Lara RatnarajaSimon WhitehouseBy Lara Ratnaraja and Simon Whitehouse, co-curators of Hello Culture

The New Cultural Data Revolution: how do cultural and heritage organisations become digitally resilient and agile, in order to meet the demands of future audiences?

“Digital” is everywhere, and the online space is now full of apps, portals and websites for the cultural sector, all intended to increase audience engagement, enhance the cultural experience and showcase creative and cultural work to a global audience. However the models used rarely take into account how people truly consume and engage with culture.

There is often still an apprehension and lack of awareness of the potential to profoundly transform practice and the audience experience and develop new business models in the cultural sector. An understanding of the complexities and implications of this disruption, both positive and negative, is not as widespread as it could be.

Digital novelty has passed from proof of concept and market and is now entering its third age – where audience and culture meet across multiple platforms, through multiple points of entry and allow for access on different levels.

This isn’t an either/or premise; online hasn’t replaced offline, but it can enhance the audience’s experience and amplify how they can connect with culture on their own terms. This allows cultural organisations and artists to interrogate their cultural activity, and its relationship with their audiences, in order to create dynamic and active connections with it.  This is the reality of the disruption that is happening across audiences, markets and content creation as digital technology and media transforms them all.

Projects such Vangoyourself , The Invisible Hand , Mining the Archive and Leeds Art Crawl are all mindful of these disruptions and play, subvert and and embrace them. They place content at the heart of what they do, yet use digital to have fun with their audiences, to question the role of the artist and enable audiences to discover and navigate their own cultural experience.

The use of data in all its manifestations is providing evidence of changing audience behaviours and in doing so how the cultural sector needs to respond.

The February 2013 NESTA Report by Anthony Lilley with Professor Paul Moore, “Counting What Counts – What Big Data Can Do for the Cultural Sector”, stated

“It is high time for a step-change in the approach of arts and cultural bodies to data and for them to take up and build on the management of so-called ‘big data’ in other sectors”.

The New Data Revolution is more than just “big” though:  As Helga Henry said “Data are people:  their thoughts, feelings, emoticons, tweets, photos and status updates. Data are audiences: when they come and go, where they go and what they like and don’t like. Data are stories”

Cultural organisations can contextualise data within a new cultural framework – where education leads to audience development, where developing new income streams through earned income can provide you with new audiences. Hack the Space at The Tate explored this through myriad uses and sources of data to create new digital creative work.

These new ways of working are neither a digital panacea, nor a band aid, but are innovations that change how work is created, curated and consumed. Digital resilience is not just about the technology but the art, the audience and the artist.

These are all issues for debate and experimentation – risk and failure. Good collaboration will be both  cross-discipline and cross-sector: encouraging disruption and debate; challenging assertions and assumptions while embracing innovation and interrogation.

For cultural organisations to truly embrace and take advantage of digital opportunities and become resilient they need to understand the partnerships they will need to develop. The Nesta R&D fund   and the CATH project  have used intelligent brokerage, context, and a framework for learning and implementation to develop innovative collaborative partnerships that are impacting across the sector.

The data revolution will need a transformative shift in culture to happen for true data disruption to take place and for the arts to understand that digital consumption, audience demographics and future demographic changes to their audiences will modify how they create, curate, produce and distribute.

This is also not a one size fits all – what works for one art form may not be relevant for another. There are both differences and similarities for venue and non-venue based organisations. How does your digital infrastructure cope with real time live streaming, online collaboration and cloud based content?

By tackling these questions with enthusiasm and creativity the opportunities to create meaningful, emotionally resonant and personalised experiences for audiences becomes significantly higher, as does the probability of their continued involvement with the cultural organisation that is off site but online.



About The Author

Editor at large of Polaroids and Polar Bears, PR bod and not-so-secret geek. Chris established Polaroids and Polar Bears in 2013.