Fourth wall and digital windows: dialoguing with new cultural audiences

Re-involving the public and regenerating active participation, in a way that it is the public itself that helps sustain and grow a new “offer,” this is the real priority


Pandemic has drawn attention to the economic importance of the cultural sector, particularly that of festivals, live events, museums, cinemas, or the retail sale of cultural services, in making places attractive to those who experience them year-round and those like tourists who experience them periodically.

What was certainly sorely lacking during the pandemic-imposed shutdown periods were live cultural experiences, a lack that was attempted to be made up for through digital streaming, which, however, proved less than fruitful for public relations activities and collective cultural gatherings.
Cultural services play a key role in building community well-being and social cohesion: culture is not just entertainment and recreation but contributes incisively to the constitution of collective meaning thanks to its accessibility.

What is properly meant when we talk about cultural accessibility?

A museum, a theater, a festival, in order to call itself accessible must first be a place that is
empathetic, pleasant, welcoming
, capable of removing its own barriers (not only physical but also-and especially-cultural and economic) not creating new ones.


This concept is crucial to be able to observe how, paradoxically with the imposition of new physical barriers (spacing space, access controls) the post-pandemic historical moment, with the burgeoning digital activity of the cultural sector recorded during the two lockdowns, actually represents an opportunity to break down what have always been barriers to access to cultural activities.

In this regard, data from Eurostat statistics make it clear how much of a correlation exists between cultural participation and income, with 82.5 percent of the EU-28 population (aged 16 and older) in the highest income bracket among those taking part in cultural activities, compared with 43.6 percent in the lowest income bracket. The second most cited reason for not participating in cultural activities was financial difficulties.
Cultural participation is also correlated with educational level: 86.2 percent of people with tertiary education say they have taken part in a cultural activity in the past 12 months, compared with 42.4 percent among people with secondary education or less.


Today, with the goal of creating favorable conditions for the ultimate suppression of inequalities, it proves essential-and possible-to have to include culture in social and educational policies so that cultural workers and institutions are empowered to engage the community toward intercultural dialogue: thehe future generation lives in the virtual world, a world that makes everything accessible and does not require traditional interactions; access to culture is as much the realm of search engines, digital servers and social media as it is of cultural institutions. The ability to concentrate is different. It requires quick images and pedagogies to learn or experiment quickly. COVID-19 is accelerating a lifestyle mutation that is familiar to younger generations. It is more individualistic, focused on private life, with smaller communities relying on digital and virtual networks.

Needless to deny that culture understood as a sign of knowledge is increasingly considered the preserve of old elitism that can be despised and even denigrated. The new urban generation belongs less and less to a given religion, to a territory, to a culture: its culture is increasingly the planet: language has changed, with a new more visual, more English, more urban function with new tools for interacting socially across borders.

All this poses a threat to established cultural institutions unable to adapt to new sociological patterns. The pandemic will affect collective behaviors and cultures to the same extent that the invention of writing or printing did at the time. It therefore becomes important for cultural institutions to reflect and adapt to these social changes and cultural policies in order to continue to affirm their role as collective sense-makers and contribute to social empowerment.


So what kind of cultural offerings do Italians expect as a result of the post-pandemic?

The research conducted by Nomisma in June 2021 focuses its data on Italians’ expectations regarding the enjoyment of audiovisual and cultural content (music, theater and cinema) in the post-Covid period.

In 2020, the number of live theater, film and concert performances decreased by 69 percent compared to 2019, while audience spending decreased by -78.8 percent compared to the previous year.

However, this has not curbed the enjoyment of cultural products by Italians who have been experimenting with new modalities To attend performances and concerts. In particular, it was found that since the beginning of the pandemic, 33 percent have followed social live streams in which famous musicians and singers performed from their homes, 13 percent have virtually visited exhibitions, museums, and archaeological sites, 6 percent have watched streaming theater performances, and 4 percent have attended virtual concerts, directly from their PCs, paying for a ticket.
The home has become a real place of entertainment: in fact, 36% of Italians have increased their enjoyment of paid movies and TV series, and 61% have watched more often (or started to do so) movies and TV series on online platforms. In addition, 55 percent of people said they spent more time watching programs and movies on television than in 2019.

The loosening of restrictions, on the other hand, makes Italians more eager to attend live events again: 40 percent say they are ready to go back to the movies, 1 in 3 Italians are ready to visit a museum, 30 percent are eager to attend a live concert, and 1 in 6 Italians plan to attend a theatrical performance.

The Nomisma survey investigated what is the ideal cultural offering for Italians in the post-Covid era and found that 36 percent want an offering with a vast amount of content and close to their tastes and interests (a factor, the latter, cited by 18 percent of Italians).

Very important turns out to be the ease of use: 24% put first the ability to access it at any time of the day and 14% from anywhere. For 7 percent of Italians, moreover, content should be short and quick.


What role does digital play in all this? To what extent is it important to people? The research shows that. Italians view technology as a tool to facilitate access to the enjoyment of cultural content, not as a substitute for live performances. Among the most important technological aspects are mentioned the opportunity to receive the ticket directly on the smartphone (reported by 7 out of 10 Italians), to purchase tickets online (important or very important for 69%) and to book activities online (relevant for 65%).