BBC to 'amplify UK's creative voice' in £4m drive

BBC to 'amplify UK's creative voice' in £4m drive

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, has announced a new collective creative partnership, Culture UK, as part of the urgent call for the arts and creative industries to pull together.

The aim of the collaboration - anticipated to be "a partnership the scale of which we’ve never seen before" - is to amplify the UK's creative voice at a time when, says Hall, the country is redefining its relationship with the world.

Culture UK will involve arts organisations working together "week-in, week-out" to think strategically across the UK and across all the arts. It will focus on three things: delivering "creative landmarks", potentially introducing new festivals all the arts can get involved with; changing how arts organisations commission, by offering a new £4m budgets for artists to produce work; and sharing technology, making its 24/7 BBC Live platform available to events like Hay Festival.

Among Hall's chief concerns for the creative industries, outlined in his speech on Tuesday (4th April) at the BBC Radio Theatre, is access is to the arts - acknowledging "there are communities we simply don't engage with" - and the cost of technology, which he said was "holding back a sector that should be leading creative innovation".

Culture "changes lives", he argued, describing his own journey growing up in Birkenhead, where he was inspired by a headteacher with a love of classical music, to ascending the ranks of the Royal Opera House. "Children simply aren't getting the same opportunities as many of us did to their detriment and ours," he said.

"For those arts organisations that are serving communities - times have never been harder," he continued. "If we do nothing, there'll be places closing their doors for good."

Addressing the collaboration's first aim of delivering big creative landmarks each year across the UK, Hall said it wanted to help "build moments" like festivals by "convening power" to bring audiences together around a theme of idea. He gave Shakespeare's anniversary as one example, when Hall said it had been possible then to reach over 30m people in the UK: "That's what can happen when you collaborate," he said.

The difference Creative UK will make is to achieve such results "for the first time, consistently and in a joined up way", stressed Hall. It is committing to at least three big, landmark moments a year, during which the BBC's role will be to "turn up the volume" through its network of television, radio and online services, accessing both local and global audiences. 

The first landmark event planned will be a festival based in Hull around poetry in autumn. Further events may be planned to celebrate women's suffrage next spring, the great exhibition of the north, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Troubles.

"We're forming here the most powerful commissioning network we've ever known in the arts," said Hall. "Expect a much more consistent, joined up approach to the arts right across our nations and regions. It’s going to give millions of people access to the arts - some for the very first time."

In relation to its second aim, to change the way the arts commissions, Hall revealed a £4m Artists First commissioning budget to help co-fund, and co-curate, new works from artists and arts organisations. It announced 26 new commissions, with new work from (and with) artists including Danny Boyle, working with Boy Blue, Rufus Norris, Crystal Pite and Wayne McGregor. He said it wanted to see the number of organisations producing high quality media content to at least double over the next five years.

Finally, Hall emphasised the initiative's committment to sharing technology, putting BBC Live, its digital live event platform, at the disposal of the sector. The platform was created originally for 24-hours-a-day coverage of the Olympics and will now be used by festivals such as Hay, Manchester and Edinburgh this summer. The BBC is also offering to share the expertise of its research and development team, seeking to explore storytelling in VR and immersive theatrical experiences.

"Today we are announcing a new creative partnership that we all hope will energise audiences, artists - and the creative industries. This is unprecedented, it’s a new level of collaboration. It’s going to have impact at a really local level and it’s going to amplify the UK’s creative voice at a time our country is redefining its relationship with the world. For the BBC, it's going to change the way we work. We’re calling this collaboration Culture UK," said Hall.

"If we get this right, and work together over the next five years, I’m convinced we will make a huge difference to people and to communities all over the UK."

Work for Culture UK will start next month.