From Egyptian cave paintings to Greek tragedies in amphitheaters and ancient instruments in Rajasthan, the Arts have always been an integral part of our identity. Whether it's music, theatre, dance, poetry, sculpture, film, or graffiti arts and gaming, people have different ways of expressing themselves through their art. Some of us are artists, participants, and audiences at festivals, museums, galleries, and theatres.
Since time immemorial, Arts and Culture have been key to our understanding of the world, helping to foster empathy and understanding in the pursuit of peace and prosperity.
Cut to 2020, and the pandemic has caused global lockdowns, including in the Arts industry with performing arts, film production, book fairs, etc. Changes that were already taking place in society and the Arts were accelerated by the pandemic, but in some cases, divisions were also deepened. Arts organisations and artists had no choice but to adapt, though some culture industries survived better than others.
The galleries and visual arts market expanded during Covid while much of the performing arts were curtailed. According to research reports such as Taking the Temperature, India's creative economy has shrunk from 2.5% to 1.5% of the national GDP.
It was at this critical pivot point during COVID 19 that new ways of making, experiencing, and distributing Arts transformed to meet the needs of the hour. COVID 19 precipitated a change in arts and culture that is clearly here to stay in the form of new live and digital hybrids.
Is Digital Innovation Steering Creativity in Arts?
Artists have always innovated; it’s the nature of the Arts to respond and adapt to societal change to reflect the world differently. The onset of new technology and unconventional digital mediums to tell stories in new ways is integral to creativity. The new digital age stems back to the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991 and now encompasses new ways of making art through AI, VR, and gaming with hubs across India and the UK.
Audiences are experiencing Arts in hybrid forms in galleries, theatres, and festivals and consuming them differently on OTT platforms, Insta Lives, and Facebook. It’s a brave new world of Arts and Creative technology.
From gaming laptops to mobile devices that screen films, to painters creating on iPads, to theatre and opera productions streamed live into cinemas, to artisans selling crafts on social media platforms, technology has transformed the Arts. Digital technology has changed how the Arts are made and experienced.
The Raging Trend of Culture Fests & the Power of Hybrid
In the last few years, Arts and Technology have become more interlinked than ever before, though some of us, still of course, love the shared experience of watching a play in a theatre or visiting a gallery with family. Groundbreaking Arts and artists have reached whole new audiences beyond conventional geographic boundaries through the online medium. The iconic Jaipur Literature Festival went from 500k visitors at Diggi Palace to over 27 million viewers online and live at the festival.
Culture festivals are discovering new audiences internationally in hybrid live and digital editions.
Many artists and Arts Entrepreneurs are contending with global challenges such as climate change through eye-catching, immersive arts that use Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Gaming techniques.
The first 'FutureFantastic festival' in Bengaluru brought together artists and woman leaders in digital innovation from the city and Manchester this year. Organisations are spotlighting the innovation of emerging digital artists alongside established art forms. For instance, the Elsewhere in India project blends gaming with a live performance by Antariksha Studio (India) and Crossover Labs (UK), with the story being populated by museum objects and artefacts from both countries.
How NFTs Are Redefining the Culture of Arts
NFTs or Non-fungible tokens have grown in popularity as new ways of investing in artists and buying art. They've been around since 2014, but with COVID 19, they’ve grown in popularity, though they are not without risk for artists' IP and investors. As an example, the Ziro Festival in remote Northeast India with Focus Wales Festival in the UK is developing a new platform, the Ziro Focus Metaverse to bring artists and musicians together with NFTs for emerging new philanthropists and supporters of the arts.
Pioneering Pena player Mangka, a leading folk musician from Manipur is collaborating with Eadyth, a musician from Wales, to create an NFT release of their debut song, as part of the 'India/UK Together Season of Culture'. This landmark bilateral programme showcases over 1,400 emerging and established artists from India and the UK who have come together to produce both physical and digital immersive experiences for the audience.
With the development of the Metaverse and other Web3 spaces, new-age technologies will surely become more important. India is already the global testbed for Google, Meta, Microsoft, Apple, Jio, and Infosys. Of course, for many being monitored and tracked, online will be an ongoing challenge to navigate. Nevertheless, the ‘cat is out of the bag’ and it is clear millennials are set to capitalise on the digital era and access to new ideas.
As the world is increasingly globalised, with cultural bonds and trading connections deepening between India and the UK, the arts and cultural landscape are being transformed through technology, and some artists and audiences are bracing to advance the brave new digital world together.
(Jonathan Kennedy is Director Arts India, British Council. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)