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Digitizing the Performing Arts

An Assessment of Opportunities, Issues and Challenges

May 31, 201731 May 2017

Arts and digital technologies

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In a context where “a sizeable group of Canadians” have “identified mediated performance experiences as equal to attending live performances in person”, this report provides an initial assessment of challenges and opportunities related to digital innovation in the performing arts (and for arts presenters in particular). The report is based on a review of relevant literature, an examination of changes in other cultural sectors “that have undergone profound structural change due to digital or online technologies”, consumer technological trends, and an analysis of existing digital innovation initiatives in the performing arts.

Current digital activities of performing arts presenters include digital components of live venue-based presentations, live performances “with digital performance add-ons”, and “digital-only performances”. The authors argue that some performing arts organizations could eventually “be fully digital as the lines between live performance, media arts and gaming blur and create new modes of creation, participation and consumption”.

The report indicates that a key question for performing arts presenters is whether and how they will be able to continue to play a role as intermediaries between artists and audiences in a fully digital realm. Other important questions include:

  • “Can live arts presenters re-invent distribution of performing arts at digital scale?
  • How will Canadian artistic talent be nurtured and supported to grow viable careers and earn fair compensation in the digital realm?
  • How can we, and should we, as a free, vibrant society assure a broad diversity of voices that reflect all of Canada is heard in digital spaces as well as live performance spaces?
  • What is the future of live Canadian theatre, dance, music and other performing arts as digital technologies and capacities of data networks continue to advance?”

For presenters, a digital future might entail a diversification of revenues: live performance revenues (the current focus) might be combined with revenues from online digital activities, virtual reality, and other recording activities. This could be challenging, as it would require the development of both new products and new markets.

Moving toward digitization of the performing arts, according to the authors, will require new skills and knowledge, “effective support mechanisms for the transition toward digital”, as well as “new modes of collaboration”. Audience research is one potential element of future collaborations, “so that organizations of all sizes can share data, access data, understand data, and track data over time”.

The report proposes six potential next steps:

  1. “Convene and facilitate a community for digital innovation in the performing arts.”
  2. “Develop a digital action plan for the performing arts sector”.
  3. “Develop and implement a comprehensive data strategy for the generation, circulation, and connection” of performing arts data and metadata.
  4. “Foster a deeper culture of collaboration by building new kinds of partnerships for the digital world”.
  5. “Develop a digital bootcamp training program … with a focus on emerging digital technologies”.
  6. “Develop and test sector-wide business models for digitizing the performing arts”.


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