We have a system of 20th century cultural institutions developed to meet the conditions of a century whose technological, economic, political and social conditions were very different from those of today.
And its up to all of us in the arts – that includes artists, arts organisations and all of us who work in intermediate agencies – like arts councils and other agencies – to look at what we have built at this time and challenge, is it what we want and need? Things are changing, including changes to some public sector agencies. How can we best support the design and delivery of these changes?
Changes between ‘then’ and ‘now’ for the arts
Lets take 1976 as a year to compare with ‘now’ as far as the arts and supporting structures are concerned. And lets define ‘now’ as tomorrow. Because today is already almost over. The speed of change taking place in our society is faster than we could ever have imagined. We are increasingly aware of and engaged in the global issues of climate change and the economy. The internet and digital technology have revolutionised the way we communicate, create, influence and trade internationally. And at the same time, we are becoming more local and more specialised.
The changes that are taking place as a result of digital technology and the acceleration of new communication through Web 2, 3 and beyond are the most significant for the arts and the creative industries. In particular, we have new rules of creative engagement and new forms of interactive creative experiences. And we, the arts community, are able to talk to everybody in the arts through social media.
Of course the phrase ‘creative industries’ hadn’t been invented in 1976, although most but not all of the sectors now included in that term (DCMS) were in existence.
In 1976 the arts, as far as they were defined by public agencies, were mostly visual art, theatre, music, dance and literature and these were supported by the Arts Councils. Film, design and crafts were supported by single councils. These councils are amongst the intermediate agencies on which I am going to focus on this week.
In 1976, as is the case ‘now’, broadcasting was regulated by the Government and cultural institutions including museums, libraries and art galleries were supported and local and national government.
During 1976 I worked at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow and then went to the City University London.
This is what it was like..
In 1976, in the analogue age..
There was a lot less machinery around the arts. There were fewer subsidised arts organisations and fewer cultural professionals.
I worked at the Citizens’ Theatre which produced world class theatre, attracted full houses for an international repetoire, toured internationally, attracted schools from all over Scotland and was socially inclusive. All our seats were 50p. Neither the policy nor activities were pre-determined by the policies of funders. The other great local and national arts organisations of the time included those set up by writers and artists – the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow and the Traverse in Edinburgh and again the SAC responded supportively to them. Some artists and writers were supported through grants directly through the arts councils.
At the Citz, I ran the communications hub – that is, the manual telephone switchboard through which all calls had to be made (no direct dialling let alone mobile phones)
I typed press releases on ‘skins’ on an electric typewriter – stencils on which I had to type before slapping them on to the drum of the duplicating machine
The lighting board wasn’t computerised
Posters were printed on litho presses
Tickets were sold through a glass booth, 3 part stubs and sales managed through a system involving colouring pencils and brown envelopes
Pay was in cash
Public subsidy was provided by the Scottish Arts Council which was part of the Arts Council of Great Britain and its division of the funding came directly from 105 Piccadilly.
Glasgow City Council also subvented the Citz – despite various protests from citizens about us producing ‘Shakespeare in Drag’. The decision to fund came from the Director of Finance and local councillors. There were no arts officers, cultural policy committees, strategies etc.
In some ways things were more difficult and laborious – me and the duplicating machine for example. But in some way they were much simpler and clearer. In terms of the relationship between the arts organisation and the government, it was simple and the landscape was uncluttered.
In 1976 I also went to the City University London and let me introduce Joan and Harry here.
Harry McCann was the Finance Director for the Scottish Arts Council. When I was selected for Post Graduate City University Diploma in Arts Administration City University, I wrote (on my electric typewriter, then posted) to him and asked for a bursary. He responded, I met him and he awarded me what was the princely sum of £2000 for my studies. When I had the cheek to go back to him to support my trip to Paris, he agreed and I was able to take my first trip abroad and by plane (I know, this is analogue days) to visit the great cultural institutions of Paris. Harry remains for me the best of all arts council officers I ever met. Direct and supportive, tough when required. Didnt profess to know a great deal about the arts but was there to administer funding to those who did.
