Joe Goldblatt: Power of web can secure festivals

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According to the Pew Research Centre, 77 per cent of US arts organisations respondents strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement that digital technologies have “played a major role in broadening the boundaries of what is considered art”.

Furthermore, the Pew researchers also found in their 2013 study of more than 1000 cultural organisations that digital technologies increased attendance at live events, increased ticket sales, increased the public awareness of their organisation and supported their fundraising efforts.

The question for those of us that cherish and value arts and culture as a right rather than a privilege is how do we sustain and grow this sector in our country? One of the most important stakeholder groups in the arts and culture sector are our cultural, ethnic, gastronomic, literary, and other Scottish festivals. However, these festivals are under great threat in terms of financial sustainability. According to recent funding announcements from Creative Scotland, Edinburgh’s festivals lost £10 million in public funding from their most recent requests.

One of the key issues to explore when considering the future funding of our festivals is the role of individual citizens. During the past five years, we have witnessed the meteoric rise in ticket sales at the Fringe whilst other festivals have shown slight increases and in some cases have suffered from declining box office results. Perhaps this is one example of how the public is exercising in greater numbers their desire to influence the programming they experience and support through being more engaged in the overall decision-making of the final offer provided by artistic directors.

One positive example of this widening engagement is the recent announcement by the new director of the International Festival to include programming for children. In the future, I predict these new wee bairns will not only become ticket purchasers but also artistic content drivers and decision-makers as well as funders. One key way to engage them and future generations is with an increased investment in digital technology to empower them so they may make choices about some of the final programming they will financially support.

Whether our future festival audiences first discover our unique cultural offer through cinema broadcasts in remote locations (similar to the Metropolitan Opera in HD, the National Theatre Live and others) or through the ubiquitous internet, the future role of digital in downloading cultural content and uploading audience member engagement must be embraced, exploited and secured if we are to protect our future as a unique international capital of culture.

• Professor Joe Goldblatt is executive director of the International Centre for the Study of Planned Events at QMU