Morning readers and welcome to my first ever attempt at a live blog… coming to you direct from the Digital R&D in the Arts Forum taking place at Manchester Town Hall. Apologies upfront for fat fingered typos, grammatical howlers and nonsensical sentences – I promise a somewhat re-edited version of this post after play has ended for the day.

Manchester Bee

To help me keep pace with the day I’ve taken the liberty of sketching out the schedule before we get started… don’t forget you can also follow on Twitter via the hashtag #artsdigital and away we go…

Welcome: Dr Paul Gerhardt, Managing Director, Archives for Creativity 

We are underway, those that can’t be here do participate on Twitter by following #artsdigital.

Introduction: Geoff Mulgan (Chief Executive, Nesta), Alan Davey (Chief Executive, Arts Council England) & Rick Rylance (Chief Executive, Arts and Humanities Research Council)


  • Is digital a threat to the real world? The surprise has been that in this time of online engagement, attendance has increased especially for those who have innovated and integrated their “online” and “offline” activities.
  • This fund allows for experimentation and a culture of honest, we can share our failures as well as our success.
  • Research and development provides a willingness to try things, as we’ve seen in other sectors, and to create new possibilities.


  • Great art for everyone is the mission of Arts Council England, technology provides an opportunity to support and achieve this.
  • Partnerships are key and help generate new opportunities for connecting with audiences that we might have not yet considered.


  • Collaboration is key between both funders and project partners.
  • Research in the future will be produced between organisations (and across disciplines) rather than in the silo of Universities and this will help solve complex problems in the real world.

In Conversation: James Davis (Content Team, Google’s Cultural Institute) 

An introduction to the Google Cultural Institute:

  • Google staff were encouraged to use their “tools” to make the arts/culture more accessible via programmes such as the Google Art Project.
  • James talks about Google’s curatorial/editorial decisions (or lack of them) stating that they take the lead from the cultural organisations as they are the experts in the technology not in the art.
  • Google feel they offer a brand new, larger audience – but will “new” audiences go there and find/look for this content? Google think by presenting art in new ways it can engage those that think that it isn’t for them.
  • Google have used the web and physical technologies for example HMTL5 and Streetview, although they admit that mobile access hasn’t been great and this is in their roadmap for development.
  • Cultural institutions must break away from the idea of turning digital audiences into physical audiences, thinking this way limits many organisations – an “online” visitor/viewer/participant is equally valid and of importance.
  • Collaboration itself can be enabled and facilitated by digital tools.
  • Google have worked with organisations of all scales for example a museum in India whose metadata was information on pieces of paper.
  • The Google Cultural Insitute are careful about how their activity interrelates to Google’s commercial activity. They want to empower arts organisations by giving them the tools and the technology, not by Googlizing everything!

Opportunity Panel: Anthony Lilley (CEO, Magic Lantern Productions Ltd), Hasan Bakhshi (Director of Policy and Research Creative Economy, Nesta), Tim Plyming (Head of Digital, British Museum) & Victoria Tillotson (Digital Producer, iShed, Watershed)

What are the opportunities for the arts in the years ahead?


  • Technology gives us the chance to test assumptions about culture and cultural participation.
  • The data imprint of audiences online gives cultural organisations new ways to evaluate engagement as well as provide different ways to distribute content.


  • Most British Museum visitors will only visit once. How can the museum extend this relationship beyond the visit by thinking about the before, the during and the after?


Interesting case study of the Stand + Stare Theatre Jukebox:

Stream A: User Generated Content & Social Media – Rohan Gunatillake, John McGrath (Artistic Director, National Theatre of Wales), Skinder Hundel (CEO, New Art Exchange), Lawrence Chiles (Acting Head of Design & Digital Media, Royal Museums Greenwich) & Jane Burton (Head of Content and Creative Director, Tate Media)

Social media has become mainstream over the last 5-6 years and has impacted on everything from marketing and communications in the arts to the artistic process itself.


In 2009 National Theatre Wales developed a Ning based platform to create a social community for their organisation which now contains at over 4000 blog posts. What lessons have been learnt from this process?:

1) It’s about community building and not ticket sales

2) It’s about buy-in at all levels from artists, from staff, from the audience etc.

3) It’s about asking questions


Examples of digital work at Tate and the questions these projects have raised:

1) This Exquisite Forest – asks the question how do you moderate creativity? And make moderation scaleable?

2) BMW Tate Live Performance Room – how do you target the “right” audiences in spaces such as YouTube, the ones that will want to listen, watch and/or do?

