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70% of arts and cultural organisations see major impact from technology on delivery of their mission, but skills and barriers remain broadly unchanged since 2013

  • Arts Council England and Nesta uncover how 1,424 arts and culture organisations engage with digital technology in 2017

  • 53% of organisations (up from 34% in 2013) declare digital as important/essential to their business model but 55% have basic skills in this area compared with peers

27 September 2017 - Arts Council England (ACE) and innovation foundation Nesta today launched Digital Culture 2017(1), the results of the fourth survey in a longitudinal study of the arts and cultural sector. The 2017 study collected data from 1,424 organisations in England about how they engage with digital technology(2), and compared them with the survey findings since 2013.

There is a significant rise in the number of organisations who deem digital as important or essential to their business model, jumping from 34% in 2013 to 53% in 2017. The benefits of digital technology are confirmed by organisations seeing major positive impacts on the ability to deliver their mission (70%) and on their business model and operations (up from 51% to 68%).

The study also uncovered specific areas where organisations had seen a significant increase in positive impact, which pointed to a trend of organisations using digital to drive audience development. For instance, organisations reported that using digital technology had a positive impact on boosting their public profile (up from 58% to 67%), selling tickets online (increased from 22% to 39%), and reaching a bigger audience (up from 51% to 62%.)

However, many respondents feel that their digital skills lag behind peers in key areas, with the majority of organisations (55%) believing they have basic digital skills in business model development compared with their peers. Of the 14 skills areas surveyed, such as digital marketing and website design, data analysis is the only area where significantly more organisations feel ‘well served’ compared with 2013, rising from 29% to 34%. Lack of funds (62% of organisations) and lack of staff time (55% of organisations) remain the most reported barriers to organisations fulfilling their digital aspirations.

The 27% of organisations that reported low levels of positive impact from digital technology undertake fewer digital activities than those that report major impact. They are also far less likely to provide complex or innovative digital experiences such as virtual reality or augmented reality (5% of minor impact orgs vs 14% major impact orgs) and simulcasting or livestreaming (10% vs 26%).  Minor impact organisations are far less likely to have senior management with detailed knowledge of technology and tend not to distribute this responsibility evenly across their organisations.

By contrast, 30% of the sample who identified as being experimental and ‘risk taker’ organisations were more likely to report higher levels of positive impact, particularly in creative output and the distribution and exhibition of their content and work.

While digital audience engagement has improved, a significant minority of organisations have been slow to adapt to mobile. More than 60% of UK online time is now spent on mobile(3), however almost a third of organisations are not optimised for  mobile. Similarly, many arts and cultural organisations appear not yet to have woken to the opportunities of the data revolution, as most data-led activities remained stable since 2013, revealing the majority still don’t use data to better understand their audiences.

John Glen, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism said: "Digital technology offers fantastic opportunities for cultural organisations to reach new audiences and I am encouraged that so many are enjoying the benefits. The government is playing a leading role too with our #CultureisDigital project encouraging culture and tech bodies to work together to generate investment, innovate and increase digital skills.”

Francis Runacres, ‎Executive Director, Enterprise and Innovation at Arts Council England, commented: “This year’s results show that art and cultural organisations are becoming more focussed in their use of digital technology – doing a smaller range of activities but achieving greater levels of impact. It is encouraging to see that a greater number of organisations recognise digital as essential to their business model, but the findings suggest that we need encourage more organisations to make better use of data to understand their audiences better.

“We’re supporting digital change and innovation across the arts and cultural sector in a number of ways.  For example, between 2018 and 2022, all National portfolio organisations that receive more than £250,000 a year from us will be required to have digital policies and plans showing how they will use digital to support all areas of their business. This will help them reach more people, improve their use of data and deliver better value for the public.”

Hasan Bakhshi, Executive Director, Creative Economy and Data Analytics at Nesta, said: "The study uncovers encouraging findings that arts and cultural organisations are starting to adopt technologies that significantly enhance audience engagement and grow new revenue streams.  

One of the robust findings across all four years is that organisations that experiment with technology are the ones that see the greatest impacts. It is of some concern therefore that proportionally fewer organisations this year say they are experimenting with digital technology."  

Digital Culture 2017 is available to download via Following the publication of Digital Culture 2013, 2014 and 2015, this is the latest study in Arts Council England and Nesta’s ongoing research to understand the role and impact that digital technology has for arts and cultural organisations in England and how that changes over time. Interviews are available upon request with Francis Runacres, ‎Executive Director, Enterprise and Innovation at Arts Council England, and with Hasan Bakhshi, Director of Creative Industries at Nesta.

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For more information contact Anna Zabow in Nesta’s press office on: 020 7438 2616/2543,  [email protected]

Notes to Editors

  1. Digital Culture 2017 was produced by MTM London for Arts Council England and Nesta. This is the fourth Digital Culture report, following those published in 2013, 2014 and 2015. A total of 1,424 arts and culture organisations in England responded to the 2017 survey, representing the main art and cultural forms of Visual Arts, Theatre, Music, Literature, Dance, and Combined Arts and Museums.

  2. To explore how arts and culture organisations of all types and sizes interact with technology, the Digital Culture Survey examines the importance of technology, the activities organisations undertake and the impact experienced from those activities.

  3. United Kingdom Online Measurement (2016): UK Digital Market Overview

  4. The online data portal can be accessed here:

  5. The series of fact sheets can be accessed here: 

About Nesta: Nesta is a global innovation foundation. We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills. We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. To find out more visit

Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833.

About Arts Council England: Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.