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New survey casts light on the use of digital technology in arts and culture sector

Date: 11/11/2013

A new report on the findings of a survey published today, called Digital Culture: How arts and cultural organisations in England use technology, gives detailed insights into the use of digital technology ¹within the arts and culture sector for the first time.

The survey which was commissioned by the partners of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts  - Arts Council England, Nesta and Arts and Humanities Research Council – consulted with nearly 900 organisations from across the arts and culture sector in England. The results show the many different ways in which organisations are using digital technologies to reach new audiences, and the positive impacts this is having.The survey also highlights the challenges that organisations face in realising their digital ambitions.

The survey found that while digital technology is permeating all aspects of arts and cultural organisations' activity, it is most important in relation to their marketing activities, their archiving and their operations. Almost three-quarters of respondents across arts and cultural forms now regard digital technologies as essential to their marketing, and almost 60% view it as essential for preserving and archiving, and for their operations.

In other areas, such as creation and distribution, the picture varies more by art and cultural form. For example 64% of visual arts organisations report producing 'born digital' ²artworks compared to 22% of music companies.

The majority of respondents (60%) report that digital has had a major impact on their ability to fulfil their mission effectively. In terms of impact on business models, digital technology has had more influence on operations than on revenues. 31% cite a major positive impact on their organisation's operations but the figure is significantly lower (11%) when it comes to revenues and to profitability. This varies by organisation type: 31% of performing arts venues report a major positive impact on revenues, compared with just 3% of museums.

Museums report lower levels of activity and impact from digital technology in other areas too, including audience development and engagement. They also cite having lower than average levels of digital expertise and empowerment from their senior management and a lower than average focus on digital experimentation, and research and development.

Over 60% of arts and cultural organisations said that they are constrained in their digital activities by a lack of staff time and funding, while over 40% cited a lack of technical skills in areas such as data management.

The survey identifies a group called the ‘Cultural Digirati’. This group consists of the top 10% of organisations, which according to the survey place most importance on digital. Compared with the rest of the sector, they are more likely to have larger digital audiences and report positive impacts in all areas, in particular in financial performance.

These ‘Culture Digirarti’ make use of a wide range of resources for advice and ideas; are more open to experimentation; and have digital skills spread throughout their organisation; and are more likely than others to prioritise research and development, and innovation.

The survey will be repeated in each of the next two years, allowing and the funders to track the influence that the R&D Fund is having on the wider sector and enabling individual organisations to map their own development against that of their peers.

Hasan Bakhshi, Director for Creative Economy, Policy and Research, at Nesta, said: Digital technologies are disrupting how we work, learn and socialise, but there remains little evidence on how they are affecting the arts and culture sector. For the first time we have a detailed account of how theatres, performance spaces, galleries and museums in England are innovating with new technologies. This evidence challenges preconceived notions about how the public engage with culture and illustrates the potentially vast dividends still to be reaped.

Simon Mellor, Executive Director, Arts at Arts Council England said: The findings from the 2013 survey give us the most detailed insight to date on how the cultural sector is responding to the challenges and opportunities afforded by digital technologies. They give us an excellent benchmark that will allow us to track the sector's progress over the next three years, as digital technologies continue to evolve.

Professor Mark Llewellyn, Director of Research at the AHRC, said: The evidence from the 2013 Digital Culture survey shows that arts and cultural organisations now have a real opportunity to enhance their engagement with digital technologies. In highlighting the need for organizations to increase their technical skills in key areas it also illustrates why the chance to collaborate with both technology providers and academic researchers is a great opportunity not only to gain vital knowledge but also to address the challenges of a fast moving digital landscape.

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers who want to use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector. The open call for expressions of interests to the fund was announced in 2012 and the final deadline for applications is Tuesday 7 January 2014.

Twenty-four digital projects have been funded and supported to date. These projects range from Nottingham City Museum's augmented reality mobile app and Script's project that will test the commercial viability of an album as mobile apps to Sheffield Doc Fest's experiment in connecting artists and audiences using 4G and high speed broadband.

To view the full survey findings or to apply for the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts visit the website.

Notes to editors

  • The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts' funding partners commissioned MTM to conduct a longitudinal study of arts and cultural organisations in England from 2013 to 2015. This first report presents baseline data collected through an online survey of individuals with responsibility for digital technology in 891 arts and cultural organisations. The survey will be administered annually over the next two years, allowing individual organisations to track how they are developing over time and against one another. It will also allow the Fund partners to see how the sector progresses during this period and to track the influence of funded projects, and lessons learned, have had on the wider sector.
  • ¹The survey used the term ‘digital technologies’ in a broad sense, to refer to any technologies that enable information to be created, stored or shared in digital form. These technologies include hardware (e.g. a camera or laptop), software (e.g. video editing programmes, or apps), networks (e.g. the internet), websites and mobile devices.
  • ²Born digital describes work native to and created for the digital space.
  • The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund to support organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers to collaborate on projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector. With a dedicated researcher or research team as part of the three-way collaboration, learning from the project can be captured and disseminated to the wider arts sector.


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