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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 17:49 GMT
Getting wired for culture
Chris Smith MP
Chris Smith wants electronic access to the arts
Culture Secretary Chris Smith has launched the government's new Culture Online website, calling it a "vision for Britain's cultural future".

When fully operational, the site will offer 24-hour access to musuems and national collections, streaming of live performances and interactive learning for both children and adults.

At Thursday's launch at London's Tate Modern gallery Chris Smith spoke of his vision for the website.

"It means that for the first time for many people our great standing collections, new exhibitions, or live performances of world class music or theatre will be accessible at home, at school or in public libraries," he said.

Culture Online site
Culture Online has a 5m budget
"The potential applications for Culture Online are truly exciting and are a tribute to the creative talents of our arts and cultural institutions."

He said the site could be a development "as revolutionary as the creation of the Open University and Channel 4 were in their day".

But he came under fire from Conservative culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth.

He said the site "hadn't been properly thought through".

"It is potentially on a very grand scale with substantial costs to the public - and there appears to be no adequate business plan," he added.

'Poor timing'

"We're very sceptical about the merits of Culture Online - it raises important issues about competition and intellectual property rights.

"The timing is poor, as dotcom companies don't have the resources to back such a project at the moment."

His criticisms echo comments by National Portrait Gallery Director Charles Saumarez Smith, who was reported as saying he was "sceptical" about such an untried project.

Culture Online has been set up with a 5 million budget and will be operational as a statutory corporation from early in 2002.

An early version of the website is already live.

The establishment of Culture Online is part of the Culture Bill currently in the House of Commons.

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