There is a huge wealth of skills and ability amongst arts board members, matched by some brilliant cultural leaders at the helm of our organisations but the system simply does not support them to adapt their organisations during turbulent times.
The current system of arts funding and cultural governance suspends our arts organisations in some sort of aspic, resisting change and discouraging risk taking. We have created arts organisations which are not robust enough to lead change through setting them up as interconnecting components of public administration. Most are charities but, unlike charities which are accountable to their members, most of these charities have directors who are also the only members, thereby never having the legitimacy of democratic election. Being unpaid as well as suffering from a democratic deficit, they often do not take long term responsibility and neither do they take risk. They are kept in check through a bespoke system for arts boards governance and investment is made in publications, training and the like. There is a push for increased diversity on boards, but the reality is that this a pretty elite system with board members almost always well established in the community and the system being pretty inaccessible to newcomers.
Why don’t arts organisations get together and merge? Because the current artistic directors don’t want to, and the boards neither want to upset the directors nor put their heads above the parapet nor get their sleeves rolled up.
Why don’t some of the high experienced business people and entrepreneurs on boards apply their skills to generate income for the organisation? Because that is not their role, as charity trustees, and their ideas must pass the taste test of their arts executives.
Tomorrow’s successful local or regional arts organisation will be embedded in its community, be dynamic, risk taking and take a high level of responsibility for success.
It will maximise local entrepreneurial skills and community engagement. The charity model does not support this and so a new model would be to develop Creative Community Companies, cultural Community Interest Companies. CICs are limited companies, with special additional features, created for the use of people who want to conduct a business or other activity for community benefit, and not purely for private advantage. This is achieved by a “community interest test” and “asset lock”, which ensure that the CIC is established for community purposes and the assets and profits are dedicated to these purposes.
A CIC can be set up with a mixture of members, representative and individual. The key thing is that all the members are working within a structure which exists to service a particular community.
The Creative Community Company would be set up to serve the interests of all those in a local arts and culture and creative community – creative practitioners, artists, participants. The CCC could govern all the infrastructure or some of it, accepting that its job was to provide the best creative and cultural experiences and products for its community and that is likely to involve continually evolving and changing.
Board directors would be accountable to their community of interest and would include executive directors – paid for their professional services and taking full responsibility. An executive Chair, rooted in a community, could lead change and provide robust and dynamic leadership for the organisation long term. Local authorities, enterprise agencies, universities could all be members and would serve therefore without any of that awkward conflict of interest that can exist in the current system.
We could harness the skills and enthusiasm of some of the volunteers currently serving on board in more satisfying ways - as cultural champions in schools, for example. With fewer and small professional boards, the focus for the staff, artists and volunteers can be on creating and supporting the activity and less on convoluted governance matters.
The CIC vehicle is used by Culture and Sport Glasgow and Watershed’s Ished amongst several others, and the model offers an opportunity to change the dynamic of art organisations and to add both entrepreneurialism and community ownership. As our communities become ever more diverse and in the future maybe more so with migrant populations, the CCC model can be designed to be genuinely porous supporting creative hubs which offer neutral space for all collaborations.
And the Creative Community Company can adapt to change. Who knows what will emerge this century or even this month as a creative interactive experience, or what Spotify, Google, Apple and people we don’t know yet will do?
During the current public sector expenditure reduction, he arts have argued well their case to national governments. But with the pressure on local authorities, its only a matter of time before parts of the system begin to collapse. The Creative Community Company can be the phoenix for future growth.