The performing arts, museums, and restaurants are perhaps least vulnerable to the Internet’s impact for two reasons. First, their appeal is sensual: no digital facsimile satisfies our desire to see a dancer perform, hear music in a live setting, stand before a great work of art, or eat a freshly prepared meal. Second, because it is difficult to make live performances and exhibitions highly profitable, in most of the world these activities have been left to public or nonprofit institutions that are ordinarily less dynamic in their response to environmental change (DiMaggio 2006). Indeed, in the U.S., at least, theaters, orchestras, and museums have been tentative in their embrace of the new technology. Almost all respondents to a recent study of 1,200 organizations that had received grants from the U.S.’s federal arts agency reported that their organizations maintained websites, used the Internet to sell tickets and post videos, and maintained a Facebook site. Yet just one third employ a full-time staff member primarily responsible for their online presence, suggesting a somewhat restrained engagement with social media In sum, then, it appears that, in the U.S. at least, conventional noncommercial cultural organizations have adopted the Internet, but only at the margins.
No digital facsimile satisfies our desire to see a dancer perform, hear music in a live setting, stand before a great work of art, or eat a freshly prepared meal
Yet it is the outliers who are more interesting if we think about the potential influence of the Internet on the arts. Consider, for example, MUVA (Museo Virtual de Artes), a virtual museum of contemporary art hosted in Uruguay and devoted to work by Uruguayan artists. This architecturally impressive building (which exists only online) offers several exhibits simultaneously. The visitor uses a mouse to move about the exhibit (hold the cursor to the far right or left to move quickly, closer to the center to stroll more slowly, click to zoom onto an image and view documentation), much as one would a physical gallery. (The site also has affordances that physical galleries do not offer, such as the opportunity to change the color of the wall on which the work is hung.)2 To be sure, this is not yet a true museum experience—one has little control over one’s distance from the work, latencies are high, and navigation is at times clunky—but it provides both an opportunity to see fascinating art that is otherwise inaccessible, and technological advances will almost certainly make such experiences even more compelling within a few years. Such developments, which could vastly increase the currently tiny proportion of museums’ holdings on public view (as opposed to in storage), will be important to people who visit museums and care about art. But their cultural impact will be modest because people who regularly visit museums and attend performing-arts events constitute a relatively small and, at least in some countries, declining share of the population. Such declines, one should note, began in the pre-Internet era and cannot be attributed to the technology’s growth.
Read more in Paul DiMaggio’s article The Internet’s Influence on the Production and Consumption of Culture: Creative Destruction and New Opportunities