Radio 4 announces a range of new artistic partnerships

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Radio 4 is to become a 'playground' for creative minds as it launches a range of cultural partnerships that will inject 'fireworks' into the schedule.

Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams said she wants to shift the focus away from the global financial crisis that has dominated the headlines for the last couple of years and 'highlight Radio 4's cultural heart'.

In this spirit, the network will partner itself with Artangel, which she believes 'is the biggest contemporary arts partnership' ever undertaken at the BBC.

The partnership, which has £1m funding from a mixture of private and public sponsors, will launch an Open call for UK artists from all disciplines to come forward with their most ambitious projects. The BBC has contributed a small, but undisclosed, amount of money to the fund.

Start Quote

We've got a wonderful cultural heart here in Radio 4, but it seemed to me that the politics and economics at the moment is in a kind of stasis”

End Quote Gwyneth Williams Controller, Radio 4

The hope is that the chosen projects - to be whittled down to between three and five - will lead to 'extraordinary and previously unimagined' radio that will challenge listeners.

It's also the first time that Artangel will be looking for artists who are working in an online space.

Michael Morris, one of Artangel's directors, said: 'Radio 4 is not just about broadcast, but it's about embracing artists of all kinds and supporting them to make work out there in the world to be reflected in all kinds of ways back on the radio.'

He added that 'there's no recession of the imagination'.

Unexpected radio

To mark the alliance, Radio 4 will be launching Open Air, a series of five short pieces for radio that will follow the Today Programme. Airing in March, the shorts will be made by five different artists. Christian Marclay, who is famous for his visual work, will kick off the series.

The network will also broadcast a new reading of the challenging poem V in a late-night slot next month. Written by Tony Harrison in 1985, V caused controversy when it was broadcast in a film version by Channel 4 in 1987. The personal poem is about Harrison's visit to his parents' gravesite in Leeds, which had been vandalised by football hooligans. It also tackles subjects such as the miners' strike and religion.

This new broadcast will be introduced by author and poet Blake Morrison and read by Harrison - recorded on location in Leeds - without any changes to the original poem, which contains extensive swearing.

Economic rut

Williams explained that culture is of importance to the network and she'd like to bring it to the fore, providing an antidote to the dismal economic outlook.

'We've got a wonderful cultural heart here in Radio 4, but it seemed to me that the politics and economics at the moment is in a kind of stasis', the controller said in a press briefing.

Launching in April, Radio 4 will be seeking popular and preeminent figures to select something of inspiration to them, whether a poem, painting or building. The 75 short audio features, called Cultural Exchange, will be available as audio clips and will have an accompanying website.

Her idea is to invite artists and writers to come onto the network and 'play' and 'to open a dialogue with our millions of listeners'.

Writer in residence

In support of artists, Williams will also appoint Radio 4's first writer in residence, who she said would 'throw some fireworks into the network' for an open-ended period of time. She is looking for a well-known writer with an independent, creative voice and is close to making her selection.

The writer would work on projects they like and would have a good understanding of the Radio 4 audience.

Williams did something similar when she was director of the World Service in English, appointing Hamid Ismailov to the role of writer in residence a few years ago. 'His work made a substantial impact on World Service output,' she said.

Additional projects will launch throughout the year, including a poetry day; a tour of the country in the summer, looking for a collection of voices to capture the UK; and a search for new writers following on from the popular So You Want to Be A Scientist last year.

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