Speech on cultural innovation at the National Theatre

Good morning. I want to thank Mission, Models, Money and the Cultural Leadership programme for putting on this conference, and in particular…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Ed Vaizey

Good morning.

I want to thank Mission, Models, Money and the Cultural Leadership programme for putting on this conference, and in particular I want to thank Clare Cooper at MMM, and David Kershaw and Hilary Carty at CLP for all their hard work. And thanks too to the National Theatre for hosting us. It’s brilliant to be surrounded by organisations that represent the kind of innovative, forward thinking that’s needed at the moment, as we face a challenging period of change.

Where are we at the moment?  We’ve secured the core arts budget for the lifetime of this Parliament.  The Arts Council has been asked to protect funding for the organisations it supports, cutting that budget by less than 15 per cent.  Taking into account the increases in the National Lottery, total funding for ACE will reduce by just 11 per cent over four years.  National museums have had their grants reduced by just 15%, and it’s the same with Renaissance in the Regions.  Again, increases in the Heritage Lottery Fund should help, given that a third of its funding goes to museums.  And we have released almost £150 million of national museums’ reserves.

The debate is now moving on from core Government funding. 
In December we announced our ten point strategy for increasing philanthropy across the country. Greater public recognition, better long term cultivation of donors, more planned giving, harnessing new technologies to boost fundraising, and an announcement of at least £80m for a new match funding scheme over the next few years.
While I am looking forward to the debate about how we increase private and corporate giving to the arts - and where better to say that than at the National Theatre, with the spectacular £10m donation they received from Lloyd Dorfman last year - today I want to start another debate.  I want to talk about how the arts can take advantage of the technological revolution that is happening all around us. 

We live today in an age of technology and change that brings huge opportunities to the arts - to engage with new audiences, to interpret objects in ways that tell stories more vividly, to create and distribute work in different ways and to come up with new models of distribution and engagement.

I have a unique position.  I am not only the arts minister, but also the minister for the internet, for mobile phones, and even partly technology.  So I talk to tech entrepreneurs a lot about how they see technology and the internet developing. 

We are moving to an age where we will always be connected to the internet, and where the smart phone will become someone’s digital identity.  It means that you can reach out and grab them as they walk by, or if they are half-way across the world.  It means that you can engage with them in the auditorium or gallery, or at home, or at work or on holiday.  The possibilities are endless.

People will ask technology to help them make choices.  Crowd sourcing means that technology will make recommendations to you, based on what people like you have already done.  That means when people ask “What shall I do today?”, technology will recommend the latest exhibition or performance.
GPS technology means that technology will tell them what is good to go and see near where they are.  And of course technology means that people will visit you even when they are far away.

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](http://www.culture.gov.uk/news/ministers_speeches/7744.aspx#top)Our cultural institutions need to be at the heart of these changes, and even leading them. We’re at the beginning of a transformation, and we don’t know where we’ll be at the end.

Technology actually helps change the kind of performance organisations put on, whether it’s the RSC’s ‘Such Tweet Sorrow’ or The Royal Opera House’s Twitter Opera. Both got thousands of followers on Twitter and drove even more to their website on the back of huge press coverage. My instinct is that many of these were new audiences.

Or take, for example, the brilliant Streetmuseum app from the Museum of London. Hold up your iPhone in hundreds of different places in London, and historical photos and information are overlaid onto a live image taken from the iPhone’s camera. It’s fascinating stuff, but certainly not limited just to that museum. The Tate has been doing innovative work in this area, and several museums have been experimenting with new ways to interpret, inform and entertain.

I think there are huge opportunities to do more in this space, working with commercial partners.  A start-up company called Artfinder is putting collections on line, allowing users to download an app for the iPad and similar tablets that enables them to curate their own tour before visiting, to order prints of paintings they like, and to find where else they can see similar paintings.

It could be used even more imaginatively, allowing galleries to open up their storerooms and engaging local people in curating their own shows. I know that Roy Clare at the MLA has been working with Artfinder to extend its circle of early-adopter museums and expand the horizons of its applications.

