Digital or not? Questions on Audience Development
By Annalisa Cicerchia, Culture Action Europe

From museums to gaming industry and performing arts, the contribution of digital is changing role and function of cultural organisations.

Basic, ancillary uses of digital, as cataloguing museum collections or creation of fast exchange networks connecting distant or geographically isolated operators or audiences, help reducing costs and bring about greater efficiency and effectiveness.

Digital makes communication and delivery of contents to multifaceted, culturally diverse audiences increasingly easy and better targeted to meet different needs. Translation of pre-digital content into something that can be properly conveyed in the digital environment is however a complex art, with its own rules.

Fascinating as it may be, digital is not a panacea. It works beautifully in a wide range of cultural settings and audience demands, but evidence from international cultural practice point to the fact that other settings rather require real. We need a systematic research effort to identify where digital solutions work best, and where the real touch is to be preferred, also if we want to avoid that the existing digital divide widens and creates more inequality and exclusion: for instance, among the digital illiterate elderly citizens.

The next step is about digital-native cultural contents: an emerging, promising creative realm. They require new skills and challenge organisations and operators to rethink and reinvent themselves, their mission, their strategy, the way they serve their public. Participatory digital cultural creation is an option, and the difference between the audience role and the role of the creator of cultural content tends to blur, often with exciting outcomes. While this is interesting and potentially conducive of greater cultural democracy, on the other hand, interchangeable audience/expert roles may possibly entail increased vulnerability to dangers of giving fake news, alternative facts, historical revisionism uncontrolled access to key cultural resources.

In varying degrees, with more or less familiarity and openness, digital is part of the present life of the European cultural organisations and will be more so in the future. Digital may assist them to attain their purpose, accomplish their mission, widen the scope of their action, improve the way the perceive, develop and engage the audience they are called to serve. The same way as the invention of the press, electricity, photography have done in the past. Maybe less. Maybe more.