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In April, The Space will formally join ACE’s National Portfolio as an IPSO (or Investment Principles Support Organisation). Fiona Morris explains what this will mean for the organisation over the next three years.

Person wearing fishnet gloves. We can see the individuals side profile. Their fists are clenched and they're holding them towards their face. They have their eyes close and head down. They're wearing bold makeup and large hoop earrings.
Out Out by Highly Sprung: commissioned by Sky Arts in partnership with Coventry City of Culture.

Initially created to provide a broadcast portal for arts organisations as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, The Space has continued to evolve and adapt its core offer of support to the ever-changing needs of the sector. Its ability to diversify, find solutions to new challenges and, at the heart of its operations, the commissioning strand, has earned its new status.

Having the ability to plan over a three-year period is great and feels timely, given the long tail on the pandemic. Organisations have had to pivot towards dealing with visitors and audiences remotely and acquire new skills in the process and then get their audiences to feel confident and inclined to return to the live space. 

We need to discover what was learned during the pandemic: what was useful and how we can sustainably offer support in terms of engaging with audiences online. There were advantages discovered in having a hybrid strategy for day-to-day activity - we want to help embed that and make it feel sustainable and secure.

A bigger vision

While we can celebrate what has been achieved in the digital realm, we want to look at what the future may hold - what technologies might come into play and how we can navigate some of the current challenges, particularly around accessibility and rights. 

Together with a group of interested professionals from across the creative industries and cultural sector we are discussing how we can encourage greater commitment to sector-wide accessibility to digital content online. We’ll be exploring what tools and advice we can provide and promote to help with that. This includes looking closely at the reasons why people can’t attend in a live context; price, geography and disability being amongst the most frequent barriers. 

In terms of digital rights, we need to acknowledge this is still a significant roadblock for many organisations and individuals wanting to take their work online. We want build some best practice modelling around this, along with advice and resources to support people embarking on digital production to consider what additional work they will need to invest in to secure the rights to publish the digital work.  

Alongside this, we are exploring how to assess the value and outcome of digital projects, not just in terms of revenue and engagement numbers but also thinking about the increased profile for an organisation or artist, the ability to potentially reach a greater diversity of audiences, and the health and well-being benefits of engagement with all forms of culture including an online/hybrid offer.

The commissioning strand

At the core of all our activity is the commissioning strand: this is where most organisations will first meet us. If you - an artist or organisation - would like to try creating a digital piece of work but you’re not sure how because you haven’t done it before, then come and talk to us. 

In every commissioning round, we aim for a portfolio of projects that allow each organisation to gain learning and support. They evaluate their successes (and failures) and come and talk on our webinar and learning programmes so that other organisations can recognise themselves as peer groups on a similar scale and can try it too. 

Several commissioned organisations have gone on huge digital journeys which have been transformative. We have worked with broadcast partners – including Culture in Quarantine with the BBC, and a short film strand Unlocked for emerging artists in partnership with Coventry City of Culture, Shoot Festival and Sky Arts. 

We are currently working on a West Midlands regional broadcast development programme, which we hope to build on as part of our new IPSO programme, with a skills and talent development programme for artists in the Black Country working in partnership with Creative Black Country.  

Developing skills

As with other parts of the employment landscape, we are facing a significant shortage of cultural sector workers with the array of digital skills we need to draw on regularly. As the world shifted to digital during the pandemic, this is true of many sectors. 

While the arts may not have massive digital project budgets, we do have a lot to offer in terms of sheer creativity and originality of work being produced. We need to get better at exploring how to aggregate those opportunities to offer a real career development path for the predominantly freelance workforce undertaking these roles. We want to make them feel valued and that we are prepared to invest in them, so they continue to get opportunities to upskill, innovate and challenge themselves.  

At The Space we have a small core team but a large freelance associate network around the UK who work on commissions across production, direction, social media marketing, etc. We want to work with these freelancers and with those participating in our mentoring programme to develop new models of career development. 

For us and the cultural sector more broadly, we need to recognise the value and importance this freelance community brings with their specific digital skillset. We need to invest consistently and visibly to ensure they get the support and career development they need. Ultimately, we want them to feel valued and persuade them to remain working in the arts, culture and heritage sector.

Fiona Morris is Chief Executive and Creative Director at The Space (Digital Arts).
@thespacearts | @FionaMorris_

This article, sponsored and contributed by The Space, is part of a series spotlighting new ways of creating and distributing digital content, and exploring the wealth of new technologies and platforms coming online.

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