Tourists will find benefits in an app that exposes local artists, great places of culture and entertainment, all linked to maps and guides for people on the move. Imagine travelling to the Dedham Vale in Suffolk - Constable country - and locating the mill, seeing his paintings hanging in Ipswich, find out where else Constable collections are held, make your own notes around your favourites, book lunch and play a round of golf before spending the evening in the Mercury Theatre in Colchester. All planned and curated on an app or two.

Or imagine walking into a national museum, holding your camera up to a Holbein and getting the text from the guidebook up on your phone, with a link to a documentary on YouTube and an audio book on iTunes.

How about at the opera? Turn on your app and get live surtitles in a language of your choice or the biography of the soprano.

Or at the theatre, hold your phone up to the upcoming productions and see the trailers, then tap a link and download the play itself to watch when you’re back at home.

There’s a company based in Soho called Digital Theatre, that some of you already work with and many more of you should look into, that’s doing something like this already.

They use their own equipment to record theatre productions, then sell them for far less than the cost of a ticket to watch online, but from the best spot possible. You can even watch their trailers on their iPhone app. And there’s no reason this can’t been done for dance, opera, ballet, pretty much any performing art.

The technology is there, and the money made from selling access to the videos is shared, so it’s a potential new source of income as well.

Or the Theatre Ninjas, a bunch of young people I met a couple of weeks ago who have devised an app that alerts people when a theatre makes free tickets available.  They trialled it in Edinburgh - it ensured full attendances, but it also drove sales - people who went to the theatre and missed out on a free ticket ended up buying a ticket for the performance just because they were there.

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All of this is possible using software that has already been developed, and hardware that’s in everyone’s pockets.

Likewise, we’ve seen the success of NT Live here at the National Theatre, starting with Phedre, and it’s catching on, the Royal Opera House is recording its productions and broadcasting them live in cinemas. The ENO is doing it in 3D.

And there’s a variety of interesting tools available to help organisations understand the dynamics and motivations of digitally engaged audiences.

From the very basic, and free, things like Google Analytics, to bespoke solutions like MusicMetric, a product made by a little company based in Shoreditch which gives people marketing music new insights into the online behaviour of their customers, where they find new music, how they share it and who they share it with.

The arts are often called an ecology because they grow together and build partnerships to solve problems. For example, the Royal Opera House led a ‘Culture Hack’ weekend a fortnight ago, where they got some of the UK’s brightest software developers to give their time for free to explore, repurpose and create new digital products for the whole cultural sector, not for their benefit, but for everyone’s. Or the Culture Label website, bringing together hundreds of museums, galleries and artists to sell their products in a single space.

So there are dozens, hundreds of organisations that are fantastic at doing this, at harnessing the power of technology to benefit their organisations. They are absolutely at the cutting edge, artistically, culturally and technologically. But equally, there are some relying on a 20th century formula which worked well in the past, may work well now, but probably won’t in a decade’s time. And there are some that simply don’t have the resources to engage in this way.

So there’s a need to help those that want to explore a different business model, or take advantage of a new technology but, for whatever reason, can’t. And there’s also a need to demonstrate the potential benefits to those who don’t see this as a priority at all.

There’s plenty of people already there to help in specific areas, like MMM with their work on the business side and CLP’s brilliant work nurturing leadership skills, for example.  NESTA and the Technology Strategy Board are doing some fantastic work with new technology, but we don’t always think those organisations might have a role to play in helping the arts.
A number of trusts and foundations like Clore Duffield support leadership and innovation, as do the Sector Skills Councils and the Renaissance programme for regional museums.

But the problem I see is an absence of something to join them all up, to coordinate what they do and to drive their agenda forward. That’s a role I want to see the Arts Council undertake, starting today.

They’ve already said in their ten year strategy that one of their key priorities is to build a sustainable, resilient and innovative cultural sector. I want to see them offering a service right the way across the subsidised and commercial arts sector - and beyond with their new responsibilities for museums and libraries.  A service that helps organisations find out about and implement the kind of innovations that will be needed over the next few years.