3) Gallery of Lost Art – What can digital exhibition spaces do better than the real thing? And how can social media enhance them? How do we take art to people, rather than expecting them to come to us?

Digital R&D in the Arts Forum


The Compass Room has opened up the museum to the possibilities of co-curation and public participation.

Stream II A: Exploring new business models for digital engagement – Rohan Gunatillake, Kam Star (Playgen & Digital Shoreditch), Laura Sillars (Artistic Director, Site Gallery) Liz Rosenthal (Founder and CEO, Power to the Pixel)


  • “Be the best version of yourself you can be”. We should keep this with us in our ever changing landscape.
  • Business models are changing not just in the arts, HMV anyone?
  • Digital technologies enable us to: 1) Save money – efficiencies, new systems and 2) Make money – new roots to market, new products.
  • We are working in a competitive experience economy and we need to become developers, giving resources to testing and playfulness.


Lessons learnt from Culture Cloud:

1) The digital platforms accelerated the formation of relationships

2) Keep it simple, the technology shouldn’t add another barrier


  • The core of Digital Shoreditch has been about aligning the product to what people want and focusing on “the art of conversion”.
  • Live experience still really matters, digital acts as a tool or an enabler.

Stream III B: How can we make the most of our data and archives? – Dave Moutrey (Director and CEO, Cornerhouse), Dr Paul Gerhardt (Managing Director, Archives for Creativity) & Sophie Walpole (Head of Digital Media, V&A Museum)

Digital R&D in the Arts Forum


Talking about the opportunities archives present and the experiences of the BBC. Archive materials should be things we can share, use and learn from. Lessons learnt:

1) Technology solutions for archives are still central, we need to make effective public value arguments though to secure resources.

2) Copyright – we need to create effective relationships with rights holders.

3) Data is complex so collaborate with partners which might already have standards/frameworks for metadata.

4) Fast track creative outcomes, learn from others what can be done with your archive.


  • The V&A have been progressive by releasing data and images with their own API. How do you make this interesting to the public, beyond academia (and art thieves!)
  • There is a need to look at the commercial opportunities there might be from archives especially as these are assets that already exist in organisations. An example is the 100 Plays app, which should pay for itself in the long term.


  • Cornerhouse have previously been focused on the here and now and the future rather than the past. The archive was a grey filing cabinet!
  • In 1999 the Cornerhouse developed a database driven website, a forward thinking approach for an arts organisations at the time. This contains information on films that have been screened and resources, which can be hacked to make applications such as an interactive film map. There is global potential for this digital archive especially as an educational resource.
  • It is important to be thinking now about creating the rights to access and use material in the future.

Futures Panel, Next Steps and Closing Remarks (Dr Paul Gerhardt, Managing Director, Archives for Creativity), Anthony Lilley (Chief Creative Officer and CEO, Magic Lantern Productions), Honor Harger (Director, Lighthouse) & Paula Le Dieu (Mozilla FOundation)

Looking into the crystal ball how will be producing and consuming culture in the longer term?


  • Digital culture is about more that shiny gadgets and widgets, rather it is about social transformations.
  • Technology is based on physical infrastructure… wires, cables, servers – the digital world is something material, that we made.
  • We are now moving to a post-digital age for example nanotechnology, biotechnology and 3d printing. These transformations are ripping through sectors such as logistics, engineering and health and as such in the arts we need to learn to look.


  • The “digital” and “real world” is a false notion is thinking about marketing and/or participation.
  • We need to be honest about how poor we are as a sector at using and understanding data, a more urgent challenge than should we have some apps.
  • Let’s start getting the basics right.


What does the future look like through the eyes of young people?

1) It’s one world, not a digital and non-digital one.

2) For young people digital devices and services are ways to collect, understand and store the world around them – a 6th (7th?) sense.

3) The web i.e. the connected world is an expression of themselves.

4) In the future the next generation will be making the connected world, sharing and collaborating in public.

5) Privacy will become an ever increasing challenge.

And finally…

Today the first successful applicants for the Digital R&D programme were announced. Projects include a “mobile-friendly app-album” featuring Grammy-winning musician and performer Imogen Heap from Script, a London-based music and content agency to a collaboration between the Imperial War Museums and Historypin on a scheme that will invite the public to contribute information about and responses to its collection of World War I paintings.

Manchester Town Hall, Great Hall

Pre-digital communications: taking the message to the audience, ancient methods of content distribution