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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.

(from a longer presentation)

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.

The NT live season streamed its second show last night.  All’s Wells that Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays which is unlikely to be seen by many. Firstly, its a ‘ problem play’ because of its genre defying characteristics and idiosyncracies.  And secondly, the production resources needed to solve the problem – more than met in Marianne Elliot’s wonderful, grim and fantastic fairytale production with very fine performances, a wonderful design and all the creative and technical resources afforded by the National Theatre – are scarcely available outside the NT, RSC, Globe etc.  It simply doesn’t stack up for a regional theatre to produce this play.

So last night the audience for this show was seated not only in the Olivier Theatre but in 70 cinemas throughout Britain. Most of us were seeing a show to which we would not have access otherwise and that is a great thing.  The quality of the experience is fantastic – as an audience you are in the room with the performers, live but also have the advantages of being in great and moving seats, up close.  And, for those of us who live far away from London, we haven’t spent a fortune or increased our carbon footprint.  So it is certainly the way forward for work which our regional theatres won’t or can’t produce.

But its only the beginning.  NT Live is a spearhead for change in theatre programming and participation throughout the UK and for cultural planning.

Taking All’s Well that Ends Well as an example – its just the beginning for other plays by local writers and for participative projects  on What Happens Next or Be careful what you wish for or Why that could never happen in Perth or Why do clever women want men who behave badly etc etc

The next issue to sort out is venues.  We need creative hubs throughout the land, neutral, enabling spaces where live screenings, performances and participative activities can all mingle and mash up with the local communities.  Like the Dukes in Lancaster. The Dukes remodelled itself two years ago, leaving behind the sausage machine of traditional producing theatre to become more open, mixed, varied and connected with Lancaster and Lancashire.  Yesterday the Dukes programme included their own production of  Of Mice and Men, Live Theatre’s Motherland, and a full creative learning programme so couldn’t accomodate the  screening of NT Live in their modest multiplex. But they did screen Phedre and will do more. The  audiences at the Dukes happily browse and buy in all the spaces and are treated to the same standards of ‘customer care’  – or good old Front of House management no matter what the event.

This is in contrast to the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh which is a fine little cinema – not a creative hub.  Many of us found the queues at the box office frustrating – because only one sales assistant  was on duty, I guess because for movies you dont have all to be there at the beginning and you filter in during the ads.  But the audience at the Cameo last night was a theatre audience and we wanted to be on time!  The queues for the loo were just like at old theatres, so that was familiar.  And the Front of House presence was not the friendly Front of House Manager which most theatres provide, but some very assertive market researchers determining our demographic details.

As the NT live stream flows, we need the venues, the interface with local partners and other advances like letting all the audiences communicate with each other.  Sure we can tweet.  But we should also applaud.

Bring it on.

Although public appointments in the arts have attracted attention of late, its worth remembering that the great majority of cultural governance in the UK is of a different order. Just about all arts organisations – theatres, arts centres, orchestras, festivals and so on, are charities, or limited companies with charitable status.  They are voluntary organisations and require to be governed by charity trustees and to comply with regulations, OSCR in Scotland. But the regime for serving as a charitable arts trustee is much less clear cut than serving as a Public Appointee, where the Seven Principles of Public Life apply, along with Registers of Interest and the like.

Charities are much more of a mixed bag.  Each organisation, required to comply with the law, will have its own constitution, memorandum and articles of association and/or other legal frameworks. Most arts organisations were established as charities in the days before social enterprise companies and Community Interest Companies existed, as the only type of organisation which would allow them to receive grants and avoid corporation tax.  Most of them are still charities because they can get rate relief on their premises.

There are some 23280 charities in Scotland of which 598 have the arts as one of their objects. These arts charities are encouraged to operate according to guidance provided by arts councils and their agencies.

Care Diligence and Skill, a handbook for arts boards in Scotland describes in detail the system, the requirements, the expectations and gives direct advice to arts board members assuming a low level of experience and understanding.  Versioned by previous SAC directors, the handbook is a useful bible particularly for new arts boards and trustees.  The book lays out the idiosyncracies and differences between arts boards and businesses, and arts boards and other charities.  It gives advice on a range of issues including recruitment, running board meetings, selecting members, legal and fiscal responsibilities, role and remit of the board etc.  There are are also several training courses to encourage adoption of this system, run  by other intermediaries such as Arts and Business.