They will only be able to do this by working seamlessly with the rest of the Creative Industries, taking advantage of the knowledge and experience in the video games or design sectors, and sharing that with arts organisations - and vice versa. We’re already seeing the start of this with the partnership they’ve signed with the BBC and I’m pleased that the Arts Council has appointed Thomas Fleming as their Creative Industries adviser.

Today I can also announce that the Arts Council and NESTA will work together on a new programme that will support this agenda, hopefully providing up to a million pounds of seed funding for small projects that will share their learning across these sectors.

This, along with the Arts Council’s Digital Innovation fund which they’ll be launching in the Spring will build on the work that’s already there, but also catalyse new thinking and learning, and help bring it all together into something that drives and inspires technology and innovation across the whole spectrum of creativity.

I envisage these programmes working together to do a number of things:

  • Being a resource available right across the cultural and creative industries, whether they receive state support or not and looking outward on opportunities across all sectors, not simply on a single subset;
  • Contributing to a rigorous body of evidence on innovation which delivers practical insights to all those in the creative industries;
  • Making the link to other priority areas of government activity, things like economic growth, local TV and superfast broadband where investment and expertise will be focused in the coming years;
  • Engaging with other Governmental organisations involved in technology, such as the Technology Strategy Board; TSB already has its IC Tomorrow Digital Test Bed, somewhere cultural organisations should be looking to find, and to develop, the solutions to common problems;
  • Talking to internet businesses such as Google about how the internet is changing and developing;
  • Making best use of links at a local level, with the emerging Local Enterprise Partnerships and with local authorities who may be struggling with their own cultural services;
  • Taking advantage, and helping others to take advantage of the regional growth fund and other sources of support for the creative industries across government;
  • And above all offering practical help with the nitty gritty of how technology can affect what an arts organisation does, in terms of business, innovation, with fundraising, with audience development, box office and more;

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That last point is the most important for me. We’ve got something like 50,000 cultural organisations in this country and they’ve got plenty in common. They all spend money, they are all driven by an interest and a passion for an art form and they all have an audience, whether it’s a few people in a village hall in Cumbria or 5 million people each year at the British Museum.

There’s two ways these 50,000 organisations can find practical solutions to the various challenges they’re facing. They can invent something entirely new, all by themselves, if they have the money.  Or they can use what’s already there. We should be sharing and using what we know already works, pooling knowledge and resources.

I’ve another motive for wanting to keep up the pace of innovation and development in the creative industries. Of course, the most important reason for doing this is to better serve our audiences, to broaden and deepen experiences of the arts and help them reach more people and have a greater impact on them.

But I also want our cultural organisations to be seen as part of our creative industries.  When we talk about the creative industries I don’t just want to talk about video games, or advertising, or fashion. I want to talk about museums and the performing arts. Arts organisations are a fundamental part of the creative industries, and of our future growth. Driving technological change, educating and training new creative talent or developing the content that we’re known for around the world.

But to play our part we need to be better at talking in terms of growth, jobs and revenue as well as art, audiences, engagement. I’m aware this is a concept that doesn’t always sit well with some, but it should, and it needs to.

For too long we’ve been uncomfortable with the subsidised arts, with its focus on the public good it creates, having a commercial focus too. I’m not advocating a shift away from great art and towards great economics, but we should recognise that the two are complementary.

Growth in the cultural and creative industries will directly benefit them. More money generated means more money to invest - in great art. At the moment large parts of the arts are hard-wired to resist this, but it’s something that has to change.

The Capital Matters report gets the ball rolling on this, it’s going to help change the debates we have and how we have them, but there needs to be the support there for artists and arts organisations who don’t have the experience or confidence to make these changes themselves.

I see the challenges we face today as an opportunity to do things differently. Our cultural and creative industries are already fantastic, but I believe that they can be even better. But they will only become better by sharing ideas with, and learning from other sectors, by not being ashamed to talk about jobs and growth, by joining forces as a coherent sector of the economy and working together with an unwavering commitment to providing ever more remarkable experiences for the public.

My number one focus for however long I’m lucky enough to be Arts Minister will be enabling this, and I look forward to working with you all to do it.

Published 27 January 2011