Streaming the festival: what is lost when cultural events go online

Shipman, Alan and Vogel, Ann (2022). Streaming the festival: what is lost when cultural events go online. Review of Social Economy (Early access).



Cultural events and collections, as curated assemblies of artists and artwork attended by live audiences, are recognised as a large and growing source of added value in contemporary accounts of ‘creative’, ‘enrichment’ and ‘experience’ economies. We analyse these, and empirical festival studies, to assess the impact on cultural production when the COVID-19 pandemic forces events to cancel or move online. Contrasting the relative optimism of ‘enrichment’ (Boltanski & Esquerre 2020) with pre-pandemic developments, we argue ‘festivalisation’ is best understood as a defensive reaction to mediated alternatives. These increasingly offer experientially comparable, lower-cost substitutes for the premium-priced immersive performance on which cultural workers have come to rely, for creative ideas, skills and career openings as well as income. Online channels weaken the eventisation defence and curatorial quests for ‘singularity’, while remote participation limits audiences’ size and mode of engagement, risking permanent damage to vital components of cultural production and valorisation.

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