Tony Hall - BBC Arts launch

Date: 25.03.2014     Last updated: 25.03.2014 at 11.34
Category: Corporate
Speech given by Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, at the BBC Arts launch at New Broadcasting House on Tuesday 25 March 2014.


Good morning, and thank you all very much for coming today. People are here from right across the country – and, I must say, I can’t think of another occasion when the BBC has managed to bring together in one room - like this - a group of people who make such an exceptional contribution to the arts in Britain.  

The BBC was the world’s pioneer in arts broadcasting, and we all remain eternally indebted to those legendary producers, directors and presenters who set the standard all those years ago. We have a lot to be proud of … and we continue to be the biggest and the best arts broadcaster anywhere in the world. But, as I said last autumn, we’re determined to do even better.

The arts really matter. They’re not for an elite, or for a minority. They’re for everybody.

If there was ever any truth in the idea that the arts were for relatively niche audiences, so many of you in this room have proved that that’s just not the case. 

You just have to see young people talk to each other online about films or music or live performance – the way visitors flock to our museums, our theatres and galleries, and the millions that join in with festivals and big events – like the Proms. The arts are more and more part of people’s lives - part of the discourse of modern life - they express who we are - and we really must reflect that.

In addition, the arts - and culture more broadly - are something this country is very good at.

Today we’re announcing the biggest push we’ve made in the arts for a generation. There’ll be more arts on the BBC than ever before.

What’s more, we’re going to break down the walls between us and all the wonderful institutions and artists that make Britain a world leader. This is vital if we’re to succeed in bringing audiences closer to artists and their work. 

We want to build more creative links with you and your organisations – with you we want to put the arts at the very heart of the BBC.

We all face the same challenges in tough economic times. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate and find new ways to work together - sharing our ambition, our expertise, and things like our archive.

I’m going to make five promises that are going to help us do this, so let me briefly take you through them.


The first is strong, clear leadership.

As I said last autumn, I want to build two strong statements for the BBC – a joined up BBC Arts – and a joined up BBC Music.

I want Arts and Music to be as recognised with the BBC, as BBC News is.

I’m delighted Bob Shennan has agreed to take on a new role as Director of Music – but will of course continue with his day job. Later in the spring, the two of us will lay out our plans for music in depth.

I’ve asked Jonty Claypole to take on a similar role as our Director of Arts.

What’s new is that both will take a view right across the BBC. They’ll be working across television, radio, iPlayer and online – joining up the different parts of the BBC, as well as working closely with commissioning. They will be thinking globally, nationally, and locally and I want Bob and Jonty to make life simpler, clearer – and more joined up. And, I might add I’ll be keeping a close personal interest in what they do.

Great things happen when you have the right team in place – working together.  So, I’m delighted to announce some other roles which will allow leaders in the arts world to share their knowledge and insights with us.

Alex Poots, who brilliantly leads the Manchester International Festival, is going to be working in creative partnership with us, to encourage and support new commissions, and new collaborations – which has been one of Alex’s great strengths. 

I will also be bringing together a group of leaders – to act as a sounding board – to make sure we’re working well together and grasping the opportunities that come our way.  I’m delighted that Sir Nicholas Serota has agreed to lead this group.

Vicky Featherstone, who, as you know has moved from the National Theatre of Scotland to run the Royal Court – has agreed to join that group. Vicky’s already doing great work alongside Kate Rowland and our Writersroom to nurture new writing talent for the stage and screen.

And finally, I want to announce a new appointment to our Executive Board – and this person has got – I think you’ll agree – a remarkable track record in the arts and drama, and is going to make a big contribution to the vision that I’ve announced today. That person is Nicholas Hytner, who is joining as a non-executive director. 

And I’m really grateful to Alex, Vicky – and both Nicks.  They’ve all made a point of being here today - and I'm so pleased you're going to be helping the BBC.

So that’s a big first step.


Secondly, I’m announcing today a new strand of programmes - BBC Arts at …

It will have an impact not just on television – but on BBC Radio and online.

Our ambition is to give everyone front row seats at the very best cultural events, up and down the country, right across the year.

We’ll be kicking off in May with a special night out – at museums all over the country.  Working with Culture 24, Museums at Night will bring these places to life – it’s going to be quite an adventure.  There’ll be song and dance; silent discos; there’ll be sleepovers; and a chance for everyone to join in. 

