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21st c cultural landscape discussion

Bricks and Blocks from Steve Rhode's flickr photostream

There are some great boards governing arts organisations in the UK. Engaged, expert, connected to their communities, robust and committed, the directors do it for love and from a sense of civic responsibility.  Its certainly not for financial gain, as the members of boards of charities are in the main unpaid, and its rarely for recognition, with only the chairs of top (drawer) arts organisations regularly receiving honours.  But for all the successes, most of the discussion about governance in the arts world is critical.  Individual executives complain about lack of support and understanding from board members and the governance of subsidised arts organisations is a vexed area.  Much of this is due to the widespread adoption of a standard, bespoke model for arts governance , created several decades ago as mechanisms whereby organisations could comply with fiduciary and legal requirements, avoid corporation tax and receive arts council and other funding. 

But one size does not fit all.  All the focus on the weaknesses of the current system tends to ignore not only the examples where the present model is absolutely fit for purpose, but also diverse altnerative governance structures which exist in the arts.  Peers in the MMM Revolution programme coming together to discuss governance at Newcastle’s Live Theatre were variously involved in shareholding companies, or in Community Interest Companies as well as the standard model.  In an arts ecology where collaboration and distributed leadership have taken firm root and where new financing, practice, resources and community relationships are emerging, its time to take a closer look at governance.  In particular, its time to recognise that in a diverse ecology, there are several valid species of arts governance models which will best suit diverse artistic enterprises.

The test needs to be, what is the best governance structure and system in each case to support artistic and organisational mission and to be truly accountable to  beneficiaries?  The consideration of beneficiaries is key.  In a subsidised arts organisation receiving public money, the beneficiaries will include the  general public and  artists.  But can the current prevalent governance systems in the subsidised arts support effective accountability to the public and artists ?

There are many types of structures and  organisations in the arts,  from those with tight and clear links with government to those where there is little relationship with public funding agencies. At each end of the spectrum , there is relative clarity about accountability.  A national gallery or one of Scotland’s national performing companies, for example, is directly accountable to government with directions and targets to meet.  A small community arts organisation with a mixed economy, volunteers and strong community interaction, will be very visible in its community and focussed on delivering benefits for its public.  Its the large number of arts council and subsidised organisations in the middle where there is less clarity.

The standard model of a subsidised arts organisation in the UK looks something like this.  Constituted as  charity, the boards will typically include as directors  members of the public with skills and expertise in arts, community, management, marketing, fundraising, financial, legal and other specific skills. They may also include specific representatives of their local authority and of key user groups like amateur societies.  The governing documents for boards will enshrine both charitable objectives and powers as well as operating rules.  Boards will do their best to govern with care, dligence and skill, providing support and challenge for executives, hiring and firing, advocating, and balancing compliance and risk.

But unlike shareholding and membership organisations and charities, most arts organisations are governed by boards whose members do not directly or wholly represent shareholders or members. The board directors may be openly recruited but there can be a lack of clarity about accountability.  By law, most board directors are accountable only to themselves as the directors will be the only members of the company.  This lack of wider accountability  can serve to weaken their perceived legitimacy. While some boards regard their responsibilities as being to all stakeholders, others take a narrower view, often focussing on the highest profile twin forces of the executive leadership and the major investor – the arts council.

Questioning the current prevailing models of governance in the arts  is not confined to the UK. Diane Ragsdale, speaking at the MMM Revolution event, described some of the pitfalls endemic in the US model of governance of arts organisations (give, get or get off). One danger she observed was that US boards tend to focus on preserving the existing structures rather than focussing on achieving artistic mission – a focus which in itself might mean leaving behind existing structures, like a building.   Another pitfall she identified was the undue influence on artistic programmes exerted by board members who are major donors.

He who pays the piper always influences the tune.  In the UK, the piper is unlikely to be a major donor but more likely to be funders representing the public interest and /or state policy,  in particular the arts council and local authorities representing the public interest.    But while the private donor in the US and the local authority in the UK will often be directly represented on the board, stating their claim, their priorities and sometimes their taste, the arts council will not.  While some arts councils sometimes send observers to board meetings, the general policy is to leave governance to the board. Arts council board members or officers never serve as full board directors.  How much clearer it would be if, within an overriding commitment to act corporately to achieve the mission of the organisation,  the arts council had shares on the board representing its interest, along with other shareholders like local authorities, commercial operators, user groups and so on.

Governance structures which include arts councils as shareholders?   Creative Community Companies? Operating without a board at all?  Its time to unblock the one size fits all model and legitmise alternatives more fit for purpose.

Purple balloons at the Royal Albert Hall

The privileges and responsibilities of artistic directors of theatres and arts venues traditionally range wide, from determining artistic policy and creative content to injecting artistic taste to aspects of business and operations. Many a director has chosen the precise shade of colour to paint the foyer or the toilets, in the belief that a venue’s artistic identity must be controlled tightly and within a finely tuned sensibility, like a boutique hotel or chef-led restaurant.  This artisitically -driven business model, where putting on the right work in the right way with the right colour of paint in the foyer is deemed to drive the overall success of the operation, attracting audiences and cash.  Amongst the greatest proponents of this model were the triumvirate at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow in the 1970s, where a high style attracted not only increased audiences but increased public investments and where Philip Prowse chose the precise shade of red in the foyer.

But does having such a distinct personality benefit today’s performing arts venues?

The Auditoriums Meet Conference in Dublin last week convened the leaders and designers of some of the world’s latest landmark performance auditoria. Some were brand new venues like the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin and the Curve in Leicester, both created during times of economic buoyancy and both of which have had to work had to carve out a place in the market. And then there were the Scandinavians, dedicated to the pursuit of acoustic and environmental quality regardless, it seems, of cost or time, like  the world’s most expensive concert hall, the Koncerthuset  in Copenhagen and its Norwegian neighbour the Kilden Performing Arts Centre in Kristiansand.

But more of the venues were transformations, not only of bricks and mortar, but also a transformation of the historic top down relationship with the audience.   Whereas 20th century venues put on work, marketed it to the audiences and then, when they came, sold them a drink, 21st century venues convene with their communities, audiences, affiliates and commercial partners and together create experiences.

Like Cinderella’s glittering carriage magicked from a pumpkin, Dublin’s 02  is an astonishing reinvention of the 9000 seat concert venue which not only accommodates with style and comfort audiences and artists for the central performance but also pays as much attention to other parts of the experience. Mike Adamson O2’s CEO was obsessive about getting the right lighting to create ambience in the various zones of the O2, from the bars where pints can be pulled in 20 seconds, to the VIP Audi club   and Premium,.  And Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, transformed from the Hummingbird Centre in the wake of an explosion of new venues, to become a multicultural arts centre with cup holders built into the seats. The overall experience is serviced through the $20 themed drink and dinner offer and a recognition that audiences will be live streaming, taking photos, as well as checking into Foursquare and Facebook during the performance.

This attention to all parts of the customer experience in attending an event is critical to the success of performance auditoria in the 21st century.  The dimensions of the ‘experience’ includes not only the real but the virtual, and not only during the concert but before and after, and not only the individual experience but the experience in relation to others, before, during after and in the hall, the club,  the bar, the car park and on facebook, foursquare and gowalla .

Deeper affiliations and corporate partnerships create not only a greater use of lighting, like O2 blue, but genuinely collaborative partnerships of mutual benefit. Naming rights are the flavour of the decade, with the Grand Canal about to become the Bord Gáis Theatre, the Cloudy Bay bar in the Albert Hall as the chillout bar of SW7 and the O2 and Sony Centre demonstrating that its easy to switch from one name to another.

The methods and tools for engaging with audiences have similarly been turned upside down. The Smirnoff Night Exhange  segments its audiences simply – Are you a Paparazzi or a Poser?  Fanshake uses social media to generate masses of’fans’ in short spaces of time.

Copenhagen Living Lab  goes much deeper, applying an anthropological model to the live experience, analysing individual archetypes and their behaviours with reference to the work on liminality of Van Gennep and then Turner. These anthropologists described the very specific behaviours of communities involved in  ‘liminoid’ experiences, a term used to refer to the collective reflexion and almost transcendental  experience of the audience at  the live performance. Copenhagen Living Lab is concerned less with the philosophy but more with what an adoption of the defined behaviours can do for sales. The audience is involved in four phases: preparation, separation (from ordinary social life);  margin or limen (meaning threshold), when subjects of ritual fall into a limbo between their past and present modes of daily existence; and  re-aggregation when they are ritually returned to secular or mundane life.

While old school arts marketing stops when the ticket is sold, new audience engagement recognises and embraces the power of individual audience members, considers their motivations – posers or paparazzi, social or culture vulture – and upsells and encourages referalls at all stages in the ritual of performance.

A 21st century engagement with the audience generates fans and masses of sale. Its all a long way from painting the front of house areas.

synchonised swimming bejing 2008

Those of us in the arts and cultural community are in the vanguard of change as we tip over from the noughties into the next decade. The climactic changes of the first decade of the new millennium swept us up, sucked us in and tossed us about in tempests, new waves and whirlwinds creating massive new opportunities. The internet and technological advances in communication have changed fundamentally our engagement in creative experiences and our ability to collaborate. New platforms and interactivity have unleashed more multifaceted creative experiences and enterprises. Against this,  the collapse of the holy cow of ‘financial services’ and the sudden shrinkage of our economy has not only severely reduced the cash in public coffers for years to come but has forced a fundamental reappraisal of the value of  the arts, culture and creativity by the politicians whom we elected to lead us.

And this has led inexorably to tuggings of the rugs underneath the arts and cultural edifices which we have built up over the last 50 years.  Some of the tugs on the rugs have been gentle, with a raft of discretionary projects across the British Isles where major cultural institutions sit round the table and look at sharing services.  Some have been full frontal assaults, like the Irish  An Bord Snip report targeting Culture Ireland and the Irish Film Board.  This, along with other cuts to the arts was seen off by a brilliantly mobilised National Campaign for the Arts which, unlike the UK permanent organisation, was a collaborative campaign involving artists speaking from the heart and armed by evidence of economic impact, politicians and Facebook .   But more attacks are to come.  With political power in the balance, politicians are vying to be the toughest on the public sector, on a competitive crusade to ‘simplify’ the public sector, reduce the number of quangos, cut any pay and benefits seen to be excessive in the current climes and to make sure that our cash gets into front line services.

As we head into 2010, we may expect a Conservative government in the UK which is likely, according to Ed Vaizey, to target the Arts Council of England for at the very least a further reduction in its costs. ACE has already begun to dismantle its substantial regional machinery and the BFI and UK Film Council are already looking to merge in order to achieve the ‘efficiencies’ sought by the current government.  More than that, strategists recognise that its time to use the opportunities of web collaboration, and to reduce the costs and size of complex machinery and streamline support to artists, creative enterprises and participants and consumers. This could mean smaller cross – sectoral agencies, like Creative Scotland.  And in England it could mean a drastic reduction or even dismantling of regional intermediaries.

At the turn of the century the  English regional cultural machinery was at its peak, with regional screen agencies, regional arts councils, multiple local authorities, regional development agencies as well as audience development agencies and the like, all populated by public servants and paid for by the public purse.  And often working together through regional cultural consortia, also staffed by public servants, and the like. Those were in the past days of plenty and before the internet was harnessed for collaboration.  So its logical that  collaboration across the arts, culture and creative industries might be supported more effectively -cheaper on administration and more on the arts – this decade.  Its all a bit uncomfortable for those who could change things as they are the public servants with public sector terms and conditions who have the most to lose.

But things have changed big time over the last 30 years.  30 years ago the arts were thought of narrowly, as traditional, top down even elitist activities for the few.  Three decades of investment in activity, infrastructure and research and advocacy work have changed not only the perception but the reality. State support for the arts, culture and creativity is understood by all political parties in the British Isles as being an essential investment in our cultural identity, creative lives, community cohesion and in our global competitiveness.

State support for the arts, culture and creativity is understood by all political parties in the British Isles as being an essential investment in our cultural identity, creative lives, community cohesion and in our global competitiveness. So its time to stop splashing and take  serious action to best to support art, artists and creative experiences in this internet age.

Perhaps its about more effective agencies – a single screen agency, a smaller arts council. Intermediaries between government policy and the sector are required to make judgements, administer funds, champion the sector and research, develop and innovate.

In Scotland, the new agency Creative Scotland has the potential to be fit for purpose for 2010 and beyond with a remit across the arts, culture and creative industries, a broker, advisor, champion and investor, leaner than its two antecedent agencies Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen.  Its had a long gestation and the benefit of many influencing its final form as  governments, culture ministers, boards, civil servants and directors have changed.  Assuming a safe passage through the Scottish Parliament, a board and CEO can be appointed at last and then change can begin.

Creative Scotland, arts councils and other cultural intermediaries are all faced with similar challenges and opportunities, to get more support to the sector at less cost, to be more strategic and fleeter of foot and to collaborate continuously with other partners – and all in the context of politicians determined to reduce the cost of the public sector.  So why not make our cultural intermediaries even leaner and contract out more and more to the independent sector or regional or local agencies, creative organisations or social enterprises?  Like Channel 4 commissioning programmes or like the licence to Creative and Cultural Skills to provide strategic leadership and support in their sector?

