Do The Arts Need Their Own R&D Department?

The Arts and innovation may sound different but they can be effectively linked through technology


We shouldn't underestimate the value that the arts and culture sector creates for the economy and innovation efforts. Similar to the startup community, arts projects need funding and a helping hand in research and development to achieve greater results. The arts & culture sector significantly contributes to the economy and has an impact on the national GDP. According to the report published by Arts Council England in conjunction with the Creative Industries Federation, the industry generated 0.4% of the UK GDP and 0.4% of GVA in 2013. In the same year, the sector's contribution was valued at £7.7 billion, 36% more than it was in 2011. So why can't it enjoy the benefits of R&D funding?

The current legislation states that the sector does not fit the R&D criteria, therefore, essential funds and research are hard to get. For example, the guidelines for prospective R&D tax credit claimants issued by her Majesty's Revenue & Customs in the UK, state that R&D relief can only be claimed by those who aim to achieve an advance in overall knowledge or capability in the field of science and technology, through the resolution of the scientific or technological industry. Science, in this case, doesn't include work in the arts, humanities and social science.

In order to expand the meaning of R&D and the areas, it should cover, Arts Council England having collaborated with Nesta and AHRC (the Arts & Humanities Research Council) to introduce The Digital R&D Fund For the Arts project. Run from 2012 to 2015, the idea was to provide necessary financial and research assistance to digitally-orientated art projects using technology providers and researchers. The project selected 52 ideas and allocated funding of £7 million.

The idea of a Digital R&D Fund For The Arts is based on experimentation with various business models to help projects to reach bigger audiences and develop a successful business strategy by exploring new models. The projects that exploit digital technologies were supported with workshops, mentoring and networking programs provided by The Accelerator Network. The most successful will have an opportunity to pitch to investors in September 2016.

To dispel a myth that arts projects are irrelevant to technology and innovation, it is worth looking at the participants. They include a digital platform that delivers iBeacon activated museum tours, a subscription model ticketing solution, and a mobile app that helps children with ASD attend live art events. There is also a ‘Ministry of Stories’ which aims to develop an online writing and mentoring platform called the Story Engine, ‘Abandon Normal Devices' which plans to create a production studio that can create content for 360-degree environments, and many more.

The performing arts, in particular, is seen as the most productive sector, followed by publishing. If arts can be infused with innovation through technology and benefit the economy, then maybe the public sector and governments should review their attitudes. Despite the Digital R&D Funds For The Arts project now being complete, its legacy and materials are going to be preserved for further research and the final evaluation report by Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy (TFCC), which will be released in 2017. Evaluating such a project is challenging due to difficulties related to the impact measurement, but such insight is important for making arts more recognizable at the innovation stage.


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