A list of cultural / digital development programmes

Over the years there have been all sorts of publicly funded programmes aimed at getting cultural organisations to do more/better digital stuff.

Details of many of these programmes are fading away, with domain names lapsing and pages being culled as part of website redesigns. So, for posterity, here’s a list of some of them.

If you know of anything that’d be worth adding then please let me know, either via the contact form, or via Twitter.

I’m interested hearing about programmes that involved some degree of intervention – such as commissioning, mentoring, residencies… you’ll get a feel for the sort of thing I’m talking about from the list below.

In the UK

1999 NOF-digitise (New Opportunities Fund)

nationwide digitisation programme, provided funding to make learning materials available, free of charge, on the Internet.

There’s a JISC email list too.

2000-2007 Culture Online (DCMS)

a pilot initiative set up by the DCMS to commission online content

2006 Melt digital content programme, Sheffield

2008-2011 Digital Content Development Programme, ACE West Midlands

a three year programme of investment which aims to catalyse the creation and creative use of digital content platforms for arts organisations across the West Midlands region.

The key emphases of the programme are on an audience- centred approach and on the creation of sustainable content platforms that will continue to be programmed after the end of DCD support.

2008-2010 Media Sandbox (iShed/Pervasive Media Studio/Watershed)

2009 Amb:IT:ion Scotland (Culture Sparks and Rudman Consulting, funded by The Scottish Arts Council)

a new £800,000 programme to support digital development and change in arts organisations throughout Scotland. This flexible and innovative new programme aims to help achieve sustainable organisational change and improve capacity for audience engagement, through implementing integrated IT and digital development.

2009 F2 Digital Creative Development Programme (ICE Coventry)

a 6 month project for established creative professionals who want to investigate the opportunities offered by digital media, form new collaborative partnerships and develop new ideas.

2010-onwards Let’s Get Real (Culture24)

Our collaborative action research programme supports arts and heritage people and organisations to become more relevant, resilient and responsive to digital cultural changes.

2010 Theatre Sandbox (iShed/Pervasive Media Studio/Watershed)

an annual development scheme which supports practitioners from across the UK to develop new work using digital technologies.

2011 Building Digital Capacity for the Arts (Arts Council England and BBC Academy)

a series of practical seminars and workshops, a BBC online guide to commissioning audio visual content, 12 facilitated masterclasses and an online resource of filmed and streamed content

2011 Happenstance (Caper, supported by the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture)

Happenstance puts creative technologists in deep immersion residencies in arts organisations. The Happenstance residencies are designed to change arts organisations’ relationship with digital technology. The residencies are at Site Gallery in Sheffield, Lighthouse, and Spike Island in Bristol.

2012 IC Tomorrow challenge (Technology Strategy Board)

The contest is offering up to ten businesses a maximum of £24K and the opportunity to work with a selection of museums and art galleries to develop prototypes of applications or services.

2012 Sync, Scotland

Sync is a set of activities designed to support cultural organisations in Scotland develop a more progressive relationship with technology and technologists. It has three central elements: the annual Culture Hack Scotland event, a Geeks-in-Residence programme and the Sync Tank magazine. It is part of Creative Scotland’s Cultural Economy programme for 2012-14

2012-15 Digital RnD Fund for the Arts (Nesta, Arts Council England, AHRC)

supported ideas that use digital technology to build new business models and enhance audience reach for organisations with arts projects.

Project blog here.

2013-2015 Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Waless (PDF) (Arts Council of Wales, AHRC, and Nesta)

to enable the use of digital technologies in the arts sector to engage audiences in new ways and to create opportunities for new business models […] provided up to £400,000 in total to arts and cultural organisations

2015 Digital Innovation Fund for the Arts in Wales

Through a combination of funded projects and curated events and information, we look at how digital technology can spark new ideas or shape pathways that can help move arts and culture forward and keep it smart and sustainable.  We’re also exploring how we can embed a culture of digital research and development across all levels of arts organisations’ work.

2015-2018 Canvas (Arts Council England)

Its purpose was to provide an online showcase destination for arts video content whilst also supporting arts organisations to develop their capacity to produce high quality video content that was relevant to online audiences. 

2016 Digital Arts and Culture Accelerator (Nesta, Arts Council England)

This is a pilot programme to explore whether a tech accelerator model can transfer into the arts and cultural sector, to support innovative new ideas from organisations that do not ordinarily take on commercial or social investment.

2018 Immersive Experiences (AHRC Creative Economy and EPSRC)

supports the development of early-stage research partnerships that will explore the creation of new immersive experiences addressing three key themes: Memory, Place and Performance.

Ongoing Audience of the Future (UKRI)

Those funded through the challenge will adopt, exploit and develop immersive technologies to create new products and services. They will capture the world’s attention and grow the UK’s leading market position in creative content.


Ongoing Digital Lab (Arts Marketing Association)

The Digital Lab transforms digital practice through intensive mentoring, workshops, and peer support – all taking place online. Fellows are matched with an international specialist who mentors their work-based experiments, supporting an agile approach to their online presence.

Ongoing The Space

We provide commissioning support for arts and cultural organisations, and the artists they work with, plus training events and online resources. 

Ongoing Creative XR (Digital Catapult and Arts Council England).

