John Plunkett 

BBC and Arts Council launch joint digital Space for culture

Partnership set to offer hundreds of hours of new and archived arts programming online, on mobile and on digital TV. By John Plunkett
  
  

John Peel's record collection, the first film by Ridley Scott and all 37 of Shakespeare's plays – each in a different language – are among the highlights of a new digital joint venture between the BBC and Arts Council England.

The Space, which went live on Tuesday, will offer hundreds of hours of arts programming online, on mobile, and on digital TV.

Alan Davey, the chief executive of Arts Council England, said it was an "extraordinary way of experiencing an exceptional summer of arts".

Davey said the arts world had "yet to fully realise the potential of bringing artistic creatives together with digital media and this is a real exploration. If we can get this right we can find new ways of connecting the arts to a wider audience".

For one of the project's collaborators, Sadler's Wells associate artist and leading figure in the British hip hop scene, Jonzi D, it is a "really good way of being able to not pay for some brilliant art".

Not entirely on message at the launch at London's Royal Festival Hall, Jonzi D added: "In these days of austerity with these ridiculous prices the theatres are charging people aren't going to the theatre anyway."

Available to television viewers on channel 117 on Freeview HD, The Space will include 53 specially commissioned projects by the Arts Council at a cost of £3.5m as well as archive material from the BBC, the British Film Institute and the Arts Council.

The Space is the latest partnership between the BBC and a fellow public organisation following tie-ups with the British Library and the British Museum.

It will last in its original incarnation for six months but the BBC's outgoing director general Mark Thompson said he hoped it can have a life "way beyond that".

"We have been talking to the Arts Council for years how we could work together. It's a very beautiful thing, it's like two whales mating, a natural history moment," said Thompson.

"One of many other partnerships with the world of arts, this new set of clothes for the BBC feels like it really suits us," he added.

"For the BBC there has been some quite profound soul searching. Some of the splendid traditional aspects of the BBC – obsession with authorship and editorial and brand control – we have had to put aside and come out of our ivory tower and think of ourselves much more as enablers on which other people do their best work."

The BBC's lead director on the project, Roly Keating, the corporation's director of archive content, warned there would be "teething problems I am sure over the next few weeks, bear with us".

He said there was a "whole sector of digital creativity that was not finding expression in media channels. There was literally a missing space".

Other contributors will include writer Will Self, who is working on a "new version of the literary essay in digital form".

Self said his essay, about Franz Kafka's short story The Country Doctor, had a "feedback loop" with other people which stopped it being like a conventional literary essay. He will travel to Berlin and Prague for the project and talk with archivists and translators.

"The Space is asking writers like me to think in a new way," he said. "It's an interesting period for writers, the impact of digital media is essentially severing the time honoured connections between words and money. Writers are needing to rethink the way we work."

"The reign of copyright which started in the mid-19th century looks in some ways to be over and with it the sense of the unity of authorship."

"So while I am in a way the figurehead for this Kafka digital literary essay in a sense I'm just the embodiment of a very wide collaboration that is getting wider and wider all the time, pulling in all these very interesting figures who are doing all kinds of things and who are my collaborators."

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