Likewise Joan, the Training Officer for ACGB and ran this function and the committee on which I was the student rep.
Public agencies, including ACGB, were not steeped in management science. They had no computers but neither did they have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.
It was oh so simple then .
There were 20 of us on the City University Post Grad course in 1976, 20 people from the UK and the commonwealth and practical experience in the arts was a pre-requisite. That would be all the people thought required to be trained at this level. We studied cultural policy, management science, event management, accounts, marketing, sales – the lot and were sent forth to run the cultural agencies, theatre, and galleries of the UK, Canada and Australia.
We were not sent forth to multiply, although something happened afterwards which caused a proliferation of professionals.
That was the analogue age.
‘Now’ the rules of creative engagement have changed because of digital technology and the convergence of content and technology. David Hockney uses a digital paintbrush now. People participate in the arts and culture through their computers, games consoles or mobile phones. Computer games and interactive technology are the most culturally, socially and economically important new entrants in the arts and creative industries.
‘Now’ the political landscape has changed with devolved administrations in the nations, and regional devolution.
In Scotland specifically we have a devolved administration and also the Scottish Government has entered into a Single Outcome Agreement with local authorities.
‘Now’, global competitiveness and collaboration are more important than ever
‘Now’ we have a rich but possibly cluttered cultural landscape
With the need to deliver new priorities including access and audience development, we have seen the proliferation not only of activities, audiences and venues but also the rise and rise of the intermediary. For example, in 1976 we had only the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. Now we a fabulous array of Edinburgh festivals delivering cultural, international and economic impact. And we also have the effective Festivals Edinburgh. But that organisation, which I believe to be successful and delivering additionality for the Festivals, is one of many additional intermediary organisations. They all need staff, systems, resources, monitoring, evaluation, boards, committees etc and are interlinked with the staff, systems, resources etc of local authorites, arts council,other pubic agencies etc etc. They are part of the ever-proliferating professional machinery we have built for ourselves.
Because the creation of new intermediaries rarely results in any reduction in the pre-existing agencies. For example, has the creation of a web of audience development agencies,( again many of these do, I believe, provide a good service,) resulted in less staff at the arts councils? Have the costs of these agencies, including the costs of monitoring them from local authorities and arts councils, been outweighed by the benefits in terms of additional audiences?
Now we have the advantages of a highly skilled arts community. But we also have the machinery and structures of the last century before things changed. And more, we have all the additional intermediate agencies as well. We have cultural committees, cultural policy at local, regional and national level. We have arts officers, creative partnership officers, audience development agencies, regional cultural consortia, arts development agencies, voluntary arts networks, visual arts, theatre, literature, traditional arts forums. We also have some extremely significant infrastructure including key regional venues and creative hubs. All of these are paid for from the tax revenues that you and I generate.
Our public agencies are required to comply with an increasingly demanding set of compliance outputs, from Freedom of Information to Data Protection, and encouraged to comply with the management science of today which inevitably means that more and more time and resources have to be spent on managing their organisations.
‘Now’ we have hundreds of graduates each year of FE and HE institutions and leadership institutes, studying creative industries and arts management, cultural policy, arts management etc. We have an academy of cultural policy academics not connected with the practical and we have practical managers not connected with policy.
I expect that the additional resources invested in training cultural managers well outweighs the additional resources put into training artists during this time.
Then, in 1976, there was a lot less machinery around the arts. There were fewer subsidised arts organisations, fewer cultural professionals and less cultural paraphenalia.
There is no longitudinal study to measure the benefits of the increased professionalism of the arts. One of those benefits of all the professionalism, commitment and policies has to be the great venues we have around the country and some great projects and programmes.
Do more people and a wider range of people participate?
That will be difficult to establish, as much of the activity in 1976 was in non subsidised venues.
Are we happy with the infrastructure we have created?
Does it deliver value for money?
Have we reached such a stage of maturity in our cultural infrastructure and structures that its time for a major rethink?
Is it time to dismantle a 20th century system and some of the heavy machinery and instead use the communication tools, sciences and systems of ‘now’?