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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rethinking the Arts in England

From Peter Stark

(keen eyed Commonty readers will have been following a series of posts about the brilliant work that Peter Stark is doing to re-address the balance between Arts funding spent in London and in the rest of England......he has now reache the end of this work an the final report will be available - here

On 25th February - symbolically the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Jennie Lee's ground-breaking White Paper, A policy for the Arts - the first steps, GPS Culture - Christopher Gordon, David Powell and Peter Stark - will close their two year self-funded research programme into the arts in England. Their final report - A New Destination for the Arts. Between a RoCC and a Hard Place - is published today.

The report's recommendations build on the conclusions of earlier work that 'Arts Council England had continued to demonstrate a systemic inability to reform itself without external intervention. The forces of custom, practice and vested interest were just too strong'. The recommendations include:

Rebalancing funding. Just Do it!
Whilst longer term opportunities to rebalance arts funding are investigated, the report presents new analysis to show that officially projected increases in Lottery income between levels of the last and next five years mean that the delivery of a 'fair share' per capita level of Lottery spend outside London (an additional £100m per annum) can be achieved without a cash reduction to existing levels in London.

Beyond geographic and social rebalancing we need to address imbalances of scale
Up to date analysis shows that 64% of all of the funds made available from universal taxation to the arts and culture in England goes to only 19 organisations - the 'national' performing arts companies, galleries and museums and library.  Key questions requiring address include:
What is a 'National' Company - UK wide, British or English and what should we ask of them?
What are the current audience and visitor patterns at these institutions as between International, EU, UK and the English regions (including on line access)?
What is the pattern of visits and ticket purchase by the most frequent users? Where are they based?

How can we achieve consistency in the relationship between the Arts Council and Local Government?
Local Authorities in London contribute at far lower levels to Arts Council funded organisations in their areas (6%) than is the case outside London (32%). A new concordat for the arts is needed between the nation and the capital city - and one that recognises that there are two or more Londons to be addressed in such discussions.

What the Arts Council says and what the Arts Council does

The Arts Council partly argues its case for funding based on the power of the arts to deliver cultural, social, educational and economic benefits. How could the funds provided by taxpayers and Lottery players be better aligned with the delivery of these benefits? How can they best be delivered - in partnership - through devolved structures in England (as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)?

Understanding what is happening at the grass roots and acting to protect infrastructure
In focusing on Local Authority funding for its own 'National Portfolio' of organisations, the Arts Council has ignored a deeper crisis in the collapse of Local Authority support for the local cultural infrastructure that develops talent, supports active arts participation and promotes individual and community wellbeing. What is happening at the grass roots? What new models are emerging? How can they be supported?
The need for a new, more flexible and responsive structure of funding programmes

A model of funding that only offers either a once-every-three years opportunity to receive revenue support or a one-in-two to one-in-three chance of success at 'once off project support' (after advice and recommendation) from Grants for the Arts does not engage with the realities of artists’ practice or the needs of emerging companies. There are better ways. What might they be?

Coda and Conclusion
At the end we return to our beginning with a note of advice for any incoming Secretary of State. In 1965, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, personally intervened with the Prime Minister to argue against Jennie Lee's recommendations for greater support to the regions and partnerships with local authorities (which he felt belonged more properly to Government's 'industrial and social policies’) and for the modification of the White Paper in favour of 'the great national institutions'. The Prime Minister and his redoubtable Arts Minister stood firm and he did not succeed. Their successors will need to do so again.

The authors add:

"Now is the time for those who share a belief in a fairer, more honest, and more effective cultural policy for England to come forward, speak out loud and refuse any longer to accept that 'it can’t be done'.  Change in national policy has to happen and it can happen now, fifty years on from the last democratically driven effort.

New policy and programmes can be framed to invest in the broadest possible participative base and in extraordinary creative talent as it emerges – from wherever in the country and from whatever social or cultural backgrounds. This new emphasis can complement and will underpin continued substantial investment in the work of artists and in the national cultural infrastructure in London and in the regions, seeking to achieve excellence and benchmarked against the highest international standards.

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