That  would mean even less of us with final salary pensions and other benefits, but more transparency and accountability,  better value for  tax payers and more in tune with the majority of arts, culture and creative workers out there.

from Andrew Niddrie's Craigmillar Flickr stream

Over the last few weeks governments in Scotland, Wales and Ireland have declared commitment to the value of the arts,  culture and creative industries in recovery from recession, whether as a tonic for dented spirits, an antidote to an unbalanced life, to strengthen  national cultural identity. ..or for international competitiveness.

The rallying call, particularly in Ireland, is expressed in the passionate tongues of art and culture more than in the lexicon of the more contemporary newspeak  of  the creative economy, smart economy and innovation on which many a paper has been written and on which a glut of autumn conferences will proclaim and chatter.

But winning the hearts and minds of national politicians is only one part of the equation, particularly in the UK where local authorities as a block represent the largest funders of the arts and culture, far larger than the arts councils, and are major providers as well of museums, libraries, theatres and art centres: owning buildings, supplying services and employing staff.

In Scotland, the arts community has been focussed on national structures of late, concerned to make sure  that the new single agency Creative Scotland will be better than the Scottish Arts Council without any loss of funding for specific art forms.

In the meantime, local authorities are having to deal with accelerating  and medium to  long term reductions in resources and having to make cuts  in services and reductions in staff.  The arts and culture are not a statutory function.  In Scotland, the Single Outcome Agreements with Scottish Government do not signpost arts and culture as first order services.  So champions for the arts – artists, creative enterprises and their supporters need to get vocal at local level.

There tends to be a clustering of creative professionals  in metropolitan areas, cities and some rural areas, as immortalised by Richard Florida and these are active, connected and articulate.  Dublin Central Arts workers are becoming more and more political in their campaigning.  In Glasgow, where Culture and Sport Glasgow has an annual budget of  £96m (compare this with maybe £60m for Creative Scotland), audiences and participants exceeding 13m and a commensurately expert team  to boot, the benefits of culture are being evidenced in terms of proven impact on health and wellbeing, demonstrating a politic approach to establishing local value.

But what is happening outside of creative cities and rural areas?  In great swathes of Scotland, the arts and creative community is ever changing and without a local focus.   Arts and creative people are natural nomads, moving to where the pastures are fertile.  I am as guilty as the next creative professional, living in Fife for the meantime but without any professional roots in my community.  Creative professionals who live in my area work in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dundee running some of our major institutions, or write, make music and art all over the world.

We need creative hubs in all parts of Scotland, where there is a focus for the arts and creative communities. And we all need to get local.

Curve Leicester

Photographs : Will Pryce/Arcaid. Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects courtesy e-architect.co.uk

The Arts Council of England has published its Assessment of the impact of the additional £100m plus it invested in theatres from 2003 -2007. Responding to a detailed report  by consultants Anne Millman and Jodi Myers,  Barbara Matthews, ACE’s Director of Theatre Strategy focuses on ‘issues we can do something about’.  These include those issues which have recurred over the decades – do something about touring, show leadership, improving the connection with others and sorting out some of the grants systems and processes.  And these  include the old chestnut of short term instrumental funding for various initiatives which arts organisations have complained about for years.

The detailed findings are divided into two parts. -what people in the business think and what the evidence shows.  The qualitative assessment celebrates the confidence and energy of the theatre sector in the light of the additional investment and the improvements in production values and work for young people.  It also points out, while the world of theatre has changed fairly radically over the last few years, with less and less of the work taking place in theatre buildings and with new collaborative forms,  the sector as a whole has not really embraced the digital age.

The quantitative assessment viewed in isolation makes scary reading:  A comparison of a subset of 74 theatres shows that, over the 4 years 02/03  to 06/07:

  • staff increased by over 50%
  • the number of performances increased by some 50% BUT
  • audiences overall were static at best, and remain lacking in diversity
  • therefore the average number attending each performance fell

The subsidy per attendance is not shown but will have increased by a significant margin, given that the costs per performance have increased significantly and less people have attended each performance.

The total costs of the investment include:

  • the additional £25m pa for the 4 years
  • grants for the arts
  • ‘managed funds’  -instrumental specific initiatives
  • capital projects (£303m for theatres)
  • stabilisation and recovery programmes

Plus the additional machinery, the audience development agencies and one off projects. And this is Arts Council investment – it does not include local authority subsidy.

