Welcome to this fortnightly edition of TaitMail from the Arts Industry
Tuesday 8th October 2013

 Watching this Space

As has been expected since the day he was named as the next BBC DG, Tony Hall is upping the funding of arts coverage on the BBC – radio, TV and internet – and by a fifth. While he was at Covent Garden he had been discreetly critical of the Beeb’s cultural content, seeing it as unadventurous and too often confined to the Fours – radio and TV – assuming that the non-middle class don’t do art, while Sky Arts seemed to fling caution to the winds to come up with interesting and innovative arts programming. Hall was, after all, the one who threw the Opera House doors open to Sun readers and was the only one not surprised that it worked.
What Hall also took with him from running a subsidised arts venue is a deep respect for the Arts Council and the way it has managed to stay ahead of the curve despite repeated lopping of its resources by the government.
So it was not much of a shock that the “reboot”, as Alan Davey calls it, of The Space is announced simultaneously today by Hall and ACE.
This is the extraordinary online experimental digital arts service created for ACE largely by the BBC and driven by Roly Keating when he was director of archive content there; there was a high-octane launch at King’s Place by Hall’s predecessor but two. But Keating and Mark Thompson have gone, and after a big yell during the Olympics in which The Space was one of the main drivers for the Cultural Olympiad, and despite assertions that it had been so successful it was going to be not only continued but enhanced, silence ensued. There were, still are, excerpts from the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival, 60 years of Faber & Faber poetry, and John Peel’s record collection. But though the new ACE chairman, Peter Bazalgette, made a point of committing to The Space when he arrived in January, there were no announcements about the honing of that cutting edge. The experiment that it still formally is comes to an end on October 31.
Today ACE is formally applying to the BBC Trust to relaunch The Space next spring, but there is already a three year agreement for it. Early next year artists will be encouraged to submit ideas to Open Calls on the site to develop digital art ideas, and there are co-commissions lined up with the British Library (guess who left the BBC to become its CEO), Artangel, Cornerhouse and the Tate among others.
It is exciting, for sure, but the potential audience needs know about it so that the BBC also needs to commit to push The Space on TV and radio. There will be fascinating experiments online, but that’s not where I, and maybe you, would automatically go to find something exhilarating. Frankly, I’d forgotten it was there. There needs to be the kind of sign-posting that is given to iPlayer so that the ever-growing arts audience Hall is convinced is there in front of the telly will get into the habit of exploring the web offer as well.

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