Ian Burrell: The expansion of Sky Arts confirms that it isn't just a cultural fig leaf

Viewpoint: But Sky Arts has gained the confidence of institutions which would rather have been working with the BBC

Ronnie Wood is as handy with a brush as he is with a plectrum and his paintings can sell for £1m. But do his abilities as a guitarist alone qualify him to be regarded as a figurehead of the arts? In an era where anyone with a public profile is quickly deemed to be a "celebrity", broadcasters must tread carefully to avoid being criticised for ditching high culture in favour of ratings-friendly shows about the rich and famous. And that's especially true of a broadcaster that is trying to win a reputation as the new champion of the arts.

Which is why Sky Arts has chosen a two-pronged approach to its coverage and exploited the fact that it has two channels to fill with cultural content. On Sky Arts 2 you might find Placido Domingo in Handel's Tamerlano, or Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. But the lead channel, Sky Arts 1, is largely characterised by "what is pejoratively called 'Dad Rock'", says Sky Arts director James Hunt.

So when Sky Arts gets transformed this week with a trebling of its budget and a new position high up the programme guide (it's available on Sky, Virgin Media and Tiscali, but not on Freeview), the Rolling Stone will be at the heart of the offering, interviewing his chums. Sky Arts has also positioned itself as the home of the music festival, taking advantage of a summer when the BBC is shorn of Glastonbury, which is taking a year out. Last week Sky executives were in meetings planning up to six hours coverage a day of the Isle of Wight festival, all in 3D. The channel has assembled a portfolio of 13 festivals (including Download, Lovebox and Hard Rock Calling), which means it will have a live broadcast event almost every weekend throughout the summer.

When BSkyB bought the high-end Artsworld channel in 2007, many observers saw it as a classic and cynical Murdoch strategy for countering the carping of the chattering classes and attracting a new class of subscriber which had not been engaged by the previous offering based on football and Hollywood movies.

But Sky Arts has won a reputation for innovation in arts television and gained the confidence of institutions which, frankly, would rather have been working with the BBC. It offered the first live televised preview of an arts exhibition (Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery), and simulcast it to 41 cinemas across the country to promote the brand. It screened the first original live theatre in Britain for 35 years, an idea suggested by Sandi Toksvig.

As well as music festivals, Sky Arts covers four literary ones. It broadcasts for 30 hours from Hay-on-Wye, rather than the minimalist coverage of its previous broadcast partner Channel 4. Melvyn Bragg and his Director's Cut production company were persuaded to give Sky Arts The South Bank Show, which Hunt describes as "the world's leading television arts brand", and which had been axed by ITV after a run lasting more than 30 years.

As part of a raft of new shows being launched on Sky Arts this year, the channel will show a four-part documentary on the photographer Richard Young, made by the film-maker and musician Don Letts. It will examine iconic shots taken by Young of subjects including Kate Moss, Vivienne Westwood and Tracey Emin.

Once again, the channel is stepping into the grey area where the arts and celebrity collide. But Hunt sees his channel as responding to a growing public hunger for intelligent material, reflected in the growth of literary festivals, book clubs and debating events. "It couldn't be clearer that this is not a fig leaf channel, we are taking it dead seriously."

i.burrell@independent.co.uk

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices