The digital aspects of Arts Council England’s strategic framework

Arts Council England’s mission is ‘Great art and culture for everyone’ and they have a 10-year strategic framework, running from 2010-2020, with a set of five goals to help meet their mission.

They’ve just released the second edition of their strategic framework [PDF or read it on Issuu]. I had a quick flick through to see what’s being said about how digital technology fits into the mix.

ACE - Great Art and Culture for Everyone

The word ‘digital’ features on 13 of the document’s 67 pages, with three more ‘online’s in there too. I’ve no idea how that compares to V1 of this document – if someone knows then maybe fill us all in in the comments.

Selected excerpts from ACE’s strategic framework

Here are some of the notable mentions of digital technology.

This bit on p16 follows a mention of investment in broadband infrastructure:

The success of our sector is dependent upon effective physical, digital, fiscal and legal infrastructures, which are sympathetic to culture, and we will proactively advocate for their improvement.

There’s no mention of any other kinds of digital infrastructure that should be advocated for.

In the ‘Where are we now?’ chapter, there’s this on p23:

the potential of art and culture within the digital space is being realised, with many organisations now using new technologies and digital infrastructure to reach audiences here and across the world.

Interesting that the emphasis is on digital technology being used for distribution. There are quite a few references to that in this doc, and I think it comes up slightly more than anything related to using digital tech artistic creation or wider collaboration. That ‘across the world’ bit interests me a lot.

On the same page, there’s this regarding libraries:

Patterns of use are also changing, with a significant increase in public use of digital services, and libraries are evolving in response.

Another mention of digital distribution on the next page:

An enhanced range of quality arts has reached more people through touring and, in recent years, through digital distribution

I wonder to what extent touring and digital distribution could be seen as overlapping. Also, there’s quite a lot of infrastructure in place for touring but not so much for digital distribution, which is really in its infancy, comparatively. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops – what support might be given and what frameworks appear to support it. Maybe The Space, iPlayer, NT Live and Digital Theatre will carve that up between them.

One of the meatiest bits is on p27 in the section on ‘Achieving Excellence':

We recognise that the change driven by new digital technologies provides both opportunities and threats. The way that people experience arts and culture is changing; and so too is the type of arts and culture they enjoy. We will use our influence and investment and work in partnership with organisations such
as the BBC, the British Film Institute, Channel 4 and technology companies to help equip arts and cultural organisations to navigate this new landscape. As the world evolves, the range of artists and arts and cultural organisations – and the types of arts and culture – supported by the Arts Council must evolve too.

Very film/TV-heavy in the specifics, isn’t it? Is that a good thing? Or a realistic thing? Or does it just reflect the fact that the exact make-up of those ‘technology companies’ is likely to be more fluid. Also, the BBC, BFI and C4 all have a remit for public service which really isn’t matched in the same way by tech companies.

On p29 we’re back to the distribution, but there’s also a much wider reference to how digital technology can fit in, which is good:

We will use digital technologies to engage and reach new audiences, extend the distribution of arts and culture through digital platforms, enable people to create work digitally, and support the development of new artistic forms and experiences.

There’s another meaty bit on p32:

The arts and cultural sector must learn from examples of organisations that have successfully developed new or existing sources of income. In particular the arts and cultural sector needs to exploit the opportunities technology offers to collect, analyse and apply data cost-effectively, to learn more about existing and potential audiences and to target marketing and fundraising effectively. It needs to build upon best practice and use digital platforms to reach new audiences, both nationally and internationally.

This whole thing is very interesting (at least to me), especially the it about data being collected, analysed and applied (funny to see the stipulation that it be done ‘cost-effectively’ – I don’t disagree, just noting it). Although I do wish mentions of digital platforms didn’t always have to equate to new audiences though. I’ve got a minor rant about how it’s not the platform that counts, and old audiences are as/more likely to find you there anyway. I’ll spare you that for now.

Also, cross reference the ‘internationally’ with the ‘across the world’ bit above. I reckon this is, or will be, a big thing over the next little while.

Goal 2 says that ‘Everyone has the opportunity to experience and be inspired by the arts, museums and libraries‘. On p42 they say what they’ll do to achieve these:

Invest in the capture, creation, production and distribution of arts and culture through digital technologies and platforms

Support arts and cultural organisations to catalogue, link and archive digital content for current and future audiences, and form partnerships that will help more people access arts and culture on digital platforms

On p49 they say how they’ll know whether they’re making progress:

We will use our funding data, including our survey of funded organisations and evidence from our strategic funding programmes for digital distribution, touring and targeting places of low engagement, to assess the extent to which everyone has the opportunity to experience and participate in great art, museums and libraries

We will collect and analyse data from funded organisations, the Taking Part survey, online analytics, The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) public library user survey, and a range of other credible sources to give us a better understanding of how cultural institutions are engaging their audiences, including those who are least engaged

Online analytics has been a tricky one so far. Here’s to hoping they sort that out.

On p56 there’s a bit about how they’ll achieve Goal 4, ‘The leadership and workforce in the arts, museums and libraries are diverse and appropriately skilled‘. They say they’ll:

Work with partners to build digital skills across the arts, museums and libraries, to respond to new ways of working such as creating new digital services, involving communities and assisting digital users

It’ll be interesting to see how that works out. From my perspective this hasn’t been great so far – the arts aren’t particularly well served when it comes to building digital skills (although there are exceptions).

For instance, the whole ACE/BBC Academy thing didn’t seem too impressive to me. I tend to think that if you want to get good at digital stuff then you’re doing yourself a massive disservice by trying to do all your learning within the arts sector.

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