“It’s my view that it’s just as important to please ten people with something that’s very unusual, than ten million – because those ten people will go out and talk about it”
HiBROW is a website which aims to share the visual arts with a global audience through the medium of online video streaming, described by promotional material as a “ground-breaking online platform for the performing and visual arts”. In this instance, ‘visual arts’ encompasses a broad range of material from the arenas of art, music, theatre, literature, dance and cinema. The website was launched in January and boasts 150 videos to date, promising to add at least seven hours of new footage each month and has already received widespread critical acclaim from names such as The Stage and The Observer. PSFK.com called the website “a TED focussed on aesthetics” – showcasing an impressively varied array of footage from performances and rehearsals to interviews and gallery tours.
This month, viewers can watch Joanna Lumley and Simon Callow reading extracts from David Copperfield at Highgate Cemetery to celebrate Charles Dickens’ 200th anniversary, or follow a guided tour through the Tate St Ives’ exhibition of abstract art entitled ‘The Indiscipline of Painting’.
To find out more about the project, I spoke to acclaimed British film-maker and HiBROW founder Don Boyd. Boyd has been described by Alexander Walker as a “one-man film industry”: throughout his career he has worked with many big names from the creative industries, whose expertise proved to be a valuable resource when it came to setting up HiBROW. Don said that one of his principle aims was to free directors, actors, artists, composers and other professionals from what he calls the “editorial tyranny” of television, saying “You can spend months giving away your ideas, approaching the Tsars of broadcast television”.
While on many occasions, the small screen has served British actors, artists and film-makers well, broadcast television as a whole has an overwhelming tendency to “marginalise what the arts are all about”. This is largely due to the need to appeal to popular demand – a restriction which does not apply in the same way online. There is no longer the need to choose one item at the expense of another as the audience is free to browse the content that they wish to see. Don hopes to use online streaming to bring a wider variety of content to an audience of all ages, saying that he believes “Your generation deserves to see the internet, and technology such as smart TV, as a chance to be much more than broadcast television was when we were younger – the controlled and totalitarian offering that my generation had.”
Don told me that his first-hand experience of the frustration faced by many film-makers was the “personal catalyst” in the founding of HiBROW. Having been commissioned to make a film called ‘Hamlet in China’, and spent ten months working on the project, he was asked to suspend filming due to a lack of funds: “I was told the night before that there wasn’t enough money to make it, and I was asked to postpone. It had no other place to go – I thought, this is wrong. I’ve got to find an alternative.”
As well as this editorial freedom, online media is free from many of the restrictions imposed on the arts by other mediums. A play’s audience, for example, is limited by location and the number of people a theatre can accommodate; another huge step that HiBROW has taken is to widen its audience is to provide material free of charge – making the arts accessible to people who cannot afford to frequent the theatre or concert hall.
In fact, the most striking thing about HiBROW, quite apart from the range or sheer quantity of online content, is that all the content is completely free to access. This is no mean feat. Don Boyd was clear that he wants it to remain so, and hopes that by bringing in a wide audience, the site can encourage sponsorship: “We’ve accumulated a very interesting audience in a very short space of time… I hope that [sponsors and advertisers] will become interested over the next few months so that we can keep HiBROW free – essentially, they will fund it.”
“At the moment, journalism is the most powerful balance to political situations and regimes, and I believe the arts should be parallel to that”
Of course, the important question to ask when talking to one of the curators of such an impressive collection of work is this: why are the visual arts necessary? Don believes that the arts play an important role as a means through which to comment on the world around us. “At the moment, journalism is the most powerful balance to political situations and regimes, and I believe the arts should be parallel to that… The arts depend on journalism – but journalism has to be balanced by arts as a voice.” And it is true that art has historically been used to comment on current affairs, expose injustice and criticise political regimes.
Don’s vision for the next few months is to bring more international and local content to HiBROW, in order to make it “more comprehensive on an international level – so that we can begin to show the audience stuff that’s been made in Brazil, stuff from China, and so on – and then on a local level, stuff from Hull, Devon, and Leeds – by the way, there’s a huge indie scene in Leeds which I’m really excited about.”
Instead of simply providing content for individuals to browse, Don hopes that HiBROW can help to build a “strong cultural community” among its visitors: “I’d like to attract a large global audience that wants to talk to each other, exchange comments and things amongst themselves.” With funding for the arts being cut throughout the country, it is encouraging to find that there is a community of people worldwide who are passionate about keeping the visual arts alive.
To find out more, please visit www.hibrow.tv or click on the above images to watch the videos.
Images: HiBROW. Used with permission.