COVID-19: Widening access to arts and culture through video streaming

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Arts

Abstract

Recent years have seen gradually developing digital expertise by many arts and culture organisations focused on physically-sited exhibitions, performances, and events. The closure of venues in the wake of COVID-19 has suddenly put these experiments to the test, and given urgency to arts and culture organisations' need to build capacity for digital programming. So far, video streaming has emerged as by far the most common route for the sustainable delivery of cultural content online. It has also often generated large audiences.
Initial research suggests that recent moves to video streaming have widened access to arts and culture. However, it is important that organisations also reach more geographically, culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse audiences. Accordingly, this project will gather and analyse qualitative and quantitative data in order to helping arts and culture organisations achieve two symbiotic goals: to develop digital programming strategies that can reach new and more diverse audiences, and to develop long-term resilience to the economic and cultural impact of COVID-19.

Research questions will include:
- What forms of, and approaches to, video streaming have proven most effective during physical shutdown, and may best complement physically-sited post-lockdown programming?
- Which digital distribution models developed in response to COVID-19 are most replicable across organisations and sectors?
- How can successful digital initiatives of the last two months be incorporated into organisations' core work, without sacrificing their pre-existing activities?
- What opportunities does video streaming provide for increasing equality of access to arts and culture - both during and beyond the current crisis?

The project's findings will feed into the equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies of Arts Council England's forthcoming 10-year strategy, 'Let's Create', and provide practical knowledge for UK-based organisations struggling to adapt their business models and artistic programmes to a socially distanced world.

Publications

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Misek R (2021) Is the future of digital theatre in the balance? in Arts Professional

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Misek R (2021) Objects of Reverence in Immerse

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Misek R (2021) Why We Need Hybrid Film Festivals in Hyperallergic

 
Title A Machine for Viewing - online performance for Melbourne International Film Festival 
Description The PI collaborated with the two collaborators from his AHRC project 'Cinema Unframed: exploring the screen in virtual reality, through live installation and mobile app' (AH/R004854/1) to create a 'lockdown' version of their live VR experience 'A Machine for Viewing' for Melbourne International Film Festival ( 12th March, 2021). The work was a hybrid of interactive Zoom performance and live filming at an empty art deco cinema, combined into a YouTube livestream. The work comprised a self-contained creative research work package into the the use of Zoom as a platform for interactive performance. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The performance was the first 'digitally native' commission for 'MIFF Play', Melbourne International Film Festivals's new online portal. Its success opened the door for future digitally-native arts commissions by the festival in 2022. 
URL https://if.com.au/miff-announces-launch-of-a-machine-for-viewing/
 
Description Our key findings - achieved through interviews with arts and culture providers, statistical analysis of the 2020-21 'Culture Restart' surveys by project partner Indigo, and audience research carried out with collaborating arts and culture organisations - include the following:

- The 'pivot' to online arts and culture during the pandemic achieved immediate and sustained access and inclusion benefits. For example, in our survey of collaborating arts organisations, the most commonly noted benefits of digital programming were (in order): widened geographic access (100%); digital capacity building (71%); improved access for d/Deaf, disabled, and vulnerable audiences (57%); and community engagement (57%). In particular, our case study surveys and collected individual testimony suggest that spring 2020 was a historic turning point for many disabled people's engagement with arts and culture.

- Digital delivery has the potential to revolutionise how arts organisations approach accessibility, and the extent to which they can deliver accessible content. Online, it is relatively easy to include captions, audio descriptions, BSL interpretation, and relaxed viewing into every work. But so far, online programming has not led to widespread IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, and Access) benefits: though some organisations have incorporated IDEA best practices at every stage of the user experience, many more have approached digital accessibility in a partial and piecemeal fashion. As a result, online programming during the pandemic has also highlighted emergent forms of digital exclusion, including complex ticketing processes, confusing UX design, and inadequate captioning, audio description, and BSL interpretation.

- Finally, despite strongly and frequently voiced calls by d/Deaf and disabled users for the advances of the last two years not to be forgotten, there has been a significant 'snap-back' to in-person only programming since the lifting of restrictions in August 2021. For example, in the current winter/spring 2022 season, only 16% of theatres and theatre companies are offering digital performances. Especially concerning here is the disparity between large organisations able to develop their digital experiments and small/mid-sized organisations struggling to offer any digital content at all: 45% of theatre venues ('receiving houses') that previously produced digital content during the pandemic are still doing so in spring 2022, but for (typically smaller) touring companies the figure is only 18%. Looking to the future, a key challenge for the sector will be to ensure not only that audiences have digital access to arts and culture, but also that arts and culture providers themselves have access to sufficient funding and expertise to develop their digital activities. Without this, many smaller organisations in particular may yet themselves unable deliver on the promise of the last two years of digital innovation.
Exploitation Route The project anticipates various beneficiaries, including:

Arts and culture organisations. The case studies and report will support arts and culture providers in making their various digital activities as accessible and inclusive as possible, and in using digital programming to contribute to their wider accessibility and inclusion goals. In particular, the project points towards a future in which accessibility and inclusion are integrated into all aspects of organisations' digital (and non-digital) activity.

