01/04/2013 02:48 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2013

Technology Driving Arts Attendance, Engagement and Fundraising

In the last decade alone, any business without a web presence -- without an online, interactive website -- was simply, not in business. Or wouldn't be for long. The government and nonprofit sector soon learned their way around the Internet too.

Now the Pew Charitable Trusts, specifically the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a major survey covering 2007-2011 and involving 1,256 arts organizations, reported that: "The internet and social media are integral to the arts in America."

The survey found:

  • 81 percent of the organizations in this survey say the internet and digital technologies are "very important" for promoting the arts.
  • 78 percent say these technologies are "very important" for increasing audience engagement.
  • 65 percent say digital technologies are "very important" for fundraising.

There seemed no question that web presence was "important" or "very important" although not everyone is persuaded -- yet -- that an Internet strategy is a priority. Those reporting also felt that such technologies "disrupted much of the traditional art world" by changing "audience expectations, put[ting] more pressure on the arts groups to participate actively in social media and in some circumstances, undercut[ting] organizations' mission and revenue streams." In fact, 40 percent believe that "attention spans for live performances" are being negatively impacted.

Nonetheless, aggressively deploying new technologies was essential to maintaining forward momentum and efficiency. Fortunately, 99 percent of the organizations had their own website and 97 percent have a social presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flicker and so forth.

One of the more intriguing challenges cited in the survey is the necessity of providing existing supporters the maximum real time experience technology affords -- indeed demands -- and the opportunity to attract new audiences. Because the technology knows no boundaries, marketing -- not only to existing and supportive members, but larger potential members or individuals -- is open to creative techniques.

Sadly, the difficulty of finding the leadership in house to support projects' and programs which expand the use of social media is difficult given existing constraints. Also, finding the financial resources to establish a web presence, get more staff to think about the importance of online communication has had its share of difficulties.

Funders too, seem reluctant to sponsor an online program or enterprise. They are used to supporting exhibitions, individual artists or capital improvements but may be unaware of the critical importance of online efforts. This too, requires a separate undertaking by arts organizations.

The net positive to art organizations is clear. Technology has helped them be more accessible to more audiences than ever before. While the new technology has presented its share of challenges to arts organizations, the opportunities technology has opened far outpaces the challenges. Indeed, the new and innovative solutions social media offers to the arts is unparalleled.