Arts and Culture’s Virtual Survival Story: The Show Must Go On


The arts have seen a shift in the last year away from in-person gatherings, but that doesn’t mean that performances, showings, and other creative activities have stopped. Rather, they’ve been transformed, becoming increasingly virtual and digital.

The E-Commerce Times spoke with experts in the arts, design, and marketing to see how these fields have changed and how they might continue to evolve in the future.

“It is something that we were forced to learn by necessity,” Ed Kirchdoerffer, general manager of the Mayo Performing Arts Center, told the E-Commerce Times of the organization’s virtual programming.

“But now that we have mastered it, there is certainly a place for it moving forward to bring arts experiences to more people beyond our walls.”

New Revenue Streams

One key to succeeding in the virtual arts realm is offering a variety of performances and activities that appeal to different audiences.

“MPAC provides a variety of virtual programming,” explained Kirchdoerffer. “There are events that we present, events by third parties, and educational events. New Jersey allows us to have a capacity of 150 in our theatre currently. We have been able to livestream many of the concerts that we have put on stage since we were allowed to reopen in October.

“The livestream has been a great tool to connect people to arts experiences at home, especially if they are not comfortable attending an indoor event. It also is a value income stream for us that sometimes makes the difference between profit and loss on a show that you can only sell 150 tickets for, [when] we typically seat 1,319.”

Individual artists, as well, are working with organizations like the Mayo Performing Arts Center to reach audiences.

“Many artists and producers are starting to sell their own livestreams and give venues like MPAC a 10 to 20 percent commission on sales to help promote them,” said Kirchdoerffer.

“So, for example, Darlene Love did a Holiday livestream in December, [and] we got a unique link for purchasing tickets and promoted it to our patron base. We got a cut of the ticket sale for everyone who purchased through that link. It’s not a lot of money — often between $50 and $500 — but it all adds up, and it makes it look like our programming is more robust and keeps us connected to our patrons.

“We have noticed a sharp rise in these types of events being offered to venues like ours over the past few months.”

Arts education has also become increasingly virtual, with classes being offered online and through Zoom to reach children and adults even when they’re at home.

“Our Performing Arts School classes went all-virtual beginning last spring,” noted Kirchdoerffer. “Using the Zoom format, we have done over 90 classes virtually. [It’s] not the best way to do acting and singing, but the children who participate in this program love it, and it’s been a way for them to stay connected with each other. It has also allowed us to offer our programs beyond our region, and we’ve had children and instructors from other parts of the country.”

For long-term sustainability, however, it’s also vital for artists and organizations not to offer everything for free — but rather to construct a pricing structure analogous to those used for in-person events.

“When the pandemic first started, everyone was doing something virtual, and it was all free,” said Kirchdoerffer. “I think now both artists and venues are realizing that they need to find a way to monetize it. There’s a lot less free content out there these days.”

Virtual Displays

Visual artists, as well, have found new ways to connect with audiences, often through virtual galleries and spaces.

“We believe that art is meant to be shared,” Marwan Samaha, co-founder of Showyourarts, told the E-Commerce Times. “Therefore, our mission is to offer artists a tool to showcase their art, help them build their online presence, reach new audiences, build their network and become more exposed.”

Interactivity is central to engaging people in virtual worlds and creating a sense of digital community.

“Showyourarts is more than just a website featuring artwork,” explained Samaha. “It is an interactive experience for artists around the globe to connect and discover a wide collection of works and [a place] where artists and art enthusiasts can meet, discuss, and share ideas. It is also a way of bringing together the art community, to inspire positive change, and to support artists.”

New strategies have emerged to reach new audiences and to create a real sense of community involvement.

“With the advent of the pandemic, the online art market is expanding to new levels,” said Samaha. “The virtual art space has shifted in various ways to attract its viewers by creating a rise in virtual events through online auctions, private exhibitions, and 3D virtual tours, as well as performance art.”

Ultimately, monetizing art through these virtual forums will be key to keeping digital spaces sustainable for artists and those who promote them.

“The art market is expanding, and technology is playing a huge role in art marketing,” explained Samaha. “The current art galleries are becoming more dependent on online platforms and services to reach a larger audience worldwide.

“With new tools being developed, such as Oculus, it is easier to navigate a 3D space and have an immersive experience. Thus, we are seeing the industry heading in that direction, and we are also witnessing an emergence of digital art.”

Brand Awareness Strategies

As with all e-commerce brands, artists must take a multichannel approach to reaching audiences and potential customers — particularly when they’re operating primarily in virtual spaces.

“The channels customers use to purchase products and interact with brands are constantly evolving and expanding,” Diaz Nesamoney, president and CEO of Jivox, a digital advertising and marketing firm headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., told the E-Commerce Times.

“Brands must remain agile and keep up with consumers on each of these channels — including display, social, video, website, email and more. Most importantly, brands must have the right technology in place to allow them to deliver content with the same message across all of these channels based on the specific interests of the customer at that point in time.

“This elevates the customer experience and builds product and brand awareness consistently across all channels.”

Though eventually the pandemic will slow, and life will return to something once known as normal, it’s likely that many of the transformations in the arts world will remain.

“When in-person capacity goes up, will people just say, ‘enough with the virtual stuff, I want to see it live’?” asked Kirchdoerffer.

“Maybe, but I think there’s going to be certain populations that will still not want to be with large crowds, or their health may be compromised [so] they can’t go out, that these would still have benefit for.

“Also, the potential for getting this out to a larger audience holds some promise that both venue and artist can earn additional income. I’m sure there will be ways that will allow artists and their fans to connect on a different level. It could become a very immersive experience.

“Who knows, maybe with virtual reality, it will put you right out on stage someday with the band.”


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