Funders and policymakers. The report points to two intertwined challenges for funders and policymakers: 1. how to develop new funding structures that can help support digital capacity building, and 2. how to adapt current funding structures so that they incentivise a holistic approach to accessibility and inclusion. It is our hope that the report may inspire our project partner Arts Council England and the nations' other arts funders and policymakers to explore new routes to achieving greater digital inclusion.

Researchers. Understanding of how digital inclusion connects with the activities of the arts and culture sector is still in its infancy. It is hoped that the project's outcomes will also help shape an emergent field of arts research focused on how arts technology and inclusion intersect.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://digiaccessarts.org
 
Description The main impact from our project is still to come, as our case studies will be released throughout March and April 2022, and our final report will be published in early May. However, initial findings have been used in various ways, including the following: • They have fed in to policy work by arts funders and the government. For example, we have held regular briefings with our project partner Arts Council England, been invited to submit a policy brief to DCMS, and contributed to a forthcoming briefing on digital arts by the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. • They have informed the shape and extent of arts and culture organisations' future digital activities, and helped them deliver more accessible digital programming. This impact has come, for example, through direct interaction with artistic directors, digital managers, and curators; through two recent sector-facing webinars on 'accessibility' and 'hybridity' carried out in collaboration with project partner The Space; through social media; and through engagement with the UK news media and sector-focused publications including Arts Professional and The Stage, who have reported on and amplified our early findings. • They have informed wider public discourse about what kind of arts and culture sector we collectively need and deserve beyond the pandemic, and about what steps need to be taken in order to make the arts and culture sector more inclusive to audiences with diverse accessibility needs. This impact has come through a number of high-profile media activities, notable in a slot on Front Row (BBC Radio 4) that was singled out for praise by the Controller of Radio 4, and a news article in The Guardian about our autumn 2021 digital theatre survey that led to numerous follow-on reports. Our final findings will be made public on Front Row on 3rd May 3, in a feature slot dedicated to our report.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Citation in Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) briefing on digital arts
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Six sector-focused case studies of digital arts and culture 'best practices'
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to new or Improved professional practice
URL https://digiaccessarts.org
 
Description Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra: Migrating Mature Audiences To Digital 
Organisation Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Conducted an audience survey focused on their autumn 2021 live and digital concert series; developed a case study based on their innovative and low-cost approach to live streaming music; created a sector-focused 'how to' video on the logistics of live streaming concerts.
Collaborator Contribution Provided an a large audience pool (approx. 10,000 viewers) for our survey; allowed interviewing of five key project members, and shadowing of a livestream production.
Impact - Case study (to be published on project website) - 'How to' video on live streaming concerts (to be published on project website and on YouTube)
Start Year 2021
 
Description Mystery Trip: virtual journeys for housebound and chronically ill audiences 
Organisation The Lowry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The Primary Investigator spent a period of two months conducting action research as a part of the collaborative performance project 'Mystery Trip', a Lowry Digital Commission by Nigel Barrett, Louise Mari, and Kerry Underhill. This included creative involvement in producing the work itself; conducting an audience survey on behalf of the creators and The Lowry; and producing a 'how to' video that will be usable by the creators for education and publicity purposes. It also included discussion and consultation about how to ensure maximum accessibility for the performance.
Collaborator Contribution - The creators provided complete access to the production process of Mystery Trip (e.g. allowing the PI to attend and record Zoom rehearsals, answering technical questions, explaining the various ways in which they made use of and 'hacked' the Zoom platform on which the performance took place; providing media resources for the 'how to video' and making themselves and key crew available for interview for the case study. - The creators also participated in one of the project's webinars, for which they shared their experience of working on an accessibility-led digital project
Impact - Mystery Trip (the performance itself) - Case study (to be published on project website) - 'How to' video on using Zoom and Zoom-based plugins for interactive performances (to be published on project website and on YouTube)
Start Year 2021
 
Description Opera North: Inspiring Online Participation 
Organisation Opera North
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We conducted an EDI-focused breakdown of the findings from their various 2020-21 digital audience surveys, and engaged in extended Zoom and email-based discussions with Executive Director David Collins about how to gather, manage, and share data on digital audiences, and especially on how to improve the quality of their EDI-focused audience data.
Collaborator Contribution Opera North provided extensive access to current and past audience research on their 2020-21 live streams and 'Couch To Chorus' workshops, and shared internal reports on each with the project team; David Collins (Executive Director) was also a frequent and supportive correspondent, who offered regular reports throughout the project on the various stages of the organisation's respose to the pandemic. Three staff members also made themselves available for interview for the case study.
Impact - Case study (to be published on project website)
Start Year 2021
 
