United Kingdom/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.11 New technologies and digitalisation in the arts and culture

A government White Paper on Competitiveness (1998) committed the Department of Trade & Industry to work with the digital content sector. The subsequent Action Plan addressed a range of issues including: skills and the content industries' interaction with educational institutions; finding appropriate investment sources for the industries' entrepreneurs; and the need for promotion, marketing and export initiatives.

Chief among its recommendations were the creation of a Digital Content Forum for representative bodies with interests in the digital media (content industries) to facilitate information exchange, raise awareness and make recommendations to government departments. Secondly, it recommended the development of a web portal to link relevant players, guide new companies (including small cultural industries) with start-up operations, and be a source of innovative ideas giving rise to new content. Many of the proposals were intended to dovetail with existing or recommended initiatives across government departments, including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to ensure they reflect the needs of the cultural sector.

The recognition that digital technology provides opportunities to widen access to the arts and cultural sector was also behind a government initiative, Culture Online, established in 2002. Until its closure in May 2007, the key objective of Culture Online was to mobilise the resources of the cultural sector to enrich school education, particularly in history, English and drama, music, art and design, by forging new connections between digital technology and cultural resources. Opinions are divided on whether or not Culture Online fulfilled the ambitions set for it (though the DEMOS report Logging On: Culture, Participation and the Web provides a positive overview of lessons learned from the programme and looks at how web technology can increase public participation in culture). A budget of GBP 13 million, plus an additional GBP 3 million for 2005/06, was given to fund projects that would increase digital access to the nation's culture and heritage for new audiences (particularly children and "hard-to-reach" groups) using a range of new technologies, including the internet, digital TV and mobile devices.

Britain's first national virtual museum (the 24 Hour Museum) provides an online gateway to over 3 000 UK museums, galleries and heritage attractions and seeks to develop new audiences for culture. It receives approximately 1 million visitor sessions and 550 000 unique users a month and 85% of users said it was more likely to make them go to a museum or gallery: http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk. The site is now one of the top five most visited UK hosted cultural websites.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has been working with The Collections Trust, UKOLN and Culture24 to advise cultural institutions on issues related to digital content and services. The MLA has also been involved with The People's Network project, completed in 2002, which used GBP 120 million lottery funding to connect all 4 200 UK public libraries to the internet and train all library staff in ICT skills. This was complemented by a GBP 50 million digital content creation programme. The MLA is also a member of the Creative Archive Licence Group that includes the BBC, Channel 4 and the British Film Institute. All members aim to make their content available for download under the terms of the Creative Archive License, a single shared user license scheme for the downloading of moving images, audio and stills.

Digital management of copyright material is becoming increasingly relevant to museums, libraries and archives and current Copyright Law can mean costs for research and clearance activity prove huge and occasionally prohibitive. Therefore, in August 2005 the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) funded the Museums Copyright Group to explore, with the Design and Artists Copyright Society, the possibility of a blanket licence scheme that would allow the digitisation of artistic works in collections and digital copies to be made available to staff, students and the public.

In November 2010, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport announced that it would be conducting an inquiry in 2011 into the protection of intellectual property rights online and to assess the new framework established by the Digital Economy Act 2010. It is expected to examine such things as the challenges faced by the creative industries in digital markets.

Arts Council England has made the digital opportunity one of its priorities for the planning period 2008-11. In doing so, it recognises that digital media technologies enable arts organisations to connect with audiences in new ways, and that responding to this change will lead to the development of new business models, new networks and new forms of creativity. Building on a body of work in broadcasting and new media, the intention is to help arts organisations make the most of the digital opportunity including research, strategic innovation and capacity and skills building.

The UK Film Council established the world's first digital screen network of 240 screens UK-wide, broadening the range of films available to UK audiences including arthouse, documentary, classic or foreign language films. This has enabled film distributors to expand the releases of films with digital prints which are less expensive than 35mm prints, thus reaching more audiences. The British Film Institute has also launched a digital initiative - screenonline - to broaden public access to its collection of films and related material.

Government initiatives in Scotland include Open Scotland, 21st Century Government and Digital Inclusion. The Scottish Government is exploring the feasibility of a National Digital Media Strategy in partnership with representative bodies in the tourism, culture and sport sectors. The aim is to develop a shared vision of innovative ways to widen access, increase participation and improve services to the end user by 2010, through the use of digital media.

In 2004, Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) launched PASTMAP (http://www.pastmap.org.uk). PASTMAP is a web based information resource in map and text format on Scotland's historic environment, which includes the boundaries of scheduled ancient monuments, the location and description of listed buildings, and the location and description of all sites, buildings and other historic features in the National Monuments Record for Scotland. This is considered a first within Europe.

The Northern Ireland Screen Commission's Digital Film Archive (DFA) (http://www.digitalfilmarchive.net/) launched, in November 2000, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the British Film Institute, provides public access to Northern Ireland's film heritage since 1897, in the absence of a dedicated film archive for Northern Ireland. The DFA is currently available in educational and museum-related sites across Northern Ireland, and is continuing to be developed educationally with a Heritage Lottery Funded outreach programme. In addition the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure funded an education pilot project, Creative Learning in the Digital Age.


Chapter published: 15-04-2011


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