Are all arts organisations increasingly discriminating against the disadvantaged?
When I like something, I usually share it via Facebook and Whatsapp. As a result, all of my friends and family (including Gran, an avid Facebook stalker) are updated on my latest cultural discoveries. I do have one friend who can’t afford a smart phone. We still keep in touch and share recommendations, but he is an outlier.
Communicating with the outlier is extra effort, but it’s worth it. That friend is usually connected to movements, bands, composers etc. which I’d never normally discover, and because their latest opinions aren’t continuously summarised into a couple of lines on social-media they’re always fresh, powerful, and interesting.
Despite the benefits of keeping connected through non-digital means, increasingly, arts organisations are focussing on digital communications to publicise opportunities and create artistic work. In the search for wider more diverse audiences, many of us are turning to social media, yet the more disadvantaged individuals are, the less likely they are to have access to internet and to smart phones.
Digital communications open up countless opportunities. For example, we can upload new music to be discovered by anyone moments after the final mix is finished, use social media to crowd-source the creative process, or invite hundreds of people to a concert in minutes. In addition to greater reach, “digital” is cheaper than printing and postage, and means we can communicate with people instantly.
The democratising openness of the internet means that arts organisations are now better than we’ve ever been at reaching out to people of all backgrounds.
Except maybe we’re not.
58% of households in the lowest income bracket in the UK have access to the internet, compared to nearly 100% in the higher brackets. In 2011, 61% of disabled people lived in households with no internet, compared to 14% of non-disabled people.
The digital communication space is driven by private organisations, which are in turn driven by pursuit of profits. There is little or no market for a communications solution that reaches the poor. We focus on mobile-optimisation, but only 58% of the UK population access the internet on mobile devices.
The arts sector adopts practice and solutions from the commercial world, so must supplement the amazing tools at our disposal with communications aimed at the digitally-disconnected.
With stretched resources, and – in the case of Sound and Music – with a national audience to reach, digital communication is the only solution to long-term audience development, but it can’t be the only activity. Until everyone has internet access, “audience” can’t be short-hand for “people with smartphones”.
Having said all this, “Word of Mouth” remains one of the most effective channels by which people discover our opportunities. Maybe by being digitally louder our voice is reaching the disadvantaged and marginalised more effectively too.
So are we discriminating against our digitally-disconnected audiences? It’s certainly a conversation Sound and Music will be exploring further.