A crude analysis of ‘value for money’ of the extra funding in itself  could not validate the success of the extra millions.

Moving forward though, we need to recognise the way that 21st theatres have evolved.  Its less about the simple acts of putting on performances in the theatre for audiences to attend. An A list theatre – a strategically significant and highly funded building based company, not only will be extending the form of the art but also the reach and collaboration with audiences.  Theatre takes place more and more outside of the auditorium.  Regional theatres have a rich and pivotal role to play within their communities.

The current measures of success for public investment in these theatres are based on the 20th century model of theatre, average attendance and the like.  In addition, public funders look for measures to demonstrate achievement of instrumental objectives, diversity etc.

We need to overhaul the system of metrics used to weigh success.  Our A list 21st century theatres need to be trusted to vision, plan and deliver the best theatre and creative experiences for their communities in and out of the buildings, collaboratively and digitally.

The extra millions have created a strong base of well funded, well staffed, confident, capable theatres in buildings fit for purpose, led by highly experienced and trained leaders.  Surely its time now to let them take the lead and determine their own metrics.

ACE commits to showing leadership and is consulting on its plans for a theatre strategy. Lets hope this includes light touch funding for the A list theatres, with maybe five years of funding provided on the basis of a set of agreed outcomes and measures of success agreed by all parties at the outset.

Parma Farnesiano

The time has come to dismantle some of the machinery we have created in the UK and in Ireland to support our arts infrastructure. We need to face some unpalatable truths about  the impact of the way that the arts and cultural venues have been subsidised over the last period. Change is demanded by our current economic situation as well as exponential changes in the way we can collaborate and communicate through the internet.  The subsidised arts world is amongst the most resistant to change.  We have created a proliferation of machinery which is convoluted and which is preventing the flow of creative experiences in some areas, with money tied up in buildings and overheads and energy tied up in administrative processes.

In Ireland now artists are debating this challenge. In  an article in the Irish Times today , Sean Love asks artists for their insights on how to lead Ireland ‘out of the abyss’ taking as a starting point Seamus Heaney: “We are disposed to believe that the work of artists helps to create our future . . . that the effort of creative individuals can promote a new order of understanding in the common mind.”

The filmmaker Alan Gilsenan highlights the importance of art and artists in social, political and idealogical change.

“I think we imagine our world out of our past, our hopes, our dreams, out of our mythologies. When we look back to the origins of the state, to the 1916 Proclamation, that rebellion was a work of art. As a military rebellion it was a disaster, but they were primarily artists making statements. They knew the value of symbols. What seemed to happen was that people like Pearse, McDonagh (minor writers with a revolutionary aspiration) and people like Yeats (major artists with a minor interest in politics) looked at our past and our cultural inheritance, and they invented this idea. The Ireland that we live in was imagined by our artists, and those artists included the signatories of the Proclamation.

To a large degree, we achieved that future, at least in practical terms. If you think of what people in the early 20th century were hoping for, a lot of that came true – confidence (veering into over-confidence, but that’s another story), prosperity, autonomy, a sense of ourselves in the world, a sense that we are the equal of any nation.

Unfortunately, for all the progress we made, a lot of that progress was one dimensional.

Meanwhile, at the Abbey Theatre, Tom Murphy’s brilliant play, the Last Days of  Reluctant Tryant powerfully and dramatically tells the story of that single pursuit of prosperity and its devastating effects. This is great art with a great playwright writing the story before we knew it was a story, in the way that great playwrights do.

But how many people will see this play?  Not enough. Its a big show and is currently planned to play only in Dublin.  It should be playing throughout Ireland, with debate around it. But in recent years the  Abbey has tended to stay in Dublin and not to tour and theatre provision in Ireland has been more diverse, with the Arts Council funding a rich mix of companies, big and small.

This week the Arts Council published its discussion document Examining new ways to fund the production and presentation of theatre in which it fundamentally challenges the impact of its own increased investment in theatre over the last 4 years – in the context of the major cuts to its grant in the current recession.

The available resources are neither sufficient to meet adequately the requirements of those in receipt of funding nor to provide for potential new artists and practitioners.

The increased investment in theatre production and for the programming of local venues has not translated into a corresponding increase in the availability of professional theatre for regional venues. This fundamental disconnection must be addressed, and maybe a redistribution of how resources are provided for the production and presentation of theatre is required

It points out that unpalatable truth which many of us resist because it threatens our jobs and our ability to make the work we want to, paid for by the state.  Years of increased investment in the arts haven’t necessarily created better work for more audiences.  We can also add this: All the years of investment in audience development, marketing professionals and agencies, in the UK more than in Ireland,  have neither expanded the market for theatre nor diversified the audience.