Description Serpentine R&D: fostering an inclusive creator community 
Organisation Serpentine Gallery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution - The project team designed a survey for Serpentine R&D, providing the unit with its first opportunity to conduct research on its own creator community. - The PI consulted on the Serpentine R&D publication 'Future Art Ecosystems 2: The Metaverse' and will contribute to their forthcoming publication on metrics.
Collaborator Contribution The Head of Serpentine R&D, Head of Digital at Serpentine, and various Serpentine curators provided insight into their digital artist community through Zoom and in-person interviews, and by connecting the PI with affiliated digital artists; they also contributed to the project's industry advisor panel.
Impact - Case study (to be published on project website)
Start Year 2021
 
Description 'Art on Demand' blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Semi-regular blog by the project's PI, comprising a range of access-related opinion pieces about the future of digital arts, emerging as a result of work carried out on the main research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://artondemand.substack.com
 
Description 'Digital Access To Arts and Culture' Twitter account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Digital Access To Arts And Culture Twitter account (@DigiAccessArts). Currently following 360, followers 370. Regular posts and retweets since August 2021 have led to direct discourse with arts professionals, disability activists, and other research groups, and to assorted requests for information and invitations for participation in sector events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
URL https://twitter.com/DigiAccessArts
 
Description Article in The Guardian: '50% of UK theatres streaming shows online during Covid revert to in-person only' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News article: '50% of UK theatres streaming shows online during Covid revert to in-person only' by Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, 11th October, 2021. The article reported on project findings and included an interview with the project's PI. It appeared on The Guardian's fron tpage, in the 'Headlines' section for 12 hours, and 'UK News' section for a further 24 hours.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2021/oct/10/50-of-uk-theatres-streaming-shows-online-during-covid-...
 
Description BBC 'Front Row' feature on 'Post-Pandemic Theatre' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PI collaborated with BBC disability affairs correspondent Carolyn Atkinson on a BBC Radio 4 'Front Row' feature on post-pandemic theatre. Contribution included: conducting research to answer a specific research question by the reporter; consulting on the structure and scope of the feature, and on participants to be invited; and participating in live interview with Samira Ahmed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00107wb
 
Description Guest blog for Pandemic and Beyond: 'What Next For Digital Theatre?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Guest blog on the future of digital theatre for the AHRC COVID-19 umbrella project, 'The Pandemic and Beyond: The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Recovery'. 1st November, 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://pandemicandbeyond.exeter.ac.uk/blog/what-next-for-digital-theatre-2/
 
Description News article in 'The Stage': 'Theatres abandoning digital to return to in-person shows, research finds' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Follow-on report on the project's research findings by Georgia Snow, The Stage, 11th October.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/theatres-abandoning-digital-to-return-to-in-person-shows-research-fi...
 
Description News article in Jing Culture and Commerce: 'Post-COVID, Does Virtual Programming Have A Future In UK Theaters?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Follow-on report on the project's research findings by Fei Lu, Jing Culture and Commerce, 21st October 2022. Included an interview with the project's PI.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://jingculturecommerce.com/ahrc-uk-theaters-virtual-programming-future-takeaways/
 
Description News report in Arts Professional: 'Digital pivot reverses as theatres struggle to monetise online shows' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Follow-on news article on the project's research findings by Adele Redmond, Arts Professional, 14th October, 2021. Included an interview with the project's PI.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/digital-pivot-reverses-theatres-struggle-monetise-online-sho...
 
Description Participation in podcast: 'Digital Performance Beyond The Pandemic' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participation in Pandemic and Beyond Podcast 12, 'Digital Performance Beyond The Pandemic' with three other project PI's: Pascale Aebischer, Dan Strutt, and Paul Sermon. 2nd December, 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://pandemicandbeyond.exeter.ac.uk/media/podcasts/
 
Description Press release: 'Over half of UK theatres have now abandoned digital performances' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release to The Press Association about new research on the Autumn 2021 'snap back' to live theatre (6th October, 2021). The press release resulted in the research being reported in The Guardian, The Stage, Arts Professional, and various other national and international outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Sector-focused project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sector-focused project website, bringing together six in-depth case studies (featuring interviews, surveys, and video content) about the digital activities of collaboration arts and culture organisations, and the project's final report (to come - April, 2022).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://digiaccessarts.org
 
Description Webinar: 'Digital Access to Arts and Culture 1: Accessibility' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sector-focused webinar, delivered in collaboration with sector-support organisation The Space, 8th March, 2022.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Webinar: 'Digital Access to Arts and Culture 2: Hybridity' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Sector-focused webinar, delivered in collaboration with sector-support organisation The Space, 10th March, 2022.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022