Art Works Blog

The arts of tech?

Washington, DC

"Power Plug" by Darren Hester via Flickr

Last year brought a slew of technological changes for media, entertainment, and popular culture. Apple unveiled both the iPad and a deal to acquire the Beatles’ catalogue, Avatar screened to record audiences, and Facebook got a facelift. For their part, arts funders, and cultural policy analysts, have spent much of 2010 tracking innovations in the use of media and technology for arts programming and audience development. Central to those efforts is a growing body of research that seeks to understand the nature and extent of arts participation through digital media.

The most recent national study of this type was conducted by Arts Council England, in partnership with another UK government entity---the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council---and Arts & Business, a non-governmental organization. Titled Digital audiences: Engagement with arts and culture online, the report examines user preferences and behaviors with regard to digital media and the arts. The findings come from an online survey sample of 2,000 Britons representing the country’s entire population of Internet-using adults.

According to the report, 53 percent of Britain’s online adult population “used the Internet to engage with the arts and cultural sector” over a 12-month period. While online, they learned about an artist, performer, arts event, or exhibition (33 percent); they viewed “creative or artistic” works (21 percent) or enjoyed a video or audio “clip” of an arts performance or exhibition (16 percent); and/or they purchased tickets (20 percent). Fewer adults used the Internet or mobile technology to create artwork (6 percent) or to upload self-created artworks (7 percent).

What do these percentages mean? International comparisons are almost impossible, but it is striking that the “53 percent” figure mirrors a key statistic in the NEA’s Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation report, released earlier in 2010.

Unlike the UK study, the NEA report was based on a survey of the general adult population, and not solely Internet-users. Still, the U.S. report found that 53 percent of all American adults participated in the arts through electronic or digital media. These activities included not only online arts activities (e.g., reading literature or viewing artworks or performances via Internet), but also use of TV, CDs/DVDs, computers, or mobile devices to engage with art. The two surveys did, however, identify the same percentage of Internet-using adults who viewed artworks online: around 20 percent.

A far more interesting point of convergence between the two reports is their focus on the strong relationships between live arts attendance and online arts experiences. According to the UK report, “people use digital media primarily as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, the live arts experience.” This conclusion flows from the survey’s finding that “the most prevalent online activities are those that support access to live events.”

British online audiences gave as their top two reasons for viewing or listening to arts performances or exhibitions online: prohibitive costs for tickets (42 percent) and an inability to acquire tickets (40 percent). Other common reasons included a lack of time to attend a live event or difficult access to the venue location. Yet 15 percent of those online audiences also attended a live event.

These findings resonate with the NEA’s own report, which observed that adults using electronic or digital media to engage with art were nearly three times as likely as adults who did not do these activities to attend live arts events. Arts participants through electronic or digital media were also more likely to create or perform art of their own, and to attend a broader array of live arts events than people who did not experience art through media.

The UK has conducted previous research that supports this positive relationship between live arts attendance and media-based arts participation. In its February 2010 report, Beyond live: Digital innovation in the performing arts, the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) assured arts organizations that the phenomenon of simulcasts need not eclipse the appeal of live performances.

The NESTA study found that cinema audiences for two staged productions reported “higher levels of emotional engagement” than the theater audiences for those works. Cinema audiences also said, following the simulcast event, that they had grown more likely to visit the theater in the future. The title of one of those productions extends a similar message to arts organizations in 2011: All’s Well that Ends Well.

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