Dan Fletcher, Treasurer of the Cultural Sector Network, says that the social value of culture is hugely significant – now more than ever – and in order to thrive in a post-coronavirus world, cultural organisations need to recognise the importance of digital.
The impact of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is being felt across the world as the pandemic rolls on. The cost in human lives is very high, and the economic cost of saving further lives is damaging much of our society. The UK’s cultural sector was hit abruptly, when from 17 March, the Prime Minister announced that social distancing meant no gatherings, including theatres. That week most indoor cultural charities closed their doors, and with more stringent social distancing requirements from 23 March, outdoor spaces became off-limits too.
As many of us adjust to spending much more time in our homes, the digital realm has become home for creative communication. However, culture under lock down provides fewer opportunities to raise money from visitors, event attendees, or theatre and concert goers.
What does this mean for the cultural sector? Firstly, now more than ever, non-proft cultural organisations need to engage with and broadcast their charitable status loud and clear. For many organisations with a mixed income of ticket and merchandise sales, and with subsidies from Arts Councils, National Lottery Heritage Fund or directly from the State, the importance of fundraised income is not always high on senior management’s agenda. That needs to change, and with it a clear articulation of case for support of the social value of culture.
This is even more important in the current context with even greater competition for voluntary income. How does a donor divide their donations between a hospice and an art gallery? But the positive impact of art on the well-being of many thousands of visitors does have social value, and can stand up against the profound impact of a hospice on the lives of fewer individuals. Cultural organisations need to understand their impact better.
Secondly, and equally true for much of the not-for-profit sector, is the importance of digital, and linking digital with income generation. The commercial sector is so much further ahead on this. It recognised the value of data and has been capturing and modelling it for years. In this crisis Sainsbury’s Chief Executive is able to email most of the population, because Nectar has our data. Amazon ‘knows’ what we might ‘need’ to buy while in lock down and is enticing us to do so.
It is too late to capture past data, but now is a time to build in data capture (in a GDPR compliant way) into cultural digital offerings, even if they’re free. And then, make sure that the data is used to increase future value. We need to move imaginatively beyond a reliance on face-to-face interaction as the sole way to appreciate culture. National Theatre at Home shows that while the visceral experience of seeing live theatre is important, over 200,000+ people can experience in one week what the Lyttleton Theatre would take seven months to achieve. And even with a very soft ask it has raised over £50,000.
The remainder of 2020 will be very challenging for cultural organisations. The country will be poorer for the demise of those that don’t have sufficient reserves to ride this level of disruption. For those that survive in a post-Coronavirus world, they will need a strong charitable case for support and an appetite to engage much more with the digital world for fundraising.