Broadcast exhibitions online to receive funding, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt tells art world


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Arts bodies will have to broadcast performances and exhibitions live on a new digital arts “channel” in return for receiving government money, under a radical funding shake-up proposed by Jeremy Hunt.

The Culture Secretary urged organisations to embrace digital technology to reach a wider audience. Mr Hunt called for the creation of a new web-based arts channel and warned that future funding could be dependent on bodies making their work available digitally.

Mr Hunt did not say how the new channel would be funded but he promised that it would not be a traditional broadcaster which might challenge the BBC for licence-fee support.

The arts channel would be accessible through a set-top box streaming Internet Protocol television (IPTV). The plan was inspired by The Space, a pop-up digital arts channel set up by the Arts Council and the BBC, which lets viewers trawl through John Peel’s record collection or watch hip-hop dancing from Sadler’s Wells.

Speaking to an invited audience at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Mr Hunt said: “For too many cultural organisations technology is still about having a good website instead of a tool to boost artistic innovation, help fundraising and reach new audiences.

“But should we turn The Space into something more ambitious? Could we turn it into a permanent brand new digital arts channel with live performances every night of our finest cultural offerings?”

He then suggested: “Should we make it a condition of public funding that the recipients provide free of charge some of their content – whether from museum exhibitions, live performances or parts or our heritage – for a new digital arts channel? That way we can make sure that they reach more of the people who fund them through paying taxes.”

The minister, who has previously backed a new network of local TV services, said the new channel would not require a “levy”, like the BBC. He said: “I don’t think arts organisations will resist this at all because it’s part of their core mission to make sure that their output is seen by as many people as possible.”

Mr Hunt, who announced £65 million of endowment grants to arts and heritage organisations, also said it was “criminal” not to teach children “an appreciation of culture” and announced the publication of a national cultural education plan later this year.

It follows a review by Classic FM managing director Darren Henley that asked ministers to consider making it compulsory to study the arts up to the age of 16.

The awards, administered by the Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund included £5 million for the Old Vic Theatre to create an endowment which will secure its long-term future.

The Arts Council rejected Mr Hunt's suggestion that funding should be dependent on participating in the digital channel. An Arts Council England spokesman said: "Rather than make it a condition of funding, right now we need to illustrate the benefits to arts organisations of willingly embracing the opportunities that digital technology presents." The Council said it was in discussions with the BBC about making The Space a permanent web operation.