Day 5: 21st century strategic agencies – characteristics

milleniumbrdige1

We need a support network to create the best opportunities and best conditions possible at any one time given the starting points of the artistic and creative talent we have and the context in which we are operating. The particular role of a national intermediate agency is to mediate between government policy and the needs of the arts and creative sector.

 

So, what would a 21st century national cultural agency look like?

 

How should it operate to provide the best service given the changed circumstances?

 

  1. It should be more open than shut. Its focus should be on creating opportunity, enabling flow and movement and creating the conditions for creative development and growth.  Although it will manage a funding system, which inevitably means restrictions and regulation, this should not be the defining feature. It should be an expert strategic agency which operates a funding system, not a funding body.
  2. It should work across networks and not layers.  It should be a connector and a broker of connections
  3. It should be a champion for the arts and creative sector influencing all aspects of society.
  4. It needs to be an expert body.  Its defining skills should be specialisms across the arts and creative sector but these should not be organised in silos.
  5.  It should be a fleet, flexible and adaptive body, with a 360% perspective.  To retain this flexibility, it should be as small as possible, commissioning and contracting time-limited services and programmes from others.These others should include, amongst others, local authorities, creative hubs and other core cultural infrastructure, creative SMEs and other agencies.

 This way, all of us can collaborate on providing a network of support, sharing our expertise and knowledge.

Advertisements
3 comments
  1. DrJoel said:

    No cultural agency can predict what the creative mind of an artist will do next, nor should it attempt to prescribe what artists should do next.

    Creating art is not like setting the national curriculum or controlling foot and mouth disease. “Success” in those cases is clearly defined.

    By contrast, in the arts, not even the artists know what might or should come next. The arts are like a garden of weeds, not a flower bed to be planned and tended by “experts”. Good thing too. That is how van Gogh, Bartok, Orwell, and other exquisite “plants” arose.

    A “puppeteer” body in the arts is a spine-chilling prospect: deciding who should be connected to whom, what should be commissioned etc. The prevailing practice of keeping most arts budgets closed to application, from artists, seems perverse.

    It is artists who create the artistic value that lights up lives. The “machinery” is there only to fetch and carry for artists.

    And nobody should be excluded from the opportunity to improve their own knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts: not lower income groups, not minorities, not the disabled. If there is relative exclusion today, it is the fault of bureaucracies who fancied their own “expertise”.

    The people elect representatives and entrust them with hard-earned taxes. The people’s representatives in turn entrust the arts bureaucracies with these taxes, expecting Public Goods in return. Arts Education and Artistic Innovation are such Public Goods. These come from artists, not bureaucracies.

    Let bureaucrats be good bureaucrats, ensuring transparent administration, fairness, equity and a good standard of service to the people and their representatives. Woe to us all if they fancy themselves as experts or fail to rise above cronyism.

    More room for creativity, greater respect for artists, more opportunity for more people, less room for “expertise”, less room for puppeteering. In short, spread opportunity: better art by the many. Who knows how many “mute, inglorious Miltons” lurk in the population?

  2. “No cultural agency can predict what the creative mind of an artist will do next, nor should it attempt to prescribe what artists should do next.”

    Absolutely – so some artists should be funded directly by the state for who they are, what they do and not what they deliver

    “A “puppeteer” body in the arts is a spine-chilling prospect”

    There is a difference between pulling the strings and holding the threads. Connections need to be made to promote the arts and creative sector outside of the arts world.

    “Let bureaucrats be good bureaucrats, ensuring transparent administration, fairness, equity and a good standard of service to the people and their representatives”
    Yes but without expertise how wil this be delivered?

    “It is artists who create the artistic value that lights up lives. The “machinery” is there only to fetch and carry for artists.”
    Yes the machinery is there to support the artists and the artists and audience engagement

    • DrJoel said:

      Creating opportunity in the arts, with taxpayers’ money, is about spreading opportunity: since talent cannot be presumed absent from any section of the population. The rain should fall on all the weeds, because nobody can tell where tomorrow’s admired plants will spring up. Nobody can say where the van Goghs or Bartoks of tomorrow are lurking, or even what kind of art they might produce.

      By contrast, the current scenario is like tending a vase of cut flowers (or even a white elephant) whilst allowing the garden to wither. It is all very well for the cut flowers, and for the small, privileged minority who can afford entry fees to admire them: but this system is effectively a barrier for the exclusion of talent. It has created a vicious cycle of under-investment in large sections of the population (including those on low incomes, minorities, the disabled) leading to exclusion, leading to further under-investment in the excluded. This is bad for the excluded, but also bad for the arts and the creative economy.

      This vicious cycle can be broken by paying closer attention to the first Object of ACE’s Royal Charter:

      “To develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts”.

      Spreading opportunity is the essence of tax-funded arts. Better art by the many is an empowering vision. It also gives elected representatives a rationale for seeking further budgetary allocations.

      Bureaucrats need to be experts in administration, not pretend to be experts in the arts. They need to know how to translate the first Object into workable plans of action, and how to monitor, evaluate and report outcomes so that the case for further funding becomes clear. How to eliminate the effects of cronyism (privileged “connections” for the few), to increase the proportion of funding which reaches artists, to increase the proportion of funding which is open to application, to fulfill statutory duties, to account for expenditure, to blow the whistle when public priorities are not being met, etc.

      Nobody will excuse them if they are incompetent administrators, or if they fail to respect the Royal Charter or the policies and priorities set out by elected representatives of taxpayers. Nobody believes that they know better than artists how to create art, or that their opinions on art are worth any more than those of the next person.

      Instead, let them be trustworthy bureaucrats, so that artists can aim constantly higher. The problems start when bureaucrats begin to fancy their own expertise in the arts, and start pursuing schemes to turn a wonderfully surprising garden of weeds into a tame flowerbed. The van Goghs of today and tomorrow are in the weeds, not in the flowerbeds.

      Water the weeds, spread opportunity, report outcomes. That is the task of arts bureaucrats who rely on taxpayers’ support. The rest can do whatever they like.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: