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banner Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
Smith unveils Culture Online
Tate Modern
Tate Modern - a candidate for Culture Online?
Culture Secretary Chris Smith has announced the creation of a new internet site that will allow people to access British culture at all levels.

He said Culture Online would be "the Channel 4 of the internet", giving people access to everything from virtual tours of the Shakespeare sites at Stratford-upon-Avon to the National Portrait Gallery.

The implications for schools are enormous, its potential for life-long learning limitless

Chris Smith
Under the plans, people with access to the internet will be able to explore the cream of the UK's national museum and gallery collections, not to mention films, music and stage performances - once the site is up and running.

And one of the main aims is to make Culture Online a key resource for schools.

Mr Smith said: "Imagine children studying Shakespeare getting the chance to ask the directors and actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company about their set text, to see rehearsals and performances, to practise their own verse speaking, even to do their own audition."

Initial funding will be in the region of 5m but the Department was already speaking to private investors with a view to increasing this to as much as 100m.

"It is bringing the chance to reach up, to learn, to stretch the mind, to every child and every home in the country."

"It could be for the new century what the Open University was to the sixties and Channel 4 was to the eighties."

Arts spending

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Smith also told Labour delegates that the government would provide 50m to fund adventure centres and provide projects to schools so that everyone could share in the "democracy of the outdoors".

He said he wanted to give "every child [the opportunity] to reach out beyond the concrete confines of the towns and cities".

And he said the government remained committed to introducing a right to roam in the British countryside for UK citizens, saying it would not "let the Lords deprive them of it".
Chris Smith
Smith: culture accessible for all

Mr Smith gave an upbeat account of the government's record, saying that under Labour there had been a rise of 60% increase in spending on the arts - when it had fallen in real terms under the Tories.

And he had tough words for those who said widening access to culture was dumbing down.

People arguing against access in the 21st century gave new meaning to the words "dumb and down", he said.

Three years had seen the opening of the new Tate in London, the Eden project in Cornwall and a new art gallery in Walsall - to name a few.

But he acknowledged that not everything had gone smoothly.

Lessons learned over Dome - Smith

He said that the government had not got it right over the Millennium Dome, but he added "we have all learned some serious lessons in the process".

And referring to the new bridge across the Thames that was shut down because it wobbled, he said to laughter: "We built the first bridge across the Thames in 100 years - and then we shut it down again."

But some of his warmest words were for the British Olympic team who have won more medals in Sydney than any of their predecessors in 50 years.

Mr Smith said: "Many congratulations and many thanks - you've done us proud."

Then in a video link former Olympian and silver medallist in the Los Angeles games Steve Cram addressed delegates.

Cram said that funding for sport should be across the board particularly where it encouraged children to stay of the streets and away from drugs.

Chris Smith said Labour was in the process of giving sports facilities back to schools - undoing the Tory policy of selling off playing fields.

Labour was also putting 1,000 sports co-ordinators into schools, he said.

Every lottery player had helped towards the UK's success, with the National Lottery providing 100m in help for British athletes.

And the funding would continue, he said.

"No cuts. No backsliding. The money will be there."

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17 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Ramblers rally for right to roam
25 Sep 00 | UK
The cost of gold
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