Searching For The Unforced Substitute

Via is a FastCompany article by Amy Globus whose thesis is that Covid-19 gave the arts world the kick in the butt required to motivate it to think about how to leverage digital offerings to its benefit.

I will say from the outset that like many stories I have seen written on this theme, as much as they celebrate the success of efforts by organizations and the millions of view garnered, there is little acknowledgement of whether anyone was able to recoup the cost of producing/adapting content for the digital medium. Though Globus does acknowledge many won’t have the resources to create 3-D digital models or virtual/augmented reality experiences.

This being said and gotten out of the way, articles like this one seem to always be worthwhile reading because they offer insight into how different organizations are creating content which is either valued added or an alternative to just pointing a camera at real life works and posting it on the internet.

The truth is, the trial and error experimentation to find what works is likely to incur costs that will never be covered.  Seeing what others might be doing can be instructive and help shorten the development process. Though there is a chance arts organizations will develop offerings which distinctly resonate with the characteristics their communities and aren’t as successfully replicatible elsewhere. We could see, for example, museums emerge over the next decade whose experiences are markedly different from others.

Or it could be like a Tiktok trend where everyone does the same choreography to the same music and makes the same faces as everyone else.

To my mind, it will be the value added or alternative content rather than the digital substitution for the live experience which will provide the best course for arts organizations.

A couple examples from the FastCompany article:

Celebrated fashion designer Thom Browne launched his 2021 collection in a virtual 3D showroom—and while the experience was developed due to COVID-19 restrictions, it certainly doesn’t feel like a forced substitute. Never before have audiences at a runway show had such in-depth access to the details of Browne’s work. In this iteration, viewers can take their sweet time experiencing each piece in 360-degree, high-definition glory. Browne now intends to include a virtual element in future launches, as a valuable component alongside live showings.


…But organizations without the budget or resources for flashy experiences needn’t feel like they’re doomed to the “old normal.”

One of the biggest successes in digital experience innovations during COVID-19 was the Frick Collection’s Cocktails With a Curator series. Low-tech videos filmed inside curators’ homes generated millions of views, proving, as The New York Times observed, that “online audiences don’t expect a simulation of a gallery visit on-screen. They want a museum experience native to the web—and that can be a little faster, a little less polished, a little more direct.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment