Why did we do this?
The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts portfolio attracted a clutch of awards and some organisations secured further support from funding bodies to develop their proposals further. However, it was clear to us that a significant number of the projects would benefit from support and investment beyond their R&D phase, to help them fully realise their product or service.
What did we do?
Arts Council England and Nesta provided a further stage of support for 9 of the 52 projects from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in the form of an accelerator.
This intervention was designed specifically to help projects become ‘investment ready’ with the aim of attracting new forms of finance beyond traditional routes. The accelerator took the form of a three-month programme of business support to help projects explore the further potential of their original ideas. This one-off initiative allowed Arts Council England and Nesta to test how the accelerator model, which is now common in other sectors of business innovation, might work for the arts and cultural sector more generally. Is an approach more usually found in tech startups relevant and transferable to this field? And how can we cascade some of what we learn into future support for the arts and cultural sector?
The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts followed a pilot exercise (The Digital Research & Development Fund for Arts and Culture) during 2011-12 between the Arts Council England, Arts & Humanities Research Council and Nesta to support arts and cultural organisations across England who wanted to work with digital technologies to expand their reach and engagement or explore new business models.
Each pilot project was selected because they would produce research and data that other arts and cultural organisations would value highly and, possibly, develop new products/services that could be used by other organisations. A key element of the fund was the partnerships between arts and cultural organisations, technology providers and researchers.
Following the pilot, £7million was made available over the period 2012-2015 for projects up to a value of £300,000. The fund itself is now closed but you can access the free resources created as part of the programme of work on the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts website archive. These include magazines and topic guides, videos, a digital toolkit for the arts, research papers and a portal for exploring the results of the Digital Culture survey.
We have funded 52 projects through the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. Details of the lead organisations and the projects they're developing can be found on the fund website projects page. You can also access their final project reports on the research page.
Overall, the DACA pointed to the potential for growth and investment for all participating organisations should they wish to pursue a more business and commercially driven approach. As such, it represents an important intervention in the early stages of a new era of arts and cultural investment and, more broadly, of value creation in the arts. It cannot offer a ‘replacement mechanism’ for public funding; and it won’t yet be relevant for arts and cultural organisations which are not in the business of generating products of commercial value. But it can usefully open up and improve the quality of the conversation regarding how arts and cultural organisations diversify their income streams and attract different types of investment. Read the full evaluation here.