We tend not to make programmes about artists; we commission artists to make programmes about us. In other words, we ask artists (in the broad sense, i.e. singers, dancers, photographers etc. too) to author the films. And we don’t want to focus inwards on the arts world itself (profile of a dancer; documentary about putting on a play; survey of Renaissance painting), but to look outwards at the world - to take on subjects and themes that might appeal to a peak-time audience.
Our most successful arts programmes see artists tackle a subject, story or setting that might otherwise be commissioned as a 9pm or 10pm documentary series, but open up it up in a new way through their work. We want to take on challenging contemporary issues and immerse ourselves in fascinating places. See Grayson Perry’s recent series Rites of Passage which looked at how we mark key moments in our lives – birth, death and coming of age - or Akram Khan’s The Curry House Kid which looked at the immigrant experience and his experience of racism.
We want to immerse artists in exciting places and worlds – we would love access to places and people we don’t normally get to see. For instance, Lemn Sissay spent time creating poetry with children in care in Coventry for Superkids: Breaking Away from Care. Our Artist in Residence series featured Rachel McLean in a shopping centre, Bryony Kimmings in a sex clinic and Tai Shan Schierenberg in a football club. We want to push boundaries, break taboos and tackle challenging subjects in new ways. See 100 Vaginas.
We are also looking for big, broad pleasurable pieces using an artistic form to tackle topical issues. Our Gay Wedding: The Musical marked the legalisation of same sex marriage. We would love you to think big and aim for the most exciting people working in arts and culture, who viewers would love to watch.
Arts programmes that jump straight into the middle of the national conversation are part of a long Channel 4 tradition - think of Penny Woolcock’s version of The Death of Klinghoffer, Jeremy Deller’s and Mike Figgis’ Battle of Orgreave, and Steve McQueen’s Hunger - and we want to continue in this vein, working with the country’s most creative, subversive and imaginative talents. Please remember the Channel’s old motto: ‘Make trouble; do it first; inspire change’. That should be truer of our arts programmes than of anything else.
We also commission c.50 short-form films from artists and other creatives every year as part of our Random Acts strand. It operates on the same principle - films by artists not about them - but can be purer and more experimental in form. More detail on the Random Acts page of this site.