Major institutions and leading figures from across the arts are backing a campaign to champion the role of culture in society after Covid-19, and explore how it can use digital innovation to thrive.
Actor and director Fiona Shaw, historian Mary Beard and writers Bernardine Evaristo and Ben Okri are backing the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Boundless Creativity campaign to demonstrate why culture is needed now more than ever, and to provide “a more complete evidence base to government for recovery and future growth”.
Featured as part of Boundless Creativity will be the launch of a major new series of digital arts projects, which AHRC chief executive Andrew Thompson said would showcase the British cultural sector’s ability to innovate through the crisis.
They include the Royal Shakespeare Company’s collaboration with Fortnite creator Epic Games on a computer game version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The project, alongside three others, had been slated to launch at an event this year but has been reimagined for audiences at home.
The RSC’s Dream project is described as “a completely new way of exploring Shakespeare” and an example of how theatre can use digital technology to reach new audiences.
RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon said the coronavirus pandemic presented an opportunity for the company, and the theatre sector, to make performance more accessible.
She said: “It immediately encourages and enables people to stumble across it in a way that they might not have done before. What this whole period is doing at the moment is widening and broadening everyone’s horizons.
“People who might not have thought digital was for them are suddenly discovering it, and people who are consuming streamed or digital content will think: ‘There’s something that I want to experience in person, in the space, in a very visceral way.’ That will help increase diversity, range, breadth and participation.”
Mallyon said it was “too early to say” whether more of the RSC’s budget would go towards digital work in future.
“We’re certainly never going to stop producing great theatre. That’s what we do and what’s what people want from us, but equally, we want as many people to learn, participate and enjoy it, and that means opening up other channels as well,” she said.
Supporters of the campaign include Tate galleries and the Hay Festival, which is taking place digitally for the first time later this month.
Meanwhile, culture secretary Oliver Dowden is also backing the AHRC’s project, and said the amount of digital arts content provided during lockdown “is testament to the ingenuity and creativity in this sector”.
“Britain is a world leader in both creativity and innovation, and the Boundless Creativity project will speed up the development of new and exciting ways of engaging, entertaining and educating audiences, not just in the UK, but around the globe,” he said.