Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture, analysis of applications

NESTA - digital research applications analysis

NESTA and Arts Council England recently commissioned a bunch of projects via the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture, aiming to connect arts and cultural organisations with technology companies in a way that can benefit the wider sector. Hoorah to that.

They had £500k to dish out to a handful of organisations. A grand total of 459 artists and organisations applied, prompting some (including myself) to suggest that a lot of people may have wasted their time and energy. Incidentally, most of the eight commissioned organisations are blogging intermittently at

NESTA, much to their credit, have published ‘An analysis of applications for the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture‘. Amongst other things, it breaks down:

  • The types of arts and cultural organisations that applied – mainly performing and visual arts plus commercial arts organisations and creative businesses
  • Geographic spread – overwhelmingly London, with an interesting band around Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield
  • Requested budget allocations
  • The applications’ digital themes – a fairly even distribution with a slight lean towards UGC/social media and mobile/location/games

It’s all quantitative stuff, which is pretty interesting as far as it goes. What’s absent and would be much more useful, given the comments on this post, is some sort of qualitative feedback on the applications. Making that feedback available publicly would be even more useful. It’s very likely unfeasible to do that 451 unsuccessful applications, but I’d love to see some sort of simple grading on a scale along the lines of this:

  • commissioned
  • we’d have commissioned it if we had a bigger budget – worth pursuing through other routes
  • great idea but wouldn’t trust the organisation to deliver it
  • missed the point entirely
  • batshit insane

I can’t see it happening, unfortunately.

Something else of note is that Birmingham apparently had one of the higher levels of application submissions and not a single one was successful. A very poor return from a city that hosted one of the Digital R&D Fund roadshows, the Hello Culture conference (programmed along the themes of this fund) and recently benefitted from the not-entirely-dissimilar DCD programme and 4iP.

Still, the report ends on an interesting note, with the conclusion stating that:

As a pilot, the high levels of demand suggest that the funding partners are right to consider how the fund could be scaled-up in future to meet the digital R&D needs of a larger set of arts and cultural organisations.

Hello Culture and the Tessitura UK User Conference

I’ve been involved in a few conferences, talks and livechats recently and am just catching up with notes and so on here.

Hello Culture

Due to a busy workload on the day, I was only able to duck into Hello Culture long enough to talk on a panel discussing digital distribution. There’s a video here if you weren’t there and are interested in hearing what was said:

It was great to have a panel (Rosie Kay, Steffan Aquarone, Alison Smith and myself) that came at the subject from so many points of view, but with such a large topic to talk around we didn’t really have a chance to delve into anything too deeply.

For maximum entertainment, panel discussions usually require either some amazing nuggets of information, a question from the floor that foxes everyone or a healthy disagreement. Rosie Kay and I just about started to differ slightly on what should come first – audience-building or the artistic work. I suspect there’s room for both our points of view but we didn’t quite have the time to resolve that one.

Tessitura UK User Conference

After that I hot-footed it over to Cardiff for the 8th Tessitura UK User Conference, held at the rather impressive and fantastic Wales Millennium Centre.

If you’ve not come across it, Tessitura is the box office software/CRM system used by many of the English speaking world’s major arts venues. My employers, Made Media, are becoming dab hands at Tessitura integration.

I spent most of the time manning our stand, so didn’t get to attend many of the sessions although I did meet a good number of people (hello if I met you there). I did make time for the Trends in Digital, Mobile and Social session that POP ran. Here are my notes from that:

Mobile purchasing is and will be important. A study by Jumptab found that 63% of tablet owners have bought something using their devices and that event tickets were the most popular purchase.

Social commerce is growing. This encompasses purchases on social platforms and purchases influenced by social media.

Forrester’s report on The Future of the Social Web: In Five Eras.

Seven things a website should be:

  • Participative
  • Connected – see Roundabout Theatre‘s livechat (and Glyndebourne‘s for that matter)
  • Social
  • Relevant
  • Accessible – in the sense of being accessible beyond the theatre
  • Delightful – you only have one chance to delight someone. See 90% abandonment rate for iPhone apps

Resources: Pew Internet & American Life ProjectMashable, Social Media Today, Thomas Cott, Inside Facebook and Mobile Marketer.

Events I’m speaking at this month

November’s a good month if you’re interested in my opinion on sundry topics. If you’re not then, well… fine, but you’re not going to like the rest of this website.

Before I get into the list, here I am on Lanyrd. I like Lanyrd a lot. I’ll also be writing up notes and putting up any slides from these events as and when I get the chance.

Guardian Culture Professionals Network

11 Nov - Guardian Culture Professionals livechat
midday to 2pm, online

The subject is ‘Creative collaboration in a time of cuts’ and I’ll be one of a “panel of arts and culture experts” (I’m not sure who the other participants will be yet) discussing:

how organisations in the sector can handle the cuts through collaborative projects. We’ll be looking at all disciplines across the sector, from museums to art galleries, and new methods of co-operation, such as online collective hubs, venue sharing and resource and data swapping.

I’ve not taken part in an online discussion of this sort before, so that’ll be fun. The topic is very close to the guest post of mine that they featured recently, so I’ll have to think of something new to say on the subject.

Hello Culture 2011

17 Nov - Hello Culture 
1.30-2.30pm, Custard Factory, Birmingham

I’ll be on a panel alongside Rosie Kay, Steffan Aquarone and Alison Smith with Gino Bellavia from the University of Birmingham on chairing duties. We’ll be talking about:

Distribution – using digital technologies to deliver artistic and cultural experiences and content in new ways

There’s some good variety in the line-up in this one, so I suspect I’ll be an interested listener as much as a participant. And yes, that’s me holding up a sign on the website. Please go ahead and Photoshop it if you like – I did.


21 Nov - TwespiansPR
7pm, Old Crown Pub, London

A follow-up to the event I blogged about back in September, the topic will be:

pushing what we do in arts marketing and PR to its limits. With the digital world being so important, do we need to rethink the tried and tested methods that so many still rely on today? Can we learn from what people are doing in other disciplines? Is a fundamental shift required in how we perceive audience, community and promotion?

Of course, the answer to all of the above questions is ‘yes, always’ but I’ll think of something more illuminating and specific for the actual event.

Arts Marketing Association

23 Nov - AMA Tweet Meet, #tweetAMA
4-6pm, Hippodrome, Birmingham

The Arts Marketing Association are scheduling events around the country and I’ve been kindly asked to do the talk at the West Midlands meet-up:

In this Tweet meet Chris Unitt, Head of Social Media at Made Media will talk about search engine optimisation for arts marketers. Having recently blogged about how SEO and why it should be important for arts and cultural organisations (, Chris will be sharing the potential benefits and the essential things to bear in mind when it comes to SEO.

I’ve got an idea about tweeting my slides from this one but I make no guarantees. Generally though, I’m planning to make this talk as practical and useful as possible – a mini training session, as much as anything.

Creative Times

30 Nov - Creative Times: The Beauty of Digital
6.30-8pm, Custard Factory, Birmingham

The topic for this one is:

The Beauty of Digital: New technologies, old aesthetics and where the two meet

Which is a topic that could skew in any number of directions and throw up any number of issues: skeumorphism - the popularity of Instagram and Hipstamatic filters - media companies and artists’ studios taking up residence next to the mechanics and industrial workshops of Digbeth - established arts organisations struggling to shift to an online-first mentality… We’ll see where it goes.