Digital Arts Marketing or Digital Arts Marketing?

This blog was posted by Ruth Catlow on March 15, 2015 as part of the CultureHive Digital Marketing Academy. You can find out more about the project here.

It has been hard to talk about this fellowship to my friends and peers in digital arts (also called media arts, new media arts, networked arts) because of a long-standing, but under-explored, antagonism between digital arts and marketing.

What do we prioritize when we talk about Digital Arts Marketing?:

1) Enabling more diverse people to access, co-create and appreciate artforms that take digital culture as their tools, subject and medium?


2) Deploying existing digital and social media to grow audiences and so increase the income for all existing artforms?

First to digital arts.

For over 30 years artists have been inventing and experimenting with new networked artforms that critique and extend the expressive and social effects of digital technologies. Artistic and technological developments influence each other. Since our computers shrunk many of us now carry with us devices that comprise an array of tools for communication, data sensing and capture. They are also portable entertainment systems with streaming media or games. They also enable us to participate in a hundred conversations at once. These devices are in our hands or our pockets, or our glasses; or we lie them on our pillows at night. Soon they will be inside of us, (or buzzing over our heads) and inside of every object in our houses and our streets, and these data points will be talking to each other. Our devices already have the capacity to draw data from our every movement, and every interaction, and algorithms wrangle this data and push it out again to shape our media, our culture and the physical world.

Digital artworks and art experiences make these shifts more visible and feelable. They help us to engage with ethical implications of how the technologies are changing the way we relate to each other; how we learn and make decisions (individually and together); the way economics and politics are being done; and how we see ourselves in our environment. The artistry lies not only with the creation of stories, scenarios and awesome filmic ‘special’ or ‘visual’ effects, but also in the revelation and crafting of new forms of social exchange and relationship. Digital artworks can be platforms or software.

Sometimes with digital art (as with painting, sculpture and video forms) the artwork must resist and twist viewer expectations, and as John Godber recently put it, on a Radio 4 discussion about arts funding, to “bite the hand that feeds it” too. Art is not only entertainment it has an important role to play in revealing shifts in the human condition that are otherwise very hard to detect. Some critical and experimental digital arts work has been supported for years by insightful public arts funders in the UK – which might explain the remarkable showing of UK artists at the recent Transmediale Festival in Berlin. And yet in contemporary UK funding for digital arts (public and private) there is a growing (perhaps inevitable and predictable) slippage between investment in experimental digital arts on the one hand, and marketing and enterprise priorities on the other – hence the antagonism.

Now to arts marketing.

Because of the antagonism between digital arts and marketing I have had to deal with my own internal resistance as a CultureHive Digital Arts Marketing Fellow. And I am very glad that I have. Because in doing so I have learned many laudible and reliable approaches for reaching people in ways that will empower Furtherfield (the arts organisation of which I am co-director)* and I hope bring great work to the attention of more and more diverse people. I have developed a great respect for the people whose job it is to grow audiences for all artforms and who by their work help to make the case for the value of culture.

Most importantly with the help of Tom Beardshaw (a clever bit of mentor/mentee matching by CultureHive) I experimented with tuning all audience engagement, outreach and marketing to the artistic objectives. A close analysis of the artistic project led me to amplify certain elements – to reach people in unexpected and delightful ways, while preserving the necessary strangeness of the work. The results were striking.

I also started (I am right at the beginning of this work) to experiment with theories of change. To look for techniques that would allow us to measure the impact of new approaches. This will inform all of the marketing work we will do in our future digital arts commissions, exhibitions and events.

So perhaps this Digital Arts Marketing points to the need for the multiple-bottom line approach. This approach has been gaining in credibility in the corporate world in response to economic and environmental crisis. The multiple bottom line gives equal weighting to ethical considerations (of social equity and ecological concerns) as it does to profit generation. In this approach we would take care to prioritize the aesthetic, ethical and social contexts of the artwork as we developed marketing techniques that fully explore the worlds of possibility that open up (with shift-changes in digital culture) for circulating and co-creating culture.


*Furtherfield is an online hub, public gallery and lab space that works with artists, technologists and activists to respond to the social effects of digital culture, for emancipated communities.


  1. Emily

    Really interesting, and I totally get the point about squaring the unease between the art and the marketing.

    Can you expand on this bit please?

    “A close analysis of the artistic project led me to amplify certain elements – to reach people in unexpected and delightful ways, while preserving the necessary strangeness of the work. The results were striking.”

    Which elements did you amplify and what were the results?

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