New report shows how the arts can survive and thrive with digital engagement


This week (July 6th) the Australian Council released its latest research, In Real Life: Mapping Digital Cultural Engagement in the First Decades of the 21st Century, who, with the accelerated digitization of our cultural experiences in the wake of the pandemic, shared insights that are becoming increasingly relevant for the arts sector.


Though the report was titled as a Retrospective of the 21st Century, the report weighed down the data from 2015 and provided a useful snapshot of the digital dynamics gained over the past five years.

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

Key findings:

  • The digital and the analog can no longer be viewed as separate spheres.
  • Changes in audience expectations include the ability to fit into the story and an understanding of “liveliness” that does not depend on “personal” presence.
  • More and more institutions are relying on the idea of ​​Open Access and enable the further use of digitized collections in the public sector.
  • The boundaries between “artist” and “audience” are blurring as more and more people participate creatively.
  • Digital disruption has reorganized the cultural value chain, promoting peer-to-peer systems of assessment, reward and artistic development.
  • Digital access is unevenly distributed.


While the ethos of the digital sphere seems to herald accessibility and widespread engagement, the report identifies alarming concerns that prompt art institutions to deeper reflection.

The report found that over 2.5 million Australians do not have internet access and for those who are online, internet access means no participation. Existing cultural capital, education, wealth and demographics are major determinants of whether users access online art platforms.

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

An important way to adapt to a world of digital engagement involves abandoning replicas of offline activity and instead leveraging new options and opportunities offered by digital space.

Deeper insights into the industry

Visual arts

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

Increasingly digitized collections of institutions aim to provide open access and “free” content to meet the changing expectations of the public for “greater interaction, intervention and collaboration between audience and creators”.

There are still diverse views across the industry about the digital art experience, with some claiming a superior physical experience while others arguing for the potential of 360-degree digital viewing capabilities.

The “art selfie” reflects the audience’s desire to be part of the narrative instead of being told what to think or do. Artists and institutions took this opportunity to get involved, including Lara Merretts Paint me in 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 performances is no longer solely achievable through “personal” experiences with more interactive options for live broadcasts. 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 viewers who may be less engaged when placed in the traditional settings of a theater, museum, or concert hall.

This shift in the way people consume is also seen in the shift towards advanced models (a virtual image displayed over the physical environment) rather than fully virtual experiences.

The report describes that consumer preference for portability over immersiveness has more or less blocked the way for clunky virtual reality headsets.

The aspect of interactivity and co-creativity, such as sending likes or comments in real time, is the key to live streaming and reflects the audience’s desire for “simultaneity”. Combined with the need to restore “vibrancy”, creative producers need to navigate this media environment where marketing is associated with engagement.

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


The growing popularity of social reading practices is facilitated by participatory technologies like Goodreads, where users “can share their opinions and contribute to mass criticism”.

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

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

However, the report also identified: is the diminishing audience reach that publishers can achieve using traditional methods.

Video games

While video game development requires the involvement of a wide variety of creative professionals, including artists, designers, musicians and writers, and game developers, the industry is still controversial as to whether a video game is “art”.

Concepts of “playfulness” and “gamification” have been introduced into the mainstream through mobile technologies and networked platforms, with the report suggesting that playing a game can be “an opportunity to consume audiovisual and narrative material”.

Online games now often include additional goals and rewards tied to community / social media aspects that can improve social connection, but the report points to some implications, such as: B. manipulative tactics that encourage impulsive spending in the game.

The video game culture is “full of participatory potential” with a wide range of fan-created content and game customization.


The dichotomy of the “dual economy” is at the center of understanding the struggles, with “established models of intellectual property rights and revenue generation inconveniently standing alongside concepts of” new media “of easy access and sharing for the common good”.

Perhaps even more depressing, the report indicates that “it is very unusual for a platform to be both successfully and genuinely community-run,” as growing platforms eventually have to work with advertisers, date miners, and venture capitalists to create the Cover web hosting costs.

One important way to adapt to a world of digital engagement that the report highlights is to abandon replicas of offline activity and instead take advantage of new options and opportunities that digital space offers.

Recent digital success stories include the 2020 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), which exceeded expectations by generating over $ 2.6 million and reaching 45,000 website traffic, compared to 17,000 in-person attendees in 2019. A more global one Reaching audiences and tapping into export markets were also identified as key benefits of their online iteration.

For creatives, online crowdfunding platforms like Patreon offer an alternative source of income and encourage more experimental projects instead of serving market tastes. However, the artist must also burden the work of traditional intermediaries such as lenders, publishers and organizers.

Find the full report of the Australian Council.

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