27 February 2012

In November 2010, The Arts Council published a report called 'Digital Audiences: Engagement with Arts and Culture Online'. The report provided an in-depth look at the potential that the Web offers for arts organisations. As you would expect, it flagged up the huge opportunity for marketing on the Web, but it also went to pains not to just, "demote the internet to the role of marketing channel," and referenced the growing trend for consumption, sharing and creation of artistic content by individuals on the web.

Ultimately it posited that there were all sorts of great opportunities online for arts organisations willing to invest - and then, in March 2011, funding to the arts was cut to the tune of 30%. This, of course, was not unexpected, but was hardly a catalyst for investment.

The arts industry has never been the most technologically fast-moving or savvy, because it has never had to be. Indeed, the 2009 'Digital Content Snapshot' indicated that 68% of organisations had only basic marketing websites while just 4% were at the most sophisticated end of the scale with websites that both promoted, "a live arts experience" and also served as, "a stand-alone online resource or experience." Now, however, there is an increased need and expectation for organisations to demonstrate innovation and results and the online channel is an ideal place to do this.

Websites for arts organisations should not just be shop windows, but where possible should strive to be venues in themselves. It's an industry with huge potential for great content - like interviews with artists, videos of performances and photos of exhibits. Our websites should not just provide the opportunity for organisations and audiences to engage, but should actively encourage it and be place where people can really get involved. And websites should be and the centre of a much wider online presence with the online tools and social media sites that are used signposted and integrated to create a richer experience.

There are organisations that already do these things well - Opera North and Birmingham Repertory to name a couple. But if arts organisations are to make the most of the opportunities that the Web presents, be it by broadcasting events online, delivering programme to audiences outside of an organisation's locality, collaborating internationally with artists and other arts organisations or, indeed, with better marketing, the biggest organisations must lead by example and provide support to smaller organisations following in their footsteps.