English National Ballet are putting on Russell Maliphant’s Second Breath – at the Imperial War Museum North; there’ll be entertainment from The Choir With No Name in Liverpool; musicals in Cardiff; and we’ll be re-imagining The Last Supper on the streets of Glasgow, with people uploading their own artwork – and creating a gallery online.

The weekend after that, we will be celebrating the high point of Jacobean theatre from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe – with Gemma Arterton’s electrifying performance in The Duchess Of Malfi. And, I’m delighted that Gemma is with us today.

Then, on the next weekend, BBC Arts is at Hay, with our most ambitious programming ever. We’ve never covered a literary festival in quite this way before. We'll be bringing fantastic talks, interviews and special events to everyone – Chris Evans is coming with his Radio 2 Show – Chris, who I know is here, is a great champion of new writing – and will be announcing the winner of his 500 Words competition on site. And, by the way, nearly 120,000 children have taken part.

The One Show will be there for the first time, alongside Radio 2, 3, 4 and 6Music – and BBC television will also be celebrating with a special documentary about Hay – the town that loves books. 

The festival will be more accessible than ever before – don’t miss it. Martha Kearney will be there, Cerys Matthews – and Razia Iqbal will be broadcasting on BBC World.

And that’s just the start – BBC Arts at will be at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition - with Kirsty Wark and Alastair Sooke. By the way, BBC One and Radio 1's Nick Grimshaw will be there too!

We’ll be at Glyndebourne - celebrating its 80th birthday; the Liverpool Biennial, Manchester International Festival, the National Galleries of Scotland, Opera North, the Barbican, the British Museum and, of course, the Edinburgh Festivals.

We’ll be featuring world-class artists like Simon Rattle, the Ballet Boyz – and looking for the Voice of Black Opera with Scottish Opera.

Digital: the third pillar of BBC Arts

And the next thing I want to speak about is our digital ambitions.

This is an exciting moment – there are so many different ways to watch, listen and connect with audiences. And, we’re going to lead the charge – on BBC iPlayer and online.

I hope you caught the launch of new iPlayer - Arts now has its own home on iPlayer, which will be a showcase for all we can do together.

What really excites me is the extra things it will allow us to do together – around archive and exhibitions, for a start. Watch out for Tate’s Matisse Cut Outs next month. We’ll be offering the best of the Hay Festival – and extended coverage of other events too – making them available to everyone on iPlayer.

Closely linked to iPlayer, is BBC Arts Online – which will be live and interactive. When I was in Edinburgh last summer, I met up with the festival directors – and we realised there was so much more we could do together.  And now we are.

We’re going to focus on performance, so, during the Edinburgh Festivals, we will all be able to enjoy a new show every day there on BBC Online.

Another priority will be Books on the BBC - with opportunities to talk directly to authors – it’s a chance for digital media to support and stimulate the habit of reading - rather than stunting it!

I know we haven’t always been able to deliver the support online that many of you want – and I’m determined to put that right – through the creation of this new site.

I also want us to do more to share the BBC’s extraordinary cultural archive – and showcase a wealth of materials from other organisations as well. 

Over the next three years, we are partnering with Tate – together, we’ll be making rare archive film and recordings of great artists available to audiences today – jointly pooling our resources.  We’re working with the Royal Academy too – celebrating the history of the Summer Exhibition. And, right now, we’re sharing our archive with six artists in Glasgow – we’ve just seen one of them, Kate Davies, in the showreel. They’re all making original works of art, inspired by what they’ve seen.

And, of course, we’ll be linking with a great initiative we embarked on - in partnership with the Arts Council - The Space. The BBC, The Arts Council and all our partners are delighted to announce that Ruth MacKenzie will be launching the service this summer, following its initial pilot phase - with support from arts organisations all over the UK.

For me this was probably the most far-reaching experience in the whole of the Cultural Festival in 2012. I felt then it should continue – and it’s vital that we, the BBC, lead audiences to it. I want to see The Space entwined and enhanced by its close connection to BBC iPlayer and BBC online.

For both the Arts Council and the BBC this is an enormous opportunity to work together.

Breaking down walls

So, new leadership, a new arts strand – new digital ideas. But, there’s more.

