Article by Wisamar
After almost two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have gotten used to closed theatres, museums, and concert venues and have made ample use of streaming, online collections, and video calls. Cultural institutions that were suddenly under pressure to come up with digitalized offers to survive at the beginning of the pandemic now have had some time to adapt and create. So the pandemic not only changed our way of life—staying home, minimizing social contacts, working remotely—but also the way we consume and produce culture.
Particularly for small enterprises and cultural institutions, the Covid lock-downs posed a substantial challenge. To find new digital ways of distributing events and products with limited funds and experience was difficult for many. How can you make your voice heard, your productions seen when you have no access to your usual audience or channels?
Although in Germany, as elsewhere in the world, many cultural institutions and artists in a logical step took more advantage of Social Media channels like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, the lock-down challenge also spurred the creation of specialized platforms which were aimed at helping actors in the field of culture to share news about and links to their events or set up online shops in a central spot. Among these were, for example, the initiatives Berlin (a)live, kulturama.digital by the Goethe-Institute, #KulTour by the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the kulturnetz.sh by the state of Schleswig-Holstein.
One of the many questions the necessary digitalization of cultural products brought to the surface was how cultural institutions can monetize their digital offers and not only use live streams and online collections to remain in the mind of their audience. After all, creating digital offers also demands time and effort, technological solutions and know-how. Many cultural institutions used the possibility of online events to generate donations on a voluntary basis to survive the worst of the pandemic, which in many case worked and showed that the majority of audiences is willing to pay for digital offers in the cultural sector. But how sustainable is this approach? As Nicole Schwarz, professor for marketing at the Saarland University of Applied Sciences, points out “Culture not only needs an audience, culture also needs funding.” To her, it is crucial that cultural institutions find individual ways of monetizing their digital offers also post-Covid, for example through subscriptions, online tickets, etc.
In their 2020 study “Digitale Kulturangebote im Kontext der Corona-Pandemie: 20 Gedanken aus dem Neuen Normal” (“Digital Cultural Offers in the Context of the Corona-Pandemic: 20 Thoughts from the New Normal”), Louise Engel and Isabel Neuendorf highlight that in the long term, digital cultural offers will need to highlight their added value that they bring in addition to the offline offers to remain attractive to the audience. They found that “users agreed that digital offerings only offer added value when they open up a new dimension and exploit the possibilities of the digital space,” e.g. through enhancing an exhibition by Virtual Reality and thus presenting new perspectives on the artwork. They conclude that a successful and sustainable digital strategy in the cultural sector should create a “productive tension between the search and curiosity for innovative formats, a new reception of culture and the longing for the familiarity of analogue formats.”