Arts Content in Digital Era Analysis

Just Another Turning Point

There is no doubt that technologies change the way we live. Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press paved the way for mass publications. Then came along the electronic media. Radio and television transformed us into the mass communication age. Now we have the Internet and with it the world will never be the same again.

The Internet has been commercialised for less than two decades but it creates fundamental impacts to every aspect in our lives. Arts and cultures cannot escape this fate. The way we listen to music, watch movies and experience arts have shifted drastically.

However, old and traditional media will stay. Despite of the decline of magazine sales, people still read. We will see tape cassettes being wiped out of the shelves and CDs will be next but people still go to concert and download songs their favourite bands. Although digital photography is taking over both consumer and commercial market, photomedia artists still explore film and even glass plate medium in their works.

These changes are definitely inevitable. The question is how we adapt into and courageously brave new world. Australia Council for the Arts has just released a strategy paper, Arts Content for Digital Era, dated June 2009 as a guideline to embrace this big wave.

Getting Ready for the New Dawn of Uncertainty

The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.[1] We are not just talking about socio ecology status but we have also put other elements such as digital media literacy, broadband accessibility and hyperconnectivity into an account.  On the policy level, if there is someone’s responsibility to fill this gap in arts sector, that is The Australia Council.

Their policy for digital age broadly covers four components:

  • New audiences: promoting access to arts content
  • New domains: evolving arts contents and practice
  • New incomes: linking arts content and commerce
  • New supports: producing and preserving arts content[2]

New audiences

With the Federal Government’s future directions, there is certainly a great opportunity to increase arts audiences from new technologies. Mainly, The Australia Council aims to attach arts content to the two public broadcasters — ABC and SBS. They successfully built multi-platform content to the public.

However, the nature of new audiences is not someone who just sits around and takes what the Aunties have to say. The Internet is creating a generation of creators whose expectations a different to those who grew up in mass media era.[3] They have more controls and choice of what, who and how they want to be engaged with. Viewers become authors, collaborators, commentators and distributors themselves. The Australia Council might have to consider a strategy to involve audiences in arts content interactivity to build up the new patrons.

New domains

Once the technology emerges, there will always be a new form of arts created. The Australia Council recognises that artist and arts companies must learn how to write, design, create, rehearse and perform in new ways.[4] They keep on funding digital-based works and collaborating with other organisations in research and development.

New incomes

We can now reach the global market but also have the global competitors. Digital distribution is a tricky business because its contents can be circulated around with no cost. And the Australia Council realises that ‘one-off’ model may not work in this arena at all. There are new business models around and we are in the stage that we can watch, learn, adapt, change or even start from the scratch.

Artists and art professionals definitely cannot be alone on this matter. It is involved issues to consider: legal intellectual property, secure network transaction, user experience design et cetera. The Australia Council is in the place of facilitator to make a dialog and find some solutions for new incomes.

New supports

The Australia Council looks for the way to link arts professional and management with other digital industry and supports projects on archiving digital content.

Possibilities without an End

It seems that The Australia Council puts a good effort to reach these goals.  To name a few:

This brief cultural policy shows that The Australia Council has a clue and is honest that we may not have a clue about this phenomenon. Personally, anyone who says they are digital communication gurus is just a bunch of clueless marketeers.  Many issues that come with digital era are still debated: copyright, business model and so on. Even the definition of arts itself could be challenged as it happens although the history.

It is very exciting that we are living in the time we do not only passively watch the changes but we actively make those changes.


[1] William Gibson, Interview with npr, 30 November 1999

[2] Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Content in Digital Era, June 2009

[3] Marcus Westbury, The Digital Craft Explosion, 24 July 2009

[4] Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Content in Digital Era, June 2009

This essay is a cultural policy analysis assignment for Management and Organisation class, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales.