The Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion  Network

The Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network is a collaboration between 100% Digital Leeds and arts@leeds and over 100 individuals from the arts and culture sector in Leeds. The programme for the quarterly meetings is co-produced with network members and a mailing list ensures information reaches those not able to attend meetings. The network was formed in 2020 in response to the necessary move to online arts and culture delivery as a result of the pandemic. The aim was to support arts and culture professionals to make the move to digital delivery by sharing learning and resources, helping artists and organisations embrace digital innovation whilst continuing to keep programming as accessible and inclusive as possible.

The network celebrates arts and culture as a catalyst for digital inclusion, and looks for opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to support digital inclusion in response to the move to remote digital delivery, which can exacerbate the existing inequality of access for some audiences. Workstreams align with and support the ambitions of the other 100% Digital Leeds digital inclusion networks, with the focus of arts as an enabler to developing the skills, confidence, and motivation of those reluctant to engage with digital. 

The aims and actions of the network closely align with the issues highlighted in the recently published All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Levelling-Up Inquiry: The Case for Culture. 

“Digital engagement can work to connect creatives, audiences and freelancers but digital poverty poses real challenges to the same groups.”

APPG Levelling-Up Inquiry: The Case for Culture. 

A strategic partnership with arts@leeds

arts@leeds sits within the Culture programmes team in Leeds City Council, alongside Leeds Inspired, and is a policy team which works to support and champion creativity and the creative sector across the city of Leeds. The arts@leeds programme provides support for cultural, voluntary and community organisations to create opportunities for residents from across the city to engage in cultural activity as a participant, an attendee or a creator. The arts@leeds business programme aims to support individual artists and arts organisations that want to grow and develop through a package of training, one-to-one advice, and signposting to funding and opportunities for collaboration. 

The arts@leeds team recognises that arts and culture have an important role to play as a motivator that can break down barriers to digital inclusion and lead to the development of soft skills through creative and imaginative play, and improvements in health, wellbeing and engagement in the community. arts@Leeds wants to support the arts sector in Leeds to be able to work to their full potential, build up and then share their own digital skills and confidence, and work collaboratively through the network to access funding and opportunities, and ultimately benefit the residents of Leeds.

“The arts and culture sector is uniquely placed to champion digital inclusion to bring in new audiences to engage with work digitally, to upskill those facing barriers to digital inclusion, and to demonstrate the benefits of being able to access provision digitally.

Leeds residents should all be able to make an informed choice, free from barriers, when they want to experience arts and culture. We champion this right to access arts and culture through the Culture Strategy for Leeds, ‘placing it at the heart of the city’s narrative’.

Our partnership with 100% Digital Leeds in creating and developing the Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network has been invaluable in embedding the ethos of digital inclusion within the sector in Leeds. We look forward to seeing the network become a catalyst for change, advocacy, and support, to realise the ambition to
make Leeds the most digitally inclusive city for everyone.”

Pam Johnson, Head of Culture Programmes, Leeds City Council

The purpose of the network

The Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network supports digital innovation in the arts and culture sector by demystifying digital, and sparking new ideas through sharing practical skills and fostering collaboration and partnership. 

The quarterly meetings are a platform for artists and arts and culture organisations to share innovative practice, form partnerships, identify funding, share learning, and learn new skills. Meetings are hosted by network members in arts spaces, but can also be accessed remotely using video conferencing software. Hosting members have the opportunity to showcase their space and organisational offer, and this ‘hybrid’ model of meeting makes meetings accessible for more people, allows members more choice, and models best practice. We understand that due to capacity and lack of core funding, many arts professionals find it difficult to attend meetings so a mailing list supports those not able to attend so they can keep up with ideas and opportunities, as well as allowing more regular communication across the network as a whole.

The network improves digital inclusion for the arts and culture sector and audiences, supporting the ambition to make Leeds the most digitally inclusive city for everyone by supporting:

Participation

  • Cross-sector collaboration so more people are able to engage with arts and culture digitally
  • Embracing arts and culture as a key motivator and safe space to explore for those reluctant to engage with digital

Programming

  • Producing more ways for people to engage with arts and culture digitally
  • Supporting partners to develop and embrace a ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ approach to delivery for more inclusive programming
  • Embedding accessibility as standard

Promotion

  • Organisations can make the most of digital marketing opportunities
  • Organisations can support digitally excluded audiences to be reached

Peer support

  • Learning and resources are shared across the sector to drive growth and innovation
  • The sector continues to work together to learn, adapt, and improve, and to be as digitally inclusive as possible

Example of outcomes to date: partnership with Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network

Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network (LAHWN) champions, supports, and connects people who are interested in how arts and culture have benefits for health, care, and wellbeing in Leeds. 

LAHWN’s partnered with 100% Digital Leeds in 2021/2022 to produce a series of webinars and networking events aimed at a diverse range of partners supporting people and communities more likely to be digitally excluded. In response to the pandemic and the move away from face-to-face participation, the webinars and accompanying curated resource lists showcased a range of engaging and accessible online tools that the people they support could use to explore the arts and be creative, building their digital skills and confidence, and supporting the management of their health and wellbeing.

