Over the last decade, the global art and culture sector has gradually begun to accept the onset of both digitization and digitalization. However, 2020 and 2021 will likely be remembered as the years that accelerated this process to go online. Due to emergency restrictions put in place during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic , museums and galleries, movie theaters, music clubs, and all sorts of cultural venues across the globe had to shut down for months. Forced to stay closed to the public, many cultural institutions turned to the internet as a way to engage with their audience by offering more online activities and virtual events. According to a May 2021 study, more than a quarter of surveyed museums worldwide started to organize online live events during the health crisis , with an additional 28 percent increasing such activities during the closures.

Interest in online cultural events during the pandemic

In the same way that cultural institutions boosted their digital presence during the lockdowns, the audience’s interest in online culture rose during the pandemic too. As of February 2021, 26 percent of surveyed Britons claimed to have taken part in online cultural activities, while just nine percent had attended in-person events. In the following months, however, this scenario gradually changed, with online cultural engagement in the UK declining to 13 percent in November 2021 and in-person attendance bouncing back to 49 percent. A March 2022 poll focusing on online cultural engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK showed that 45 percent of surveyed Britons had taken part in an online cultural activity since the beginning of the health crisis.

With people spending more time at home and most in-person events canceled or rescheduled during the first two years of the pandemic, many artists and cultural institutions started to offer paid online shows and activities, in an effort to minimize the financial impact of COVID-19. According to an April 2021 survey, liking the content or the artist was the main reason individuals paid for online art events in the United States . In contrast, behind-the-scenes content was the least popular purpose for attending a paid online event.

Most popular online cultural activities

Considering that the art and culture sector includes a heterogeneous set of industries, the types of virtual events that can be attended are diverse. A February 2022 study on the global interest in metaverse experiences found that 37 percent of Gen Z respondents were willing to attend a virtual concert and 36 percent of Millennials were interested in virtual museums. Meanwhile, an April 2021 survey showed that live streams of artists on social media were one of the most popular online art and culture activities in the United States . When breaking down the online cultural engagement in the U.S. by ethnicity , the analysis revealed that social media live streams of artists were particularly appreciated by American Indians and Alaska Natives, with roughly four in ten respondents engaging with this online activity. In contrast, virtual book clubs and online exhibitions ranked among the survey sample’s least popular choices.

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