The digital art agency has described its reduced budget as “an excellent opportunity to sharpen our focus”.

balletLORENT received funding from The Space to capture and promote its production of Rumpelstiltskin.

Bill Cooper

The Space, the digital art agency jointly funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and the BBC, is preparing for a significant reduction in funding despite recent success in surpassing commission and viewing targets.

ACE will provide the organisation with £3m in National Lottery funding for the next three years, which equates to a 48% cut compared with the £7.75m it allocated for 2014-18.

The BBC would not reveal how much funding has been set aside for The Space as it “does not comment on production budgets”, but the figure is expected to be less than the £8.16m The Space received from the BBC for 2014-18.

Commenting on the changes, a spokesperson for The Space said: “It is not a case of funding having been cut. Our previous strategic funding award is coming to an end and this is a new funding application to deliver a specific programme of activity.”

They continued: “We have learned much from the last four years working closely with arts and cultural organisations about what the sector needs and is asking for in terms of capacity building activity and support around digital engagement.

“As any organisation working in a dynamic environment, we have refined our programme of activity accordingly and we see this as an excellent opportunity to sharpen our focus without compromising on the core support that we offer to the sector.”

The Space’s key focus areas for 2018-21 appear little changed: it will continue to offer digital skills training and production development for arts and culture organisations, and invest in broadcast and digital research and development projects.

A history of controversy

The Space was set up in 2012 with £3.7m in lottery funding, and boosted by a combined £16m commitment from ACE and the BBC. It gained notoriety shortly after its launch for its failure to deliver adequate subtitling and audio description on its videos, and again a year later after claims its website, on which it was hosting commissioned content, didn’t work properly and failed to gain traction.

The organisation underwent a revamp in 2015, dropping the push to host content on its own site and positioning itself as a capacity-developing organisation, rather than a “source of funding every time anyone wants to do a digital project,” according to Chief Executive Fiona Morris. It now focuses its commissioning rounds on projects that capture and distribute live art events and those using technology to enhance artworks.

“Our focus has increasingly been on looking at what we call our ‘lo-fi strand’ – the smaller scale, smaller budgeted interventions that can have really appreciable and sizeable audience reach for organisations but not feel completely unattainable in a continuing, sustainable way,” Morris added.

Recent success

According to the organisation, The Space is on track to have commissioned 170 projects by March 2018, and to have attracted an aggregated 10.8 million viewers to commissioned projects – both of which exceed its targets for the 2014-18 funding period.

balletLORENT, which received just over £91k funding from The Space to digitally capture and promote its performance of Rumpelstiltskin, said the relationship with the digital agency was “incredibly beneficial”, helping to raise its profile, reach new audiences, and develop digital skills.

The Space has also taken the lead on lobbying Government to agree a new rights framework to help organisations distribute digital work.

Morris told AP navigating rights clearances, which differ between online platforms, was a problem for a significant proportion of commissioned organisations. She said there was little agreement about how organisations should go about claiming rights, how much remuneration should be paid, and how to monitor and report on what people across the sector are making.

The Space has submitted plans to the DCMS, as part of the ‘Culture is Digital’ project, for a suggested framework for the online publication and distribution of work.

“Everyone acknowledges it’s a piece of work and consultation that needs to happen,” Morris said. “Hopefully we can agree a draft agreement that we can move forward as a sector to put in place.”