“A huge number of services and organisations found ways to work with people remotely in the pandemic but their work largely reached the same audience as in-person events.

We developed our webinars to interest a general audience whilst considering how digital champions, social prescribing link workers, and care home activity coordinators might be inspired by the content to introduce people to new cultural experiences and activities.

We have found motivation is a barrier to people being ‘digitally included’ but arts and culture have been a consistent and longstanding way to engage people with new technology from making playlists and joining online book groups to virtual tours of cultural organisations.”

Geraldine Montgomerie, Leeds Art Health and Wellbeing Network

LAHWN curated resource lists featuring organisations from Leeds Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network and further afield supporting people to be creative, enjoy being physically active, practice mindfulness, and experience all the benefits of engaging with arts and culture. Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network members were invited to speak about their programming and the benefit of supporting audience participation including digital inclusion and improved health and wellbeing. 

Across the series of four webinars over 350 people attended from partner organisations interested in championing digital, supporting communities more likely to be digitally excluded, such as older people, people in care homes, people with chronic health issues and long term conditions, people with learning disabilities, and refugees and asylum seekers. Feedback from attendees included “uplifting”, “great support for all round well-being”, “inspiring”, and “fast-paced, breezy and useful.”

Of the attendees who completed the evaluation 80% said, “the webinars helped me to understand how online arts and culture can help motivate people to do more with digital and 100% said, “the webinars have made me feel more confident to promote online arts and culture to the communities I support.”

Plans for 2022

The network will continue with quarterly meetings and regular mailings with content designed to meet the needs of members. In addition the network has identified a number of key work strands: 

Practical creative communication skills workshops with Leeds 2023

The network will work with Leeds2023 to develop, deliver, and promote a series of practical skills workshops aimed at supporting engagement with upcoming programming. The series will focus on developing the basic skills needed to create and submit content for a collaborative digital storytelling strand of the festival, with workshops taking place on audio recording, image editing, and video game design. The workshops will be free of charge and open to all with the target audience being Leeds2023 artists, local creative professionals, and partners supporting the arts engagement of communities. Partnering with 100% Digital Leeds will support cross-sector engagement and professional diversity of participants, supporting broader audience participation of Leeds2023 programming. We hope to expand the initial commitment of 6 workshops delivered by Leeds 2023 by offering Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network members the opportunity to add their own workshops to the series, allowing them to showcase their organisational offer as well as opening up more learning and development opportunities for the sector and other partners.

National Day of Arts in Care Homes creative digital showcase

National Day of Arts in Care Homes is an internationally recognised annual event bringing together the creative sector and care sector to highlight the importance of art and creativity in care settings, and the beneficial outcomes for all the participants.

Arts and creativity are well established in care homes as providing creative activity for leisure and entertainment and improved wider wellbeing. Care sector staff are often confident and comfortable with delivering and engaging with creative activity and residents are keen to participate.

The Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network is working to develop a timetable of free creative activity taster sessions, delivered digitally, that care homes can dial in to in their communal spaces. This will allow network members to showcase their offer to care homes, residents to have access to more creative activity, and care homes to experience the wide range of creative opportunities for them across Leeds. These sessions will also give care homes staff the opportunity to develop their digital skills and confidence and understand the ease and practicality of using digital tools to bring external activity into the care home setting using platforms like Zoom, supporting the 100% Digital Leeds priority of developing digital inclusion in care home settings.

As care settings support a range of different Communities of Interest including older people, people with learning disabilities, and people with mental health needs, this work will see Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network partnering with the three other 100% Digital Leeds digital inclusion networks.

Supporting the aims of ‘The Case for Culture’

The Case for Culture promotes and champion the huge economic contribution made by the North’s cultural sector. It sets out recommendations on the role of the arts and culture sector and ten action points on what Northern culture needs to level-up. The aims and outcomes of the Arts and Culture Digital Inclusion Network have clear synergies with the themes, recommendation, and actions highlighted in the report.

Most clearly, the theme of transforming technology to unlock growth: ‘New research is required into the barriers and opportunities of digital for producers and consumers of culture in the North. Digital engagement can work to connect creatives, audiences and freelancers but digital poverty poses real challenges to the same groups.‘ The network is a way to understand and challenge the particular barriers faced by arts and culture organisations and professionals as well as audiences: barriers to digital inclusion, audience participation, and the sector’s capacity to deliver digitally. As well as developing this understanding, the work of the network goes one step further: we work to overcome these barriers by developing the digital inclusion of audiences and building the capacity of arts and culture organisations and professionals to design and deliver high quality digital programming.

The network also clearly supports the connection of health and culture: ‘The North should lead the way in creating health and culture partnerships that work to improve wellbeing.‘ Close collaboration with Leeds Arts Health and Wellbeing Network and Arts and Minds Network ensures that the role of arts and culture in supporting improved health and wellbeing is highlighted. The network bridges the gap between arts organisations and other sectors, supporting social prescribing, and engaging community and health organisations with arts and creativity.

The Arts and Creativity Digital Inclusion Network will continue to actively support and action the recommendations and actions highlighted in the report.

Last updated: 31/3/2022