Wednesday, 4 February 2009

What role can the BBC play in the arts?

I started this week in BALTIC’s fabulous new ‘education’ space Quay at a workshop exploring how the BBC could help young people in particular engage with the arts. The last week has seen lots of media coverage of the BBC’s plans to set up an arts board and create an arts strategy, of which this work will form part. See here for The Stage, here for The Guardian and here for an interview with the person in charge of creating the new arts strategy, George Entwistle. (George has a great job title – Controller of Knowledge Commissioning. ‘Hey you – stop commissioning the wrong kind/too much/too little knowledge. Commission more good knowledge over here, now…’ I’m sure that’s how it works, aren’t you? It does make me wonder though if some broadcasters have Controllers of Ignorance Commissioning…)

One of the things I’m currently busy with is co-chairing the steering group that oversees the Made In England partnership between Arts Council and BBC. It took a good while to gather pace, due the arcaneries of both organisations, but is now developing some really good projects linking artists and audiences and exploring the theme of what makes England, with regional offices and regional BBC stations working closely together. (It will lead to over 55 broadcast hours, large audiences on screens, on air and online, and many new works – watch out for activity around St George’s Day especially.)

Having been involved in other broadcast partnerships such as Fivearts Cities and Self Portrait UK, I am sure broadcasters can play a huge role in changing perceptions about the arts, in raising participation, and in critically exploring the arts - not to mention commissioning new works. For arts organisations it can, I think, sometimes feel difficult and constraining, but there are potentially significant gains. I also think there’s huge potential in the live aspects of certain broadcasters activities. Imagine a version of Radio 1’ Big Weekend’ focussed on arts participation, for instance, as the culmination of country-wide activity drawing in people who are comfortable with the BBC brands but less so with ‘the arts’.

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