collette AM said of the results: “There is a need to discuss and respond to the main challenges – from creating sustainable business models to ensuring that all Australians, especially those who have with a disability, older Australians and those in regional and remote communities are able to access and benefit from creative participation.

A key way to adapt to a world of digital engagement is to move away from replicas of offline activities and instead harness the new options and opportunities offered by the digital space.


visual arts

Controlling copyright over works of art has not only become more difficult with digital technology and social media, but also counterproductive, as many galleries recognize the marketing power of works of art shared online. .

Increasingly digitized institutional collections aim to provide open access and “free to use” content in recognition of changing public expectations for “greater interaction, intervention and collaboration between the public and the public. creators ”.

Divergent views on the digital art viewing experience are still perpetuated across the industry, with some claiming a superior physical experience while others argue for the potential of digital viewing features to 360 degrees.

The “artistic selfie” reflects the audience’s desire to participate in the story, rather than being told what to think or do. Artists and institutions seized this opportunity for engagement, including Lara Merrett Paint me at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the #NewSelfWales exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales, both in 2018.

Performing arts

The “liveliness” that defines real-time performance is no longer exclusively achievable through “in-person” experiences with more interactive options for live streaming. At the same time, “digital access can overcome financial, geographic, physical and cultural barriers” to reach a wider and more diverse audience.

Performances hosted online cultivate a younger generation of audiences who can become less engaged when placed in the traditional setting of a theater, museum or concert hall.

This shift in the nature of consumption can also be identified in the move towards augmented models (a virtual image displayed above a physical environment) rather than completely virtual experiences.

The report describes that consumer preference for portability over immersion has more or less blocked the way for large VR headsets.

The aspect of interactivity and co-creativity, such as the ability to send “likes” or comments in real time, is essential for live broadcasting and reflects the audience’s desire for “simultaneity” . Combined with the need to recreate “liveliness”, creative producers must navigate this media environment where marketing is mixed with engagement.

Overall, COVID-19 has underscored the need for productions to have flexible systems ready to move from live content to online content and to remain resilient in times of crisis. This includes researching alternative models rather than simply replicating existing content.


The growing popularity of social reading practices is facilitated by participatory technologies such as Goodreads, where users can “share their opinions and contribute criticism from the crowd”.

The report showed that literary events – both online and offline – facilitate social reading communities and are amplified by the use of social media, while “digital reading cultures help increase the popularity of the book. physical as a “desirable object”.

Online initiatives such as #BookTube, which hosts book vlogs and 24-hour read-a-thons, combine online and offline reading activities while emphasizing the importance of the physical book.

However, the report also identified is the declining audience that publishers are able to reach with traditional methods.

Video games

While the creation of video games requires the participation of a myriad of creative professionals, including artists, designers, musicians and writers, as well as game developers, the debate over whether a game video is an “art” still enveloping the industry.

The concepts of ‘playfulness’ and’ gamification ‘have been introduced to the general public through mobile technology and networked platforms where the report suggests that playing a game can be a’ way of consuming audiovisual material and narrative ”.

Online games now often include additional goals and rewards related to aspects of community / social media that can improve social connections, but the report highlights some worrying implications such as manipulative tactics that encourage impulse spending in the game. the game.

Video game culture is “full of participatory potential” with a wide range of fan-made content and game indivisualization.


The “dual economy” dichotomy is central to understanding struggles, where “established models of intellectual property rights and income generation do not sit well alongside concepts of“ new media ”that are easily accessible and shared for the public. common good. ”

Perhaps more depressingly, the report points out that “it is very unusual for a platform to be both successful and genuinely community-driven,” as growing platforms eventually need to connect with them. advertisers, date miners and venture capitalists to cover web hosting costs.

A key way to adapt to a world of digital engagement highlighted by the report is to forgo replicas of offline activities and instead harness the new options and opportunities offered by the digital space.

Recent digital success stories include the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) 2020, which exceeded expectations generating over $ 2.6 million and reaching 45,000 in website traffic, up from 17,000 in-person visitors. in 2019. Reaching a more global audience and tapping into export markets were also identified as critical benefits of their iteration online.

For creators, online crowdfunding platforms such as Patreon offer an alternative source of income and favor more experimental projects rather than cater to market tastes. However, the artist must also burden the work of traditional intermediaries such as distributors, publishers and promoters.

Find the full Australian Council report.

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