But none of this advice is compulsory and its up to each board to behave and operate as it sees fit, and in accordance with its own constitution.  Take, for example, the agreed good practice around length of service.  Public appointments are offered at a maximum of two terms of four years.  In Care Diligence and Skill, a total length of service of six years is proposed.  But there are quite a few boards where the Chair and some board members have served for a longer period than that.

So is it worth the effort and resources of creating and disseminating bespoke advice and training, when there is free advice and affordable generic training available, for example on SCVO website?

That depends on how important it is to maintain the current regime and the style and behaviours of arts boards.  Because the arrangements for arts boards differ from others.

Where most arts boards differ from other charities, as well as businesses, is in their lack of accountability to members or shareholders.  In most arts organisations, the directors of the company are congruent with the members, and so the directors are only accountable to themselves, and of course, the funders who are significant stakeholders. Those arts boards who are elected by, and accountable to, a membership, are in the minority.

This contrasts with, for example, a health charity, where the members pay their subscriptions and vote for the trustees.  It also contrasts with private companies, where there are shareholders.

The danger of this is that some arts boards view themselves as primarily part of the (arts council) system as opposed to responsible to their community for the arts activity or facilities.

The most effective arts boards I know nowadays have three characteristics:

1. they have a board which is skilled and expert, particularly with a strong and experienced chair

2. the boards include representatives of the communities which the arts organisation serves; this could be local politicians, artists, education partners etc.  The inclusion of community and partners goes against custom and practice of recent years which has tended to narrow down the constituencies on boards, to make them easier to manage

3. they have clear and contemporary terms of reference which set out the roles and responsibilities of the board and enshrines its commitment to refreshment and renewal of skills – with a maximum term of office

The question is, is the current system, which keeps the arts in check and retains the status quo, what we need for the 21st century?  We seem to have created a coterie of bespoke limited companies with charitable status, populated by some talented and hardworking board members.

But in a fast changing world, with less and less public sector resources, we need our arts boards to be proactive, looking ahead and innovating.  We need them to take responsibility for the long term success of their facility or activity, to maximise their embedding into their community and to be  involved in as much partnerships and entrepreneurial activity as is appropriate. Perhaps even remodelling and merging.

Part of that look ahead for individual boards should include a fundamental review of the corporate structures and governance arrangements.

Maybe a Community Interest Company (CIC) or another type of Social Enterprise Company would better than a charity.  These vehicles are more suited to wider community ownership and to income generation.

But its horses for courses.  In some cases  maybe its even best to retain the status quo and for people to stay in their seats.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmmuggianu/

The news that Glasgow’s Lighthouse has gone into administration is sad but not surprising.  The Centre’s business model is one which worked a few years ago and which the Centre claimed to be a successful and transferable model.   But its dependency on generating substantial, but variable, income both from the Scottish government to deliver particular programmes and also from commercial retail and venue hires exposed it to risk.  And the model appears not to have been able to adapt to reduced income.

The Lighthouse was a bespoke model which has played an important role in promoting design and architecture in Scotland, and in delivering some programmes.  It also breathed life into Charles Rennie MacIntosh’s 1895 Herald Building and is just one of several Lottery funded capital projects where all the stakeholders held hands and took a leap of faith.    Feasibility studies and business plans at the turn of the century were optimistic.  In their  projections for income and attendance as well as the capital and running costs of new buildings, many of these plans turned out to be unrealistic.   Funders and organisations conspired to look only on the bright side, with no license for a more prudent view,  because no one would admit that many of these facilities required more public subsidy, an unpalatable truth which was swept under the carpet –  a microcosm of the high risk and optimistic approach taken in financial services.  High profile projects to hit the rocks early on were the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield and more recently the Public in West Bromwich has had to remodel and refinance its original plans to survive.

Three factors which have conspired to cause the crash are:

  1. Business Model: With a business model predicated on very little core subsidy, the crew of the Lighthouse would always have to box clever to survive.  This probably would mean a small core operation, to avoid the current situation when reportedly the permanent staff number 57 and cost £1.5m in 2008 according to the last published accounts.
  1. Role Definition: The Lighthouse has also struggled to define and assert its role in the changing context of devolved Scotland.   For the Lighthouse, there are two other recent or recently refined agencies which are closer to Government and which could be seen to occupy territory similar to that stated by the Lighthouse: “To be a leading body for the promotion of architecture, design and the creative industries, locally, nationally and internationally by engaging people of all ages through a creative exhibition, education and business programme.”  Or “the National Centre for Architecture, Design and the City.”   These are the long awaited Creative Scotland and its definition as “the national public body for the arts and culture embracing the creative industries” and the refocused Architecture and Design Scotland, ‘the national design champion’.
  1. Building block: The Lighthouse solved the problem of how to find a use for a building important to Glasgow’s and Scotland’s architectural heritage and presumably appeared the best option when an appraisal was undertaken.  But at around £.5m in the costs of running the venue before any activity, this could be the final nail in the coffin.

