Digital culture is culture

Digitalisation of culture is a fact. Covid-19 has provided evidence for what has since long ago been manifesting: that virtual culture exists at the same level as a physical culture. From digital publications to online platforms that offer music and theatre, passing through virtual museums, festivals and digital arts centres with interactive or robot systems, or even avatar-mannequins in the fashion sector. These are only a few of the cultural manifestations that already existed and that have increasingly a reason of being. 

We have many and very different examples: the Auditorium of Barcelona has worked to offer part of its program through a digital platform, the same way as the Grec en Obert Festival, offering music, dance and theater. On Instagram, the Covid Art Museum has opened its doors, offering a general picture of visual arts that creatives around the planet have produced during the lockdown. It seems that these means have come to stay. On the other hand, and without taking the pandemic into account, the city already had the IDEAL center and its experiences of visual immersive arts.

These past few months there has been many reflections around the digitalisation of culture. Director of the CCCB, Judit Carrera, said a few days ago in a Diari ARA article that, besides spreading culture, the virtual channel is also a means to “generate” culture. In this sense, videogame designer Mary Flanagan has added that we have already gotten rid of the connection-isolation and virtual-presential binarisms, implying that these concepts cannot be considered as opposed to them anymore. 

At the same time, this process opens the door to more complex debates. In the first place, accessibility to the network is still a pending subject in our immediate future. Precisely during lockdown, we have confirmed how there are still many homes in Barcelona and big areas through the planet that don’t have Internet access. If, as everything suggests, we are going towards a culture that can be enjoyed eminently through the screen, it will be essential that we also move towards guaranteeing that everyone actually has a screen, as well as a minimum digital literacy.

And if we already have the devices and the knowledge, how can we make digital culture an attractive value? Cultural spaces are making huge efforts to attract audiences through social media and ICT. During lockdown, there has been a substantial increase in social media use and consumption of cultural activities. But there is still a long way to go. According to a study carried out by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in order to develop successful and effective ICT tools, we need to take more into consideration the user’s participation, the creation of contents and the evoking emotions. 

The challenges of digitalisation can be faced with adequate professional education and shared knowledge: higher education is increasingly taking this into account, offering graduate degrees in multimedia, videogames and audiovisual systems engineering. In this sense, the Design Hub Barcelona reaches out to the city’s talent, hosting initiatives related to the culture digitalisation and positioning itself as the city’s centre in this area. Since it was born two decades ago, the international digital culture and design OFFF Festival has had a space in the building, as well as the lighting arts festival Llum BCN. Also, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia celebrated the second edition of its 360 Virtual Reality Market.

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