IMD Think Piece by İlkay Baliç, Director of Communications, Arter, Istanbul

During the first weeks of lockdown, we all witnessed an abundance of digital content streaming into our living rooms.  Most cultural institutions and entertainment companies seemed to direct their attention towards this privileged, mostly white-collar minority, who were able to work safely from home.  As the quarantine progressed, social inequality became more visible through social media stories which revealed the daily lives of health workers, delivery people, and drivers, among many others, who were obliged to work to keep the world functioning.  This brought about one of the most crucial revelations around the idea of social class since Marx first came up with the theory – this time, we experienced “class” as a matter of life and death.  I believe this new understanding that comes directly from practice will alter the way in which we define our priorities to become “better” institutions in service of our communities.

The digital divide wasn’t a new discovery for most cultural institutions.  As culture professionals, we were already following closely the technological developments that allow us to reach broader audiences online: making our programmes digitally available, seeking more interaction on social media, developing content designed specifically for the virtual space…  While some cultural institutions prioritise digital projects, some focus more on the physical space, and I believe both paths are fine – as long as the institution remains true to its mission (and who knows the next global crisis won’t happen in the digital world itself?).

In this period, my thoughts around diversity and inclusivity are focused mainly around the following points:

> Producing and sharing fixed content online is great, but how do we keep engaging audiences in a dialogue around art, as creative and active individuals themselves?  Arter’s Learning team has developed a new format, “Show and Tell from Home”, which invites participants to share a personal narrative around a work of art or an object in their home.  We are also experimenting with online guided exhibition tours where our guides share their screen with the participants and interpret the works together through each participant’s personal history and experiences.  We will indeed keep visiting exhibitions online, especially the ones that have been created for the screen, but I find these formats refreshing and mind-opening in their engagement with audiences.

> In such times, I thought more cultural institutions would create content for the differently-abled, such as sign language interpretation or verbal description of works/exhibitions.  In most countries, accessibility has not yet taken its rightful place in the prioritization of goals and resources for cultural institutions.  In a period where all staff and resources are dedicated towards creating content for the screen and users are overwhelmed by the plethora of digital events, why not focus more on accessible content and start making it a priority?

What next? Are we to go on with our lives and programmes as usual or is this peculiar experience going to affect our perception of the world forever? They say humans forget easily. Let’s not allow that to be the case.


This piece reflects Baliç’s personal opinions on the subject.

Arter closed its doors to the public temporarily on 14 March due to the pandemic and plans to re-open mid-June.