Although the situation is grave, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  People care about the Lighthouse and value its core activities and several are offering suggestions as to its future.  Culture Minister Mike Russell has stated in today’s Herald

The Scottish Government will enter into constructive discussions with the administrator and with Glasgow City Council to find a way to take forward the many good things that The Lighthouse has achieved and to ensure that it and its talented staff have a continuing influence on the quality of architecture and design in Scotland

But when the phoenix rises, it needs to be 21st century cultural organisation which has a clear role and mission complementary to others and with a business model which is able to adapt to our fast moving world.

reuse2

The process of reduction of 20th century cultural institutions and dismantling of the machinery intensified last week with the publication of the McCarthy report in Ireland declaring open season on challenges to the cultural public sector. Two weeks ago the Arts Council of England announced its proposals to cut 131 staff.  Last week  DCMS forewarned of  the £100m ‘black hole’ in its budget likely to result in mothballing of various capital projects including  Tate Modern, British Museum and BFI. “Let the elite’s building funds dry up. Outside, cultural Britain is flourishingwrote Simons Jenkins in the Guardian.    Comments on the piece by that well known group of Guardian readers – educated, cultured, liberal, leftie etc – more or less all agreed with him.

Over in Ireland the ‘An Bord Snip’ report by Colm McCarthy, signalled the lancing of the unaffordable public sector in Ireland.  McCarthy is looking for savings of some €5.3bn across the board and in the arts and creative industries this includes the abolishment of the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland as well as reductions in the amount of funding to the Arts Council.  There is also a recommendation to consider the abolishment of the Department of Arts Sports and Tourism in the context of severe reductions in the funding and activities of that Department and as a means to generate additional savings in the cost of Government administration.

Of course the bluntness of the proposals has been greeted by an outcry from those in the arts and creative industries.  At the opening of the new Druid Theatre in Galway Festival last week, Gary Hynes, director of Druid Theatre and Pat Moylan, Chair of the Arts Council spoke up for the arts and the cultural and economic value they generate.  In all the hullaballoo, the cause most worth fighting for is having a Culture Minister at the Cabinet table.  Its less about the money, more about the influence.

No one can be unrealistic about the current economic crisis and the need to reduce public expenditure.  We need to ensure that we preserve the artistic capability to survive the recession. But this does not mean retaining the status quo, either in terms of the arts we subsidise or in terms of the machinery and organisations we retain.

The world has changed with the global economic crisis and climate change.  And is changing fast with the development of the internet.  20th century arts and culture can no longer be regarded as the only creative industries worthy of support.  The creative industries as a sector  includes interactive and digital media and this is where there is the greatest potential for growth, innovation and cultural, social and economic benefit.  Digital media and internet communication has already inspired innovative Iphone Apps, games, web drama and other open source art, photography and music products, services and artefacts.  The platforms encourage personalised experiences and collaboration which are not dependent on travelling to a city to an event at a particular time, which may be free and which are close to carbon neutral.  Interactive games is a sector where the UK and Scotland in particular is a global leader and where public support can deliver significant economic impact.

The internet has also revolutionised the way we can operate businesses – including the cultural agencies which are currently under threat. Many of the costs associated with running these agencies accrue from managing the complex administration systems required pre today’s technological capabilities.

We need to reduce the number, size and cost of public agencies and need to make sure that these public agencies operate expertly, swiftly and efficiently to make strategic interventions across the arts and creative industries, working in partnership with economic agencies.  This is what is proposed for Creative Scotland.

We need to support artists, to nurture talent and to retain core cultural organisations, as centres of excellence in an art form, like national theatres, or as regional creative hubs, providing neutral enabling spaces for creative experiences.  The agencies should delegate or contract out activity and programmes to them instead of running them themselves. We need to get as much of the resources as possible into the arts and creative experiences and reduce the cost of the machinery to do this.

