In May 2015, some of the most prestigious opera houses across Europe began streaming performances live online. Budding opera enthusiasts could follow the six-month project for free at The Opera Platform, an EU-backed website aimed at making opera more accessible to the public. The final performance is due in September, when the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet will produce Puccini’s La bohème (subtitled online in six languages).
This isn’t the first attempt to ‘livestream’ opera performances using new technology. In 1890, the théâtrophone was marketed in Paris as a way for subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances live over their telephone lines. The French novelist Marcel Proust apparently had one installed in his home in 1911, and would eagerly listen to Wagner and Debussy from the comfort of his living room.
Today, there are a series of projects aimed at getting art online. From the Google Cultural Institute, which aims to digitise millions of artworks, collections and stories from around the world, to institutions such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which allows virtual tours of its exhibits by desktop or mobile device.
But can technology capture the experience of visiting a gallery, theatre or opera house? Will digitising artwork help to make it more accessible to a wider audience, or will it encourage people to stay at home instead of taking a trip to the local museum? We’ll be looking at these questions and more in the debate below.
We’ve had some questions and comments sent in by citizens on this topic. Our first question was sent in by Giuseppe, asking whether viewing art online (whether it is a performance or a painting) diminishes the experience.
To get a response, we put this question to Amit Sood, Director of the Google Cultural Institute. He argued that putting art online enhances rather than diminishes the experience and, whilst “the digital cannot replace the physical”, it can increase public enthusiasm for (and access to) art and culture:
Our next question came from Ozcan, who argued that there is a perception that the art world can be ‘elitist’ and exclusionary. Is this a fair perception? And can the internet help dispel this idea, and make art more affordable and open to all?
What would Amit Sood say?
Next, we had a question sent in from Paul, asking what artists think are the potential benefits of the internet to their work. We took this question to Tom Creed, an Irish theatre director who has been directing theatre, opera, and festivals for over a decade. What would he say to Paul?
Finally, we had a question sent in by Sophia, asking whether digitising art might reduce the number of museum, gallery, or theatre visits. Is digital art a threat to physical art?
I think the evidence so far [seems] to be that this is not happening. That, actually, [this access] is leading more people to go, and more people to want the live experience [or] to become interested in discovering live performance…
How can technology help introduce art to a wider audience? Does putting art online diminish the experience? Or can the internet make art more interesting, affordable, and open to all? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!