Life in Lockdown: COVID, Culture and the Digital Deficit

(By Sabine Kortals Stein)

As lockdowns and other restrictions ease and arts organizations begin to open up next year, there is much more conversation to be had.

Sara Sherwood

It’s no secret that – along with tourism – the cultural and creative sectors are among the most affected by the global COVID crisis, with venue-based presenters, such as museums, live music, festivals and the like being the hardest hit. That’s why Creative Scene – the Arts Council England Creative People and Places project for West Yorkshire, England – set out to do something about it and initiated the project “Life in Lockdown: Culture, Digital and COVID” with support from the Bosch Alumni Network and funding from the iac Berlin.

“While digital responses to the pandemic produced a range of inspiring arts and cultural practices, there hasn’t been much research or conversation about the relevance or accessibility of digital content for audiences who may experience digital exclusion,” says Sara Sherwood, Communications and Audience Development Manager, as well as Bosch Alumni Network member. “At a time when the resilience of the arts has been tested – funding has been diverted, libraries and theaters have been shut, and artists and freelancers have been left without work – we’re interested in understanding the future of the arts ecology, post-COVID, and how to overcome vast digital inequalities.”

So Creative Scene hosted two online discussions on the digital deficit and cultural democracy in the time of COVID. Creative Producer Will Hunter has already benefitted from the first webinar on 12 November, focused on how to stay connected to lesser engaged audiences while opportunities to be physically together are limited: “The research shared by Sara and other presenters are incredibly useful to my work. I'm currently exploring not only the effects of COVID on the creative industries, but how we might use data like this going forward to inform a new way of creating that allows us to share collective experiences again in the not-too-distant future.”

Webinar presenters further encouraged participants to always be led by audience and to think strategically before publishing content online. Adds Will, “I was particularly surprised to learn the level of technological disengagement by young people – I feel that will be important to hold onto when producing new cultural content, going forward.”

Indeed, Sara sees shifts in what creativity looks on the horizon – derived from a better understanding of audiences’ online behaviors and interests – including:

  • community organizations and collectives becoming more flexible and nimble;
  • leadership structures becoming more horizontal; and
  • a broader awareness of the value of creativity in boosting mental health and overall well-being, bringing communities together and shaping the identity of the places we call home.

How Creative Scene’s audiences currently access online entertainment

From Creative Scene’s “Cultural Democracy” survey results (2020)
From Creative Scene’s “Cultural Democracy” survey results (2020)

Related readings and resources:

  • Now on YouTube: Digital Deficit and Cultural Democracy: Is COVID Amplifying Arts Exclusion?
  • Available soon: Creative Scene’s first book – “Parking A Poem in a Biscuit Factory: Unpacking a Cultural Ecology” (with writer and artist Len Grant) – considers what it takes to build a creative ecology in an area of West Yorkshire, identified by the Arts Council England as being below the national average for participation in the arts, with its residents often alienated from the prevailing cultural scene.