BBC Slammed for Publicly Funded $12 Million Digital Arts Website

Is it beyond the organization's remit to finance the digital arts?

FKA Twigs, who received a commission by Manchester International Festival and The Space.
Photo: Courtesy The Space.

The BBC is under fire for plans to spend £8.16 million ($12.67 million) on its digital arts website, the Space, a joint project with Arts Council England. Both organizations are publicly funded.

After facing cuts to its annual budget, not everyone sees the money allotted to the offbeat collection in the Space as well-spent. The project includes such digital art as Top Goon Reloaded, described by creators Masasit Mati, a Syrian art collective, as “an online series of sarcastic and irreverent puppet theater films.”

Photo: Courtesy of Arab American National Museum 2013.

Still from a Masasit Mati video.
Photo: Courtesy of Arab American National Museum 2013.

“The Space is a commissioner of art that employs technology to push the boundaries of creative expression,” reads the website. “We support new talent and great artists from all art forms, creative industries, technical and digital backgrounds, through regular Open Calls, commissions and partnerships.”

“I do not see how it can be within the BBC’s remit to sponsor digital art. It really stretches their point,” Damian Collins, a member of the Commons culture committee, told the Sun, asking if it wouldn’t be preferable that the BBC spend the funds on “other arts bodies which are well supported and better placed.”

The Express was also quite critical of the program, and ran with the headline, “BBC bosses waste MILLIONS on bizarre art projects.” Artwork includes household names such as composer John Cage, artist Marina Abramovic, singer Charlotte Church, and actor Ioan Gruffudd.

Alan Yentob and Grayson Perry. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alan Yentob and artist Grayson Perry.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

To date, the BBC has put £3.6 million toward the Space, with the Art Council committing £8.1 million, for an overall budget of £16.2 million.

“The Space was set up by the Arts Council England in partnership with the BBC to support greater digital access to the arts—something the BBC is committed to supporting through its charter,” read a statement from a BBC spokesperson defending the website. “Licence fee has been carefully used to support the development of artists and the cultural sector, and includes projects with National Theatre of Wales, Northern Ballet Theatre, Barbican Centre, the RSC and Manchester International Festival.”

The Sun alleges that the Space is somewhat of a personal project for BBC creative director Alan Yentob, who “has been unable to explain what the Space is,” according to an anonymous source. The BBC spokesperson denied such claims, insisting “Alan Yentob is not currently involved in the Space and was only ever one of a number of directors. He was never chair.”

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