Digital Culture Research


Digital Culture: How arts and cultural organisations in England use technology

We are now in the second year in the three-year ‘Digital Culture’ research programme, which is tracking technological innovation in the arts and culture sectors in England.

The first year (2013) report found organisations are actively using in digital to market and distribute arts and cultural experiences, and in many cases, to create and programme work. But despite the range of activity occurring – important opportunities clearly remain. For example, the survey found that just 11% of arts and cultural organisations were experiencing major impacts on their overall profitability.

Twelve months on, the picture may well be very different. The potential for big data and open data has been explored in blogs and forums across the country, and exciting concepts like wearable technology and the internet of things are gathering pace. There are exciting and worthwhile conversations underway about risk-takingcollaboration and R&D in the arts.  The funding landscape has also changed, with the re-launch of The Space, and the NPO announcement in January 2014. The Digital R&D Fund has also completed funding and currently supports 52 projects between arts, technology and research sectors.

What does this all mean? Are we seeing impacts in terms of how we work, the art we make, and the experiences we create for audiences? Or is technology draining valuable resources from other priorities?  Seeing how the use of digital in the sector is evolving is vitally important for all of us. It helps arts professionals working in organisations make informed decisions about technology. It also ensures funders develop great support mechanisms, and bring energy to worthwhile initiatives.

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More about the 2013 study

Download the 2013 full report

Download the 2013 report summary

Results are now available from the first year survey of 891 arts and cultural organisations, including digital activities, barriers, enablers and impacts.

It shows that arts and cultural organisations have transformed their marketing and operations through digital technology, with many reaching bigger and more diverse audiences than ever before. They are also seeing major benefits for creation and distribution, whilst in other areas like new revenue generation, important opportunities remain.

One research participant, Tate Modern, noted that ‘Digital activity is forcing us to rethink out creative practice. For over a hundred years our activity has been grounded in displays in buildings. The affordances of digital means we are rethinking this.’  Tate Modern developed new interactive digital projects ‘Bloomberg Connects‘ to allow gallery visitors to connect in new ways with art, artists and other visitors and make their ideas visible around the gallery.

Sheffield Doc/Fest say that ‘as expectations of digital and interactive experiences for audiences grow, so too do demands on arts organisations to be more innovative in audience engagement.’  They worked with with EE, the University of Sheffield and Blast Theory on Digital Art2, a project to explore the interactive artistic potential of high-speed networks with support from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

Many arts and cultural organisations have introduced new digital activities for the first time in the last year, allowing the research to identify several major growth areas. Whilst live streaming is performed by only 15% of organisations, it is the fastest growing digital activity. More than half of those engaging in it say they started doing so within the past 12 months.

‘For the first time we have a detailed account of how theatres, performance spaces, galleries and museums in England are innovating with new technologies.’

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.’

Over the next two years, the research will map the changing picture of technology in the arts, so we can learn from the experience of those who use technology most effectively, and maximise the potential for the arts and culture.

Download the research summary and full research report to learn more about the use and impact of technology, major digital growth areas and the ‘cultural digirati’ in 2013.

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Image credit: Elliott Franks courtesy of Royal Opera House