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Cultural Participation a Privilege Reserved for Cap Cities?

An unexpected upside to all this Covid-19 craziness is the sudden portability and accessibility of the arts. Globally, cultural institutions have been creating and curating online experiences of their collections and exhibits for people to access from their armchairs. From my isolation bubble, I’ve been enjoying the spoils of the Sydney Opera House’s new digital season. I can recommend streaming Missy Higgin’s 2019 Valentine’s Day concert at The House, it’s something I have really enjoyed in the past week. The National Gallery of Victoria has also been praised for its online innovations of late, with the digitisation of their current Keith Haring exhibition ‘Crossing Lines’. I spent last night on the virtual tour of this exhibit and was awe-struck by the quality of the experience. In the cooler months between April and June, The Sydney Art Biennale is usually a major fixture on the city’s cultural calendar. But from this week, you can find works by nearly 1,800 contributing artists in just one spot: online as organisers work to bring us the 22nd year of the Biennale virtually. Some of these experiences might be of interest to our regional listeners, who don’t always have immediate access to the houses of art and culture that are sometimes taken for granted in Australia’s capital cities.  

These certainly are fantastic initiatives, but I’ve also noticed an interesting conversation forming around them that, given the regional and rural emphasis of our broadcast, I thought it might be worthwhile touching on. As more and more is digitized and we look towards a near-future where the things that we usually enjoy can be found on the net, much is being spoken about an emerging digital divide in the accessibility of these resources. In our regional areas, local and community galleries, and the tourism they attract, are crucial to the telling of regional and rural stories and the exposure of local artists. They also break the artistic and cultural monopoly of the big city-based institutions, ensuring that the narrative coming out of Australia’s art scene is diverse and representative. Local museums play a vital role in smaller communities; preserving, treasuring, emphasising a town’s heritage- assisting with an ongoing sense of identity that is so vital to smaller communities. However, with a lack of resources and manpower, these smaller community-centric organisations are struggling with the shift to full digitisation and they risk being left out of cultural and artistic participation entirely. The same goes for rural audiences with access issues: the digital inclusion index indicates that Australians are more likely to be digitally excluded if they are Indigenous, living remotely or over sixty-five. At the moment, it seems, cultural contribution and involvement is a privilege housed largely within the city and its institutions. So, treasured readers, how do we fix this stat? One academic, Indigo Holcombe James- from RMIT’s school of media, is calling on the government to launch a targeted response to the digital divide- ensuring that these institutions have access to the resources, skill-base, and funding to establish their own web presence. In the meantime, we can help out by those supporting and patronizing the regional exhibitors who are successfully making the transition. I’ve personally enjoyed browsing the Murray Art Musem Albury’s 3D collection and the art gallery of Ballarat’s ‘museum at home’ experience. Links to these experiences can be found here:

https://www.mamalbury.com.au/learn/the-collection/collection-in-3d

https://artgalleryofballarat.com.au/

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