• Agatha Kempf

Can the art industry take on the digital shift?

Photo by Tanya Pro on Unsplash

Over the last 12 months, there has been an incredible surge in all kinds of online events. Covid restrictions prohibiting people from meeting up in person has meant the only solution was to fully migrate to the digital world.

By Agatha Kempf

From work meetings and online classes to more entertaining virtual events, we have all been forced to find ways to keep up with the current context. While it technically was easier for some businesses to transition online, some more practical sectors had their creativity put to the test.

The art industry was a challenge to digitize: how could we transfer the entire world of the arts on the Internet ?

The Royal Opera House of London decided to launch a free program that broadcasts classes accessible to anyone, as well as live events such as ballets and operas through their YouTube channel. Other live performers, such as singers or comedians, resorted to virtual shows, with tickets for sale on platforms like Ticketmaster (nostalgic sigh), which even offers a guide to finding the best virtual concert.

Yuliya Hushcha, 22, publishing assistant for Tileyard Music, says it is not that easy for artists to simply live off virtual performances: “It’s hard to sell tickets for virtual concerts: there are a lot of free alternatives like live streams, so people are not going to pay when they have the chance not to.”

“The impact of the digital transition is a hot topic, musicians and booking agents are by far not earning as much due to cancelled shows and closed venues. Since venues have closed, club and dance music has suffered a lot: Djs are unable to promote their music live like they used to.”

But what about still art? Galleries and museums like the National Gallery and the British Museum are now doing virtual tours where you can explore their buildings as you see the latest exhibitions. Other virtual events such as art fairs and workshops have also been put into place.

Although one may think all these may not be particularly popular as the physical world of art could never be replaced, the idea was rather well received by the public. Digitized culture means access to (almost) everyone ; it also implies any online event could reach out to the public, live, on the other side of the globe.

The idea of online hosted events is not ground-breaking, its popularisation certainly is.

The Photo London fair, known to gather the world’s top art dealers and galleries, normally takes place in May, in Somerset House. However in 2020, they launched their first ever online fair, London Photo Digital, which turned out to be the pioneer of digital photography fairs.

A mind-blowing 28,452 viewers visited their website, counting a total of 195,613 unique pageviews over the 14 days opening, the audience being mainly from the US, Australasia, Europe and the United Kingdom.

Michael Benson and Fariba Farshad, the founders of Photo London, stated in a press release closing last year’s event: “The pandemic challenged us to think in new ways about Photo London. Our response has been to pioneer a new form of interaction with our exhibitors.

“Digital gives us the ability to work closely with them, across geographical boundaries and time zones, over a period of months, showcasing their artists via our online magazine, talks, screenings and other events.”

It was such a hit that a second edition of the digital fair will be running this September alongside the original event, continuing a year-round program of talks and other events.

Although these numbers seem astonishing and very promising for the future of digital events, the music industry may not be in the same position:

“The music sector being moved to 100% online is destructive to the industry” says Hushcha.

“If there are some actual live events alongside virtual ones, I think it could work. But a full move to the digital world would be unnatural: live performing is vital for some music genres.”

Although some sectors may benefit from the online passage to grow a bigger audience, this threshold could be seen by some others as a tough dividing breaking point where only the top artists may just survive.