Focused on the creative industries, particularly the arts and culture sector; the programme gives the best creative teams the opportunity to develop concepts and prototypes of immersive content (virtual, augmented and mixed reality).

In the USA

2018 Knight Prototype Fund

open call for ideas to explore digitally-driven approaches that galleries, museums, performing arts centers, theaters, and arts organizations of all genres might use to inspire audiences.

Ongoing Bloomberg Connects

supporting the development of state-of-the-art technology, from mobile applications to immersive galleries and other dynamic tools, designed to transform the visitor experience, encouraging interaction and exploration of cultural institutions on and offsite.

With thanks to Martin Black, Devon Smith, and Charles Beckett for suggestions.

Defining digital for cultural organisations

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a few conversations about ‘digital’ in the cultural sector – the challenges, opportunities, and what to do about it all.

The thing is, a term as broad as ‘digital’ is only a useful shorthand up to a certain point. You can only get so far before you have to put the brakes on and say ‘wait, what do you mean by that?’

That’s because we use it to cover a huge list of activities, technologies, and processes that each have their own, very different considerations.

To make things easier, I’ve started trying to draw a line between the ‘administrative’ and the ‘artistic/mission-driven’ side of things. It’s not a perfect divide (and maybe those aren’t great names) but so far I think it makes more sense to generalise at that level.

Administrative digital

This covers any back-office functions that make use of digital media and technology (which is most of them). So that includes marketing, comms (although there’s an argument for this sometimes being in the other category), fundraising, ticketing, ecommerce, finance, venue management, volunteer management, HR… all that sort of thing.

If we’re talking about helping cultural orgs to make use of digital technology then, as far as this stuff is concerned:

  • The cultural sector isn’t alone – the rest of the world is trying to figure out most of this stuff too, so solutions can come from anywhere. In fact, I usually recommend people start by looking outside the cultural sector.
  • The benefits for going digital in these areas are mostly pretty evident. People don’t tend to need convincing, as much as they need help choosing, adopting, and making the most of what’s available.
  • There are plenty of external people that can help – software providers, agencies, consultants, etc.

I think the key thing is that senior buy-in isn’t really all that critical. An Artistic Director, Chief Exec, or board member only really needs a passing understanding of the details so they can support and resource those areas sensibly.

Beyond that, it’s mostly about cultural orgs having sufficiently skilled employees and giving them the resources to do their jobs. Done right, digital media and technology should be able to make the back-office stuff run more quickly, effectively, cheaply, and/or profitably.

That’s not to say that ‘doing it right’ is always easy, or that hiring sufficiently skilled employees is always possible on the salaries available, but guidance is usually available for those who seek it out.

Sidenote: there are loads of agencies and software providers that specialise in working in the cultural sector. They solve problems across multiple organisations, giving them a really interesting viewpoint and making them amazing repositories of domain knowledge. In some cases they go to lengths to educate their clients. It often strikes me as odd that these people aren’t seen as more of a resource. Maybe it’s tricky to engage with the more commercial players and easier to turn to the publicly funded support agencies.

Artistic/mission-driven digital

This is much more specific to the cultural sector and there aren’t going to be many templates for success that can be imported from elsewhere (no matter how many digital transformation case studies you Google).

Here I’m talking about the work of directors, composers, curators, artists, musicians, educators, workshop leaders, etc (you get the idea). The thing that the audiences, visitors, and participants come to experience.

Senior buy-in is also going to be much more crucial here than it is with the administrative stuff. For two reasons.

Firstly, this activity is going to be much closer to the core of what the organisation is and does. It might even require them to make room in their programming – maybe doing less of what they’ve been doing up to this point. Unless they’ve been ‘doing digital’ as a box-ticking, inconsequential bolt-on to the real programme of activity, but what’d be the point of that?

Secondly, the case for digital activity in this area may not be as clear cut as it is on the administrative side of things. If it’s difficult to show a clear return on investment then you need a strong, senior advocate.

But here’s the tricky thing. I expect there’s a sizeable cohort of senior people for whom this kind of work is outside their comfort zone. They maybe don’t yet have the necessary frames of reference for what’s possible, or the common ground to have useful conversations with people who work in tech and the artists and others who are already active in this area.

Bridging that knowledge/comfort gap is a challenge, but it could be an important and interesting one.

That’s because the artistic/mission-driven digital activity has far greater potential for being transformative for an org than the administrative digital stuff.

A new CRM, or ticketing system, or website might be nice – even necessary – but they’re not going to be revolutionary. They’re not the point of the organisation. Whereas creating and presenting new types of work with new partners (artists and funders), reaching audiences in new ways could well be.

Everything is about people

If you’re ever doing a talk about the state of the sector you work in and are struggling to think of something profound, try this simple formula:

“[subject matter] isn’t about [actually pretty crucial thing]. It’s about people.”

Then soak up the applause, give people a chance to tweet pictures of your incredibly insightful slide, and revel in your newfound role as a fearless iconoclast.

The great thing is, this works for just about anything. Here are some examples I’ve come across lately :

  • Digital engagement isn’t about technology. It’s about people.
  • Business isn’t about generating profits. It’s about people.
  • Photography isn’t about cameras. It’s about people.
  • Property isn’t about bricks and mortar. It’s about people.

Have a quick look on Twitter. I bet you find a few more.

I mean, I get what people are trying to say, but there must be a better way.