The British government is considering how it can capitalise on its leading digital and cultural sectors, by bringing the two closer together and creating new opportunities, in what it is calling “the ultimate power couple”.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has today launched its ‘Culture is Digital’ report, which was informed by an online open conversation last year and was borne out of the Government’s Culture White Paper commitment to review the digitisation of public collections and enhance the online cultural experience.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for DCMS, said in an introduction to the report that the blend of creativity and technology skills will be the “driving force behind the strength of the UK’s strong economic prospects over the long term; a powerful combination of talents to project to the world as we prepare to leave the EU”.
The report points to the fact that London’s tech firms raised a record £2.45 billion in 2017 and that the creative industries contributed over £90 billion in GVA in 2016, over 5% of the UK economy (which is comparable to the construction or information sectors). The creative industries also grew by 45% between 2010 and 2016, which is “faster than any other sector”.
The report notes that the UK’s technology and cultural sectors could make the “ultimate power couple”, but more action is needed to make sure that they share the same interests. The government believes that by focusing on the synergies between culture and technology will give the UK a “dual competitive advantage”.
On what more needs to be done, Hancock writes in the report:
We heard that a number of cultural organisations feel held back by a lack of infrastructure or resources, that they need better digital skills and to focus more time on leadership training; there are often communication barriers when working in a cross disciplinary way, and the pace of change in technology itself has resulted in a fragmented approach.
Through this report I want to encourage tech companies – large and small – to think about partnerships with cultural organisations. To help provide creative thinking, to scrutinise tech development or to connect to new audiences.
The government outlines how technology has been used within the cultural sectors to reach and engage with new and existing audiences. For example, the partnership between English Heritage and Google Arts and Culture uses 360 degree image capture to reveal historical treasures online for the first time. Or, how Rain Room by Random International – an installation in which rain falls all around the visitor but its touch remains absent due to 3D tracking devices – demonstrates the potential of immersive cultural experiences.
However, DCMS realises it can play a facilitator role in help bringing more of these examples to light. The report makes a number of commitments, including:
- Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund will invest more than £2 million to build the digital capacity of their sectors
- The National Gallery will create an Innovation Lab to examine how museums and cultural organisations can use immersive media, such as virtual and augmented reality, to enhance visitors’ experiences
- The Royal Opera House will create an Audience Lab, which will work with diverse talent to create content using emerging technologies and develop cross-sector collaborations
Arts Council England (ACE) will also create and pilot the use of a Digital Maturity Index for the cultural sector, to help organisations improve their digital capability. ACE will also work with the Heritage Lottery Fund to form a Digital Culture Code – a set of guidelines and principles which cultural organisations will be encouraged to sign up to help increase their digital skills.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:
Our cultural output has always been our unique calling card to the rest of the world and when combined with the latest digital developments there is no limit to our creativity.
We want the UK to be the best place in the world to trial pioneering technology, while also maintaining our world leading status as a centre of artistic and cultural excellence.
Our Culture Is Digital report sets out how culture and technology can collaborate, learn from one another and keep innovating. By embracing new technologies and attracting more diverse audiences, we will continue to cement our status as a creative powerhouse in the digital age.
The report itself was launched at the National Gallery in London. Commenting on its release, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, National Gallery Director, said:
The National Gallery is committed to an ambitious five-year programme of digital change. This goes from evolving our approach to ticketing through the use of big data, to launching new mobile services, to embedding innovation in immersive media in the Gallery through our forthcoming Lab. We are excited by today’s launch of the Culture is Digital report. The commitment it marks from DCMS, the Arts Council and cultural organisations across the country to digital transformation heralds an exciting new period for us all.
It’s very frustrating when people think of ‘culture’ as just a nice to have, when it’s so incredibly important. Not just to the economy, but to challenging, entertaining and supporting us as citizens. Digital has a key role to play in taking culture forward into new areas, to reach new and existing audiences. I welcome the government’s recognition of this and hope it’s made a priority – it might actually give us something to be proud of.
Image credit - Image sourced via DCMS