New research by the Australia Council for the Arts (ACA) has underlined the opportunities and challenges facing event operators in an increasingly digital landscape, with audiences saying that “the live experience is no longer just about ‘in-person’ attendance”.

The study, entitled ‘In Real Life: Mapping digital cultural engagement in the first decades of the 21st century’, explored the impact of accelerating digital usage on the arts.

The ACA highlighted the Sydney Opera House’s digital season, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair as examples of how creative institutions have adapted to present their work to audiences in spite of pandemic-related restrictions.

However, the report added that the transition to digital consumption has presented significant policy and commercial challenges.

Listing the key highlights of the study, the ACA stated: “For many people, the live experience is no longer just about ‘in-person’ attendance. It can mean experiencing art simultaneously with others and watching events unfold in real time.

“Australians are increasingly engaging with the arts online – and the line between ‘artist’ and ‘audience’ is increasingly blurred due to the rise of participatory digital technologies.

“Audience expectations are changing and now often include: the ability to insert oneself into the story, an artwork or an art experience; access to multiple lines of communication – with performers, audience members, and other participants.”

Another key finding was that audiences expect “significant access to arts and culture for minimal cost”, with digital technology having “made it harder for copyright holders to exert control over artworks, but… also led to an expansion of options for sharing and remixing artistic content.”

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette said: “We now have literally at our fingertips almost infinite possibilities to discover, connect, engage and create culture online. We have seen, particularly throughout the pandemic, how digital technologies have enabled more people to access the arts and cultural experiences.

“We also know these changes – that were already occurring and have been accelerated by the pandemic – have deep ramifications for the creative sector. There is a need to discuss and respond to key challenges – from creating sustainable business models to ensuring all Australians, particularly those with disability, older Australians and those in regional and remote communities, are able to access and benefit from creative participation.”

Image: Bernard SpraggCC0 1.0