"You can't eat culture!" A tired expression that still echoes across the political arena and also in the streets among ordinary people. And yet, the numbers suggest that culture in Italy contributes a great deal to the economic well-being of the whole country. According to the "I am Culture" report by the Symbola Foundation and Unioncamere, Italy's 2018 cultural and creative production system was in fact is responsible for churning out 6.1% of added value, which is roughly 96 billion euros. One third of this wealth comes from non-cultural sectors, such as services and manufacturing, where some 600,000 cultural professionals such as directors, designers and communicators work. And as you can imagine, the arrival of the pandemic turned the tables: Cultural and Creative Sectors (CCS) were among the hardest hit by the crisis-triggered gridlock, with job losses estimated by the OECD at between 0.8 and 5.5 per cent of employment, and also the least protected by government support measures.
This snapshot is the starting point for the thoughts of Elisabetta Roncati, digital influencer and founder of the registered trademark Art Nomade Milan, the protagonist of PHYD's talk on 10 February, "If art lives on Instagram, what are the professions of the future for the sector?" The question may sound provocative, yet it conveys a stinging reality shaped by the COVID-19 epidemic. As the doors closed on museums, bookshops, theatres and cinemas, culture turned to the virtual world almost exclusively as a means of survival, adapting to the language of social media and digital platforms. A necessity for institutions and workers in the sector, but also a bane for users and spectators who have suddenly awoken bereft of beauty.
Roncati therefore poses a fundamental question: "What role does and will digital technology play in the cultural landscape?" While digital technology and the Instagram or TikTok accounts of museums such as the Louvre or the Tate may provide today's solution to the emergency, these tools will still be around tomorrow as a valid support for in-person activities and initiatives, serving as channels for sharing information with different, younger, more astute and inattentive audiences, and vehicles for bringing the universal language of art closer to them, rendering it accessible at all latitudes. The new normal awaiting all of us should make it possible, and even desirable, to adapt the content to the digital container without necessarily trivialising or distorting it, thus making it more comprehensible and closer to the younger generations. The pandemic should therefore be regarded as a unique opportunity for change, to conceive new growth opportunities in a sector of such vital importance to Italy.
Instagram or TikTok can become a valid medium for in-person activities and initiatives, serving as channels for sharing information with different, younger, more astute and inattentive audiences, rendering art accessible at all latitudes.
Far from being a mere interlude, digital technology could create new professions or forge indispensable roles out of long-standing professions borrowed from other sectors to shore up the gap in skills and competency in the arts. We're talking about jobs such as cultural manager, social media manager (one of the most sought-after professions in the marketplace), content creator and also digital influencer. This list, however, is still under construction and will depend on the actions of cultural and political institutions in the near future, similar to how the ways and channels of accessing artistic content are currently in flux. And to those who fear that this way might boil everything down to a compendium of emojis, cramped Wikipedia entry or, worse yet, transformed into a viral quotation until the very last follower, Roncati suggests keeping an open and unprejudiced mindset towards what are merely tools, like TV or radio, but for which a more careful and effective literacy is clearly needed. If art migrates to Instagram, then our approach should be to figure out how to thrive on that platform. Because, if the pandemic has taught us anything at all, it is that there is no going back, even if we wanted to.
You can listen to Elisabetta Roncati's full talk by registering at PHYD.