Why cultural institutions need to innovate and not just sustain to support art and creative experiences through the recession

 This week some of us had a chance to discuss the impact of the recession on the arts and culture at the CPPS seminar and do so through several new lenses. 

Firstly, the short term ‘phew’ factor, the specific budget implication for DCMS and the Arts Council of England which, with a £4m cut is less than many feared.  

Secondly, the revelations not only about the size of the UK’ structural budget deficit but the IFS observation that

whoever takes office in the general election after next will still have to find another £45 billion a year in today’s money by the end of their parliament to eliminate this deficit, from tax increases and cuts in non-investment spending

The combined impact of this on local government as well as national and devolved administrations has yet to be computed – but it will certainly mean less public subsidy for the arts and culture for some time.

Thirdly, we have the analysis from Arts and Business that  global recession has already caused considerable damage to the arts.

Fourthly, ACE has done some preliminary research about the likely impacts of recession and we can learn more from the impact already in Ireland where customer behaviour has changed significantly.

Although we cant predict exactly if this is a tempest or a hurricane, the combined impact of these forces is not going to blow over. 

ACE’s new Sustain fund has £40m to support arts organisations survive the recession  and

to help them maintain their artistic, financial and organisational viability during the recession and to implement essential changes to ensure their long term sustainability.

The key to this is the proviso that essential changes must be implemented.

The challenge that we have here is to be innovative enough in the changes we design.  Arts organisations are amongst the most conservative of businesses around.  And almost every arts council scheme to support change over the last 15 years- advancement, stabilisation etc have ended up including a lot of  elastoplast jobs. Arts organisations are largely driven to preserve their business models and seek additional resources to to feed the model.  And are brilliant at dressing this up in all sorts of ways to attract money.

We need to take radical steps now, not just to batten down the hatches and try and sit this out.  At the seminar there was much discussion about the need to innovate radically and for us all to sweat our communal assets.  This means deconstructing some of the machinery we have built, reducing the size of our cultural intermediaries, collaborating on the delivery of services.  We need to come out of our silos and 20th century structures to collaborate on solutions in groups.  This could include national cultural agencies contracting out some services and time-limited programmes to other parts of our infrastructure, including local authorities and creative hubs and SMEs; arts organisations choosing to merge and create smaller machinery to service more creative experiences.

And stop procrastinating.

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3 comments
  1. DrJoel said:

    The necessary transformation will be catalysed by ordinary people, and their elected representatives, who ask:

    Why 90% of Arts Council England funding is closed to application, even as large sections of the population remain relatively excluded;

    Why admin/overheads gobble up as much as 50p in every ACE pound – 10 p within ACE and 40 p within its regularly funded organisations.

    People and politicians should continue to speak up and hold ACE accountable:

    What is ACE doing to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts among the majority of the population who remain untouched by its efforts?

    What is ACE doing to enable better art by the many?

    What is it doing to spread opportunity?

    The hard-pressed bus driver in Worksop, and her MP, would like to know what they are getting in return for their contributions to ACE. These contributions are extracted by force of taxation.

    In the case of Sport, nobody would accept tax contributions being concentrated on subsidising Premier League football whilst starving the development and improvement of grassroots talent.

    In the case of Education, nobody would accept tax contributions being concentrated on Eton and Harrow whilst starving ordinary schools up and down the country.

    In the case of the NHS, nobody would accept tax contributions being concentrated on a few excellent private hospitals whilst starving ordinary hospitals up and down the country.

    Tax-funded arts are no exception. It is small comfort to the bus driver in Worksop that her taxes are providing so-called “great art” to well-heeled sections among Londoners. The bus driver is more interested in developing and improving the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts by herself, her family and friends. Who knows, she might be one of the “mute inglorious Miltons” or turn out to be another van Gogh. In any case, her talent deserves opportunity.

    ACE deserves applause for being open to change, but there is a long way to go. ACE gets no help from its smokescreen of “great art”.

    No pyramid can stand on its apex. The Simon Bolivar orchestra, from Venezuela, demonstrates vividly that “better art by the many” is the route to excellence. Spread opportunity.

    “Great art” by the few is part of the problem. Better art by the many is the solution.

    Yes, white elephants are skilled at asserting their needs. But it is the people of Britain who need to be fed first. Transformation will come, and will come sooner thanks to ordinary people speaking out and contacting their MPs.

  2. I noticed that this is not the first time at all that you write about this topic. Why have you chosen it again?
    p.s. Year One is already on the Internet and you can watch it for free.

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