Digital technology has put the power to create into the hands of more people than ever before. New tools and new access to information have created a new generation of creators. The default position for many young people (digital natives) today is to create new creative content on a daily basis.

In recent years, there has been a focus among arts organisations of all types on the potential for digital to simply share information or documentation of current activities. The scope of digital promotion and marketing has been exciting and has changed the way we discover what is happening around us. However, it is vital that we do not simply think of digital technology as a means to distribute and broadcast traditional arts and culture. Having these revolutionary tools at our disposal and merely using them to take the arts programming and events of recent decades and extending their reach is not grasping the full opportunity with which we are presented. We must recognise and support the empowerment of all individuals to create culture through digital means. We must not think of digital as simply a means of distribution.

As the recent 'Towards Cultural Democracy' report by King's College London states:

The use of online fora and platforms for creative activities is widely heralded as a major democratising influence in contemporary culture. Children and young people are growing up with the confidence and skills to adopt and adapt this space for an enormous variety of cultural ends. To the extent that a major ‘first step’ in promoting cultural capabilities and cultural democracy involves shifting mindsets and raising awareness of a more inclusive way of thinking about arts, culture and creativity, it is important both to ensure that stories of digital co-creation are widely shared, but also that more individuals, young and old, are actively enabled to use digital media creatively.

The sharing of culture through digital means can indeed enrich our lives, but by ensuring everyone is empowered to contribute to our culture through these platforms, our collective culture will itself be hugely enriched.

We believe that if we genuinely want to address issues of social cohesion and social mobility as well as public wellbeing, it is essential to recognise and value the thoughts, creativity and actions of all individuals. Arts organisations cannot go on treating them as consumers of culture alone. The digital world is one of creation, exchange and conversation. We are fundamentally misunderstanding its potential and its attraction if we do not prioritise the democratisation of cultural creativity that this enables. The entire social media movement is based on empowering individuals to become creators and broadcasters. Particularly among younger generations, there is a perceived equity of opportunity through platforms like YouTube whereby ordinary individuals and major organisations broadcast side by side.

Creative Health: The Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing published this summer, makes the point early in its summary:

The creative impulse is fundamental to the experience of being human. We might express this through art, craft, creative writing, dance, design (including architecture), drama, film- or music-making or singing, by ourselves or with others; increasingly, we might make creative use of digital media. […] The act of creation, and our appreciation of it, provides an individual experience that can have positive effects on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

As the established voice of voluntary creativity, Voluntary Arts has started a series of open, exploratory discussions with a range of practitioners who have expertise in digital creativity and participation, in order to improve our understanding of the potential for emerging technologies to support the activity of creative groups and individuals.

Initial themes that emerged from conversations in Wales include:

There is a wealth of free and low cost digital tools that voluntary arts groups can use to promote their work through social media channels to attract new members and audiences, but there is also considerable scope to bring artforms and digital tools closer together: further integrating newer technologies into art-making, and not seeing digital tools as merely means of sharing artworks, but as integral to the creative process. Sharing and creating using digital tools need not necessarily be seen as different disciplines. And likewise, such tools can provide different ways for people to become active participants in artworks: as commentators or co-creators.

This is the beginning of an intensive period of exploration for Voluntary Arts to try to better define how, where and why digital creativity takes place in today’s society and how we can better understand, support and value these activities.

If you are interested in being part of these conversations, do get in touch by email, Twitter or Facebook.