The fourth promise is even more deliberately about breaking down walls.  We’re determined to work more closely with the wealth of talented artists and performers that Britain has to offer - finding new ways for artists and performers to speak for themselves – to share their stories and their passions – in their own voice – with our audiences.

Some of those artists are in this room, today:

Tom Hollander has just completed his portrait of Dylan Thomas – A Poet In New York. It’s a fascinating exploration of Thomas’s life and work – and the centrepiece of our centenary season.  

Michael Morpurgo has taken on something completely new – he’s working with poet Owen Sheers, director Sylvain Chomet, and composer Rachel Portman – on an enchanting animated film. It’s entitled Mimi And The Mountain Dragon.

Akram Khan and Michael Landy are going to follow in the footsteps of Cornelia Parker and show us what artists do all day – for what I think is a rather wonderful strand on BBC Four. 

Simon Russell Beale is taking a break from King Lear to make a film for us on Shakespeare’s First Folio.

And Zaha Hadid – recently featured on Imagine - is now making a film for us about the Russian artist, Malevich.

And, of course, we’re all looking for the next generation of artists, writers and storytellers. Nurturing and supporting new talent is something I am passionate about – and I’m delighted to be able to tell you about two new projects today.

The first is Dialogues – a series of drama shorts, led by Rupert Goold of the Almeida – featuring writers, including playwrights, novelists and poets whose voices are fresh to television.

And secondly, Radio 4 will be introducing 10 brand-new voices in a dedicated fortnight of dramas by new writers - from Bristol, Manchester, Wales and London. 

Arts at the heart of the BBC

So, my last promise is to ensure that the arts really are unmissable on the BBC – I want to make sure the arts are a part of people’s every day experience.

Tonight, for instance, The One Show has made a short film about Holbein’s masterpiece – The Ambassadors. It will be watched by millions.

Over on BBC Two, the Culture Show is profiling the African-American tap-dancer, Savion Glover.

And later today, there’s the new Radio 2 book club on Simon Mayo’s Drivetime – while Free Thinking continues its residency at London’s South Bank - in Radio 3’s new pop-up studio. And it’s been a huge success.

That’s a pretty diverse range of subjects – and in some unexpected places.  

Most important, of course, are those big shows that you simply can’t forget. Fresh from his brilliant series, The Story Of The Jews, Simon Schama is pursuing another enduring passion – the story of portraiture – and what that tells us about our story – The Story Of Britain.

And proving the point that art really is for everybody, BBC One is tapping into an exceptional wave of talented amateur artists in a new six-part series, The Big Picture. We’ve already had four and a half thousand applications - from all walks of life – and from every part of the country.

The project that really is close to my heart is a celebration of Shakespeare – 400 years after his death. 

I’m delighted to say that Sam Mendes, Dominic Cooke and the team behind The Hollow Crown are going to return to some more of Shakespeare’s history plays – Richard III and Henry VI.

And Radio 4’s developing an inventive and really interesting idea – to ask some of Britain’s finest writers to imagine a sixth act for some of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays – all done in a contemporary setting.

We’re also partnering with the Royal Shakespeare Company – and schools, colleges and communities across the country – to introduce Shakespeare’s work to a new generation. 

I worry the arts could become more marginalised unless we do more to reach out to children and young people. To inspire them.  

So, we’re developing ideas that will involve every school in the country in a mass re-telling of Shakespeare – and joining up with the RSC as they take A Midsummer Night’s Dream all around the country – working with regional theatres, amateur performers and primary school children.

Finally we’re putting together what promises to be a very special digital collection - including the 470 Shakespeare productions that the BBC has recorded so far. To make them available for teachers, students and children for years to come.

I remember the impact that the BBC’s Civilisation had on me when I was a teenager. Now that was a remarkable television series then. And, for me, it was also the start of a lifelong passion for the arts.

I’m interested to see what we can do now to re-imagine that great series for the digital age. Where does our idea of Civilisation sit today – nearly half a century after Kenneth Clark’s adventure? When David Attenborough commissioned that show for BBC Two, it was the very first arts landmark conceived for colour television – and it was at the cutting edge of technology at that time. Just think of what we can do together now. That challenge - that reinvention - starts here. Right now. With all of you.

Thank you.