We will need to lose many workers in the arts and culture.  Artists, actors, musicians, writers, dancers, craftspeople, technicians, designers, directors are by nature both freelance and adaptive.  The salaried staff who will be made redundant as the cultural machinery is dismantled are a mixed bag of professionals.  Most of them, administrators, marketers, managers, are passionate about the arts and have a creative and positive approach to work.  While some will stay employed, society could benefit from their skills in other ways.  Most have transferable skills could improve the performance of many other public and private organisations with their creativity and enthusiasm.  Most could also contribute towards creative experiences in their own communities through volunteering in schools and community organisations, as we can presume less and less professional community arts activity and more need to get involved with schools   Many could mentor others. A benefit of a shrinking economy could be a higher valuing of non professionalised arts activities.

Some should transfer their skills to the new creative industries but working not for the ‘boulder’ organisations of the 20th century but as ‘pebbles’, small and independent (as defined by Charles Leadbetter).  Those people are the more entrepreneurial types. Some few will be lucky enough to be made redundant by the public sector and could use their redundancy pay to set up and some are fortunate enough to be supported by independent means.  Others need support in setting up as a small enterprise.  The Arts Council of England and the New Deal of the Mind published last week a report Do it yourself: cultural and creative self-employment in hard times which makes the case for DPW to set up a success to the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of the 80s which supported the establishment of a very significant body of sustainable creative industries.  That’s just what we need now, for many of our young artists and creative practitioners and also for the not so young cultural support worker.

And what of the new streamlined public agencies?  We need the best leaders and creative professionals in these agencies, experts in the arts, culture and creative industries.  There used to be a tradition (and still is in some rare examples) where our top creative people transferred in and out of the cultural agencies and to and from the coalface as artists or entrepreneurs.  We should have fixed term contracts in these agencies just as we do for boards and for artistic directors.

The dismantling of 20th century cultural machinery is inevitable but lets get the best of benefits from our creative workers in new settings.

Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper in Phèdre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper in Phèdre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

The success of the  live screening of the National Theatre’s Phedre this week in 70 cinemas through NT  Live has sent up a flare signalling the future for theatre and how it can  become both exponentially more democratically accessible and available and also more economically viable.

That most esteemed of theatre critics, Michael Billington, was at the Chelsea Cinema for the premiere and his review in The Guardian surely will startle the doubters and traditionalists of the theatre world  who believe that being in the auditorium is the only place for the play.

He writes:

I came to a startling conclusion: the production worked even better in the cinema than it did in the Lyttelton. And the implications of that are enormous.

Once the show started, I and the rest of the audience sat spellbound. For a start, Bob Crowley’s set, with its sweeping platform and vast open sky, looked beautiful: I could even see, as I couldn’t in the theatre, how the palace walls were pocked and weathered by time. Robin Lough, using five multi-video cameras, also directed Hytner’s production impeccably for the screen: the cameras took us inside the action, allowed us to see faces in close-up and framed characters against the blue cyclorama, investing them with an epic quality.

So what does the success of this screen Phèdre tell us? Partly that a cinema audience can be as moved as people sitting in the theatre: everyone applauded loudly at the curtain call just as if they were in the Lyttelton. But the main lesson is that a theatre production can be made democratically available to a mass audience without any loss of quality: indeed because the camera can mix close-up and long shot and because we can all hear easily, the aesthetic impact may actually be enhanced. For generations we have been told that the theatre is elitist. Last night it was shown that a supposedly difficult classical tragedy can speak simultaneously to people across the globe. The National already has plans to broadcast three more plays over the next year. But my hunch is that this is only the beginning of a revolution in making theatre available in ways of which we had never dreamed.

With the advent of 3D screening, the potential for further extending the availability and intensity of the theatrical experience will be increased.  Live screening will revolutionise the business model for theatre and make it more economically viable for those theatre companies able to produce great work and then sell more tickets than available for the performance in the theatre.

The ramifications for our current theatre infrastructure could be profound.  If we can all have access to world class national and top flight theatre in our comfortable cinemas at low cost, will we be still be willing to take the risk attending our local theatres where not only will the offer be less reliable but we have to queue for the loos?

Will the public funders, confronted by the constraints of their less public sector resources over the next period, be willing to continue to subsidise some of the companies and venues which they have supported in more prosperous times?

We need to recognise the revolution in theatre making and embrace the potential to make great theatre available to all of us.  We need more local, collaborative and community theatre projects and we also need to provide venues which will house the live screenings of great theatre, now and in the 3D future.  This means that communities should have creative hubs, neutral centres for creative experiences including screenings, debates and discourse, performances and socialising, a 21st century refreshments of the civic theatre of the 20th century.

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