The vast majority of English adults have no encounters with theatre, street arts or circus; and those who do attend tend to do so relatively infrequently. Also those taking part in amateur theatre represent a very small minority .. there are many persisting socio-demographic inequalities in the levels of engagement.

Arts Council of England Taking Part Survey findings

So its time to challenge what, how much and how theatre is subsidised.    Increasing supply does not increase demand. Increased investment has not increased audiences. Increased investment has increased the quality of theatre in pockets – the National Theatre of Scotland being a shining example – but it has not delivered a sustained improvement across the board.

We need our theatre to be stimulating and engaging, loved and attended!  And that may mean LESS and not more.  This means challenging historical patterns of subsidy.  In the UK, much of this is driven by theatre buildings, built in the 20th and 19th centuries and preserved by the state.  In Ireland, the history is different and the investment over the last four years in production companies is what is being challenged.

We need to support our theatre artists to create great work which contributes to the national conversation and stimulates ideas and debate. That great work should be available across the nation.

And here is another unpalatable truth. For most audiences, brand and reputation are important and in small nations, the national theatre brand is particularly important.  The challenge we have is how to invest the state’s resources for maximum benefit. The Arts Council in Ireland offers some suggestions and there will be more around dismantling the theatre machinery and facing the unpalatable truths about how we have invested over the next months.

Colleges may be thought to be more conservative institutions than arts organisations, but this week’s report that three Edinburgh further education colleges are moving along a path towards merger has turned the tables.

It is shocking but not surprising that subsidised arts organisations have not taken the initiative to remodel and regroup through mergers to become fitter through the recession.   Subsidised arts organisations tend to batten down the hatches and use all endeavours to preserve their existing activity and business model in times of economic or other change.   They then look to the public funders to tell them to change, reward their change, or financially support any consideration and design of change.  And they don’t tend to take the initiative to change or remodel, relinquishing that responsibility to the public funders. 

This is a pity, because there are some great creative and managerial skills in arts organisations which could be applied to regrouping and merging to create 21st century creative enterprises.  These enterprises should have a strong core with a flexible body able to contract and expand according to need and priorities. 

Arts organisations should be looking ahead instead of burying their heads in the sand.  There will be less public subsidy around over the next few years.  It’s not just about this year’s largely static settlements from arts councils and local authorities.  During the next few years not only will the central funding be further reduced but it will bite harder.  Taken together with the reduction in private investment and the reduced spending power of audiences, this is a serious situation which should not be ignored.  Arts organisations should innovate.

Currently, most arts organisations are trying to sit out the recession by spending less and less on the programme in order to pay the staff and the electricity bills.  

Those of us not protected by subsidy – creative and other businesses – have to change in the process of  evolution.  The independent television sector is in a continuous process of consolidation – as our arts organisations should.   Businesses and business models are being deconstructed and reformed at an accelerating rate responding not only to the economic crisis but to the impact of the internet in the ways that we communicate, create and trade. The public sector itself is being ‘simplified’ by governments. But subsidised arts organisations are last in line.

I have been involved in several investigations of mergers with arts organisations – always at the behest of the funders.  In most cases, the arts companies were so resistant that the business case could not stack up.  The core argument against mergers was always around artistic integrity, uniqueness or, to put in another way, about ego.  Artistic Directors would take up adversarial positions and this would drive the arguments.  The Boards would support the Artistic Directors rather than talk, board to board, about what would be best for the community, efficiency etc.  And would always see themselves as having to defend their position against the funders.

There could be another round of this coming up as intermediary cultural agencies are faced with declining resources.

Those of us with knowledge and not fixed to a single organisation or ego can challenge arts organisations who are in similar businesses, providing similar services with shared audiences in a defined community, for example:

  • How can you each justify a single box office and marketing operation?
  • How can you justify the cost of the time it takes to coordinate with the other publicly funded  arts organisations, forums, agencies and other itermediaries when those resources could be used to create more art for more people if you were to consolidate?

While arts organisations are generally resistant to change they show great ability to remodel when the chips are down.  The chips are coming down fast chaps. Talk to your colleagues.  Think the unthinkable. Deconstruct. Regroup. Maybe Merge.  Take the initiative – don’t wait for the public agencies to do it for you.

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