Tuesday 28 July 2020 10:14 am

Sky Arts to become free to air channel in bid to boost culture sector

Sky Arts will become free to air for all viewers in September, as the broadcaster attempts to boost the sector in a “vital time for culture” during the pandemic.

Britain’s only TV channel dedicated solely to arts and culture is currently only available to paying customers. However, it will become free to air for all viewers at no cost from September, Sky Arts director Philip Edgar-Jones announced today.

Read more: BBC reaches record global audience in 2020 despite cash crunch

He added that the decision was motivated by a sense of corporate social responsibility rather than profit, as the broadcaster makes moves to “champion and celebrate creativity” during the coronavirus crisis. 

“As a free to air channel I hope that Sky Arts can help arts organisations and cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes across the UK, providing them with a platform to create and showcase their work to a broad audience

“With our renewed focus and mission to increase accessibility and participation across the arts, we want to hear from everyone with ideas for how we might be able to work together,” he added.

One of the channel’s most popular shows, Portrait Artist of the Year, will return with sitters including Sir Trevor McDonald, singer Ray BLK and Normal People actor Paul Mescal.

The broadcaster will also roll out its new Landmark series, which will see artists and local communities across the UK join forces to create the next great British landmark, as the channel responds to the current debate about the meaning of public monuments.

Sky Arts also announced a series of £30,000 bursaries involving leading cultural figures in a bid to support and mentor diverse and emerging new artists during the pandemic.

Culture minister Caroline Deanage welcomed the announcement as “fantastic news” for the UK’s creative industries. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has underlined just how important they are to our health and wellbeing. I am delighted that Sky Arts is opening up its vast array of programming to the nations’ living rooms, for us all to enjoy,” she said. 

It comes as the arts sector has taken a beating during the coronavirus crisis, with theatres, galleries, cinemas and venues forced to shutter for months. 

Ministers have warned that the Treasury’s £1.57bn financial support package for the sector last month will provide little reassurance in the long-term, as social distancing measures and fears of a second wave continue to weigh on bottom lines.

A new report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee released last week claimed the government has consistently failed to recognise the scale of the “existential threat” facing the UK’s cultural institutions during the pandemic. 

The report predicted that the total loss of income for theatres as a result of the pandemic could hit £630m, while the figure could be higher for other venues. 

The Music Venues Trust estimated that a whopping 93 per cent of grassroots music venues face permanent closure, “with 86 per cent of venues reporting that their core threat stems from an inability to meet commercial rent demands”.

Read more: Greggs swings to £65m loss during coronavirus crisis

Committee chair and Conservative MP Julian Knight added: “We are in danger, if we’re not careful, of becoming a bit of a cultural wasteland. 

“We are a world leader when it comes to culture and the damage that is being done … if it is not confidently and promptly addressed, could lead to widespread destruction of our cultural and sporting infrastructure.”

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