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From the visible crisis of closed venues to the behind-the-scenes plight of artists and creatives denied and losing jobs, COVID-19 has painted a rough road to recovery for the UK arts and culture sector.

Yet a report that’s likely to influence government funding tells a different story for our theatres, cinemas, galleries and museums — declaring that creative meeting tech is where “great culture and economic value will be derived in the next 20 years”.

Spring 2020 saw the launch of Boundless Creativity — a campaign created by UKRI’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in response to the pandemic. Boundless Creativity declared that the harnessing of digital tools the coronavirus forced upon us would “change the cultural landscape in the UK forever”. 

The campaign outlines the importance of embracing changing patterns in people’s artistic and cultural consumption to recover the sector — empowering businesses to create innovative projects that qualify for the government’s research and development (R&D) tax credits scheme.

2021 has seen the most advanced public trials in virtual, augmented and mixed reality content for audiences in the UK and internationally. New partnerships between the digital and cultural sectors have driven innovation where R&D is rife. 

VA, AI and MR are recreating the thrill of live events in homes and bringing museums into classrooms. The computer-generated simulations encourage children to explore, build and play games that combine science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills with creativity.

These R&D-led innovations are often led by small to medium businesses, eligible for R&D tax credits, and less tied to the traditional notions of how audiences consume film, theatre, art and culture. 

The Bound Creativity report details how digital culture sharpens rather than lessens the appetite for live experiences. Audiences don’t see themselves having to choose one or the other.

There’s no denying the reach of digital offerings during and post lockdowns. Millions of people worldwide have brought London art and culture into their homes, including the elderly and people living with disabilities, who’d previously been deprived.

Talking at Bound Creativity’s launch, the first Black woman and Black British person to win the Booker Prize in its fifty-year history, Bernardine Evaristo, commented:

“Historically, the arts has been the preserve of certain kinds of people — elite groups in our society — and we need to open it up”.

Boundless Creativity’s evidence suggests artistic and cultural providers are reaching a more diverse audience across social statuses, religions and ethnicities than ever before. 

The message from the British cultural figures who launched Boundless Creativity, including Mary Beard, Ben Okri and Fiona Shaw, is clear:

In-person performances and venues may be opening up, but digital audience engagement can be sustained. For all its trauma, the coronavirus pandemic has spurred creativity and opened arts and culture on a broader and grander scale. And why wouldn’t you want to sustain a long relationship with those people in a post-pandemic world?

Even if your project completely fails, the government could still reward you for the attempt. You can take the first step to R&D tax credits here.