‘Front-row seats’ for all, BBC’s director-general promises

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The Tate and Royal Academy of Arts among partners in public broadcaster’s arts strand

By Javier Pes. Web only
Published online: 25 March 2014

Kenneth Clark in Civilisation, the BBC’s lavish arts documentary of 1969

The BBC plans to work with the Tate, the Royal Academy of Arts and Arts Council England to give viewers and listeners the visual arts equivalent of “front-row seats” at Britain’s best exhibitions and cultural events, Tony Hall, the director-general of the UK’s public service broadcaster, announced today.

Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, will lead a “sounding board” formed by fellow directors of cultural organisations to help the BBC identify potential partnerships and opportunities for programmes on TV, radio and online in a new strand called BBC Arts.

The BBC’s director-general looked back to Civilisation, the 13-part 1969 arts documentary written and narrated by Kenneth Clark, the former director of the National Gallery. Hall said that he wanted to “reimagine” the series for the digital age. Who might fill Clark’s well-heeled shoes has been the subject of a flurry of media speculation this week.

As part of the partnerships and programmes announced, the BBC and Tate will show archive films and interviews with artists. The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition will be featured and the BBC is linking up with the UK-wide Museums at Night events in May. What contemporary artists “do all day” forms the basis of a programme in which the artist Michael Landy shadows fellow contemporary artist Cornelia Parker. The historian Simon Schama has been commissioned to make a series about British portraiture and what it says about the nation’s history.

Meanwhile, Hall is fighting hard to protect the BBC’s funding by the compulsory licence fee beyond 2016. Critics have argued that the fee, which dates back to 1922, should be scrapped, while others want to see it shared with other broadcasters that have a public service strand of programmes, such as Channel 4. Funding through a voluntary subscription after 2016 has also been proposed. Stressing the quality of its broadcasting and partnerships with prestigious events and institutions could help the BBC justify the £145.50 that TV owners in the UK pay or risk criminal prosecution. Politicians are debating whether to make non-payment a civil matter

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