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Those who showcased best practice in digital leadership did so by addressing the challenges of the pandemic.

Chinese Arts Now X Two Temple Place Exhibition, winners of the Digital Storytelling award

Ian Gallagher

Winners of the inaugural Digital Culture Awards are “trailblazers in the digital space”.

Award hosts Arts Council England (ACE) and the Digital Culture Network have commended eight winners who created the most innovative online content during Covid.

More than 400 entries were received from 279 arts organisations across eight categories. The winners, however, stood out for their success in engaging new audiences, increasing organisational revenue and using data to improve audience insights.


ACE CEO Darren Henley said the projects are great examples of what can be achieved by merging art and technology.

“It gives us a glimpse into the creative potential that digital innovation will unlock in the future.”

After becoming the first UK-based museum to join TikTok, Black Country Living Museum, winner of the Being Social category, used to the social media platform to share its collections during pandemic-related closures. 

Its channel now has 1.3 million followers, the majority of whom are under 30: “We wanted to make connections with the museum visitor of the future by being part of their everyday lives,” the museum said.

Opera North won the Income Generation award for their From Couch to Chorus initiative, a virtual choir where participants sing over Zoom. 

A ‘pay-what-you feel’ model opened access to 5,000 unique bookers, 48% of whome were new to the company.

Open Sky Theatre, selected as the best example of digital inclusion, produced a series of five short plays aimed at audiences traditionally disengaged with theatre.

The theatre says it consciously employed a diverse cast and crew representative of its target audience before sharing the work for free online. 

Pandemic challenges

Projects were celebrated for responding to challenges brought about by Covid-19.

Sound and Music, winners of the Data Driven category, kept track of how composers were affected by cancellations through the pandemic.

Upon learning regional composers were disproportionately affected, the music charity ring-fenced funding for those outside of London.

The Digital Trailblazer award went to the National Student Drama Festival, which hosted the UK’s first entirely online festival two weeks into the first lockdown.

The festival has since produced 503 online events, reaching thousands of attendees.

“We’re now an organisation transformed by digital possibilities; crisis has bred innovation, new skills and necessary change,” a spokesperson said.

Further development

Winning organisations say their projects have opened doors for further digital engagement.

Digital Storytelling winners Chinese Arts Now have begun work on a hybrid live and digital gaming theatre, HOME X.

Artistic Director An-Ting Chang said the organisation’s winning project – a mixed gaming and 3D technology production on the history of Two Temple place – provided a solid base for developing more advanced projects.

“Digital works can open us to new forms of expression and allow us to reach new and remote audiences in a powerful way.”

Sound and Music will now focus on how it supports and celebrates D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creatives, after noticing improvements to the accessibility of their application forms heralded an uptick in applicants to its New Voices programme. 

Head of Digital and Audience Engagement Victoria Johnson says winning the award has given the organisation confidence and energy to pursue its data-led ambitions.

“We've seen some massive changes over the years, but there is still much more to do in order to create a fairer, more equal and more representative sector for all.”

Digital Culture Award Winners in full

Digital Storytelling – Chinese Arts Now and Two Temple Place

Digital Inclusion – Open Sky Theatre for MicroPlays (also chosen as Winner’s Winner)

Income Generation – Opera North 

Data Driven – Sound and Music

Being Social – Black Country Living Museum

Content Creation and Distribution – The Old Vic

Content Creation and Distribution – Open Clasp Theatre Company (Special Commendation) 

Digital Trailblazer – National Student Drama Festival

Emerging Digital Leader – Michael Hardy, Barnsley Museums Digital Engagement Curator