Monthly Archives: July 2009

Curve Leicester

Photographs : Will Pryce/Arcaid. Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects courtesy

The Arts Council of England has published its Assessment of the impact of the additional £100m plus it invested in theatres from 2003 -2007. Responding to a detailed report  by consultants Anne Millman and Jodi Myers,  Barbara Matthews, ACE’s Director of Theatre Strategy focuses on ‘issues we can do something about’.  These include those issues which have recurred over the decades – do something about touring, show leadership, improving the connection with others and sorting out some of the grants systems and processes.  And these  include the old chestnut of short term instrumental funding for various initiatives which arts organisations have complained about for years.

The detailed findings are divided into two parts. -what people in the business think and what the evidence shows.  The qualitative assessment celebrates the confidence and energy of the theatre sector in the light of the additional investment and the improvements in production values and work for young people.  It also points out, while the world of theatre has changed fairly radically over the last few years, with less and less of the work taking place in theatre buildings and with new collaborative forms,  the sector as a whole has not really embraced the digital age.

The quantitative assessment viewed in isolation makes scary reading:  A comparison of a subset of 74 theatres shows that, over the 4 years 02/03  to 06/07:

  • staff increased by over 50%
  • the number of performances increased by some 50% BUT
  • audiences overall were static at best, and remain lacking in diversity
  • therefore the average number attending each performance fell

The subsidy per attendance is not shown but will have increased by a significant margin, given that the costs per performance have increased significantly and less people have attended each performance.

The total costs of the investment include:

  • the additional £25m pa for the 4 years
  • grants for the arts
  • ‘managed funds’  -instrumental specific initiatives
  • capital projects (£303m for theatres)
  • stabilisation and recovery programmes

Plus the additional machinery, the audience development agencies and one off projects. And this is Arts Council investment – it does not include local authority subsidy.

A crude analysis of ‘value for money’ of the extra funding in itself  could not validate the success of the extra millions.

Moving forward though, we need to recognise the way that 21st theatres have evolved.  Its less about the simple acts of putting on performances in the theatre for audiences to attend. An A list theatre – a strategically significant and highly funded building based company, not only will be extending the form of the art but also the reach and collaboration with audiences.  Theatre takes place more and more outside of the auditorium.  Regional theatres have a rich and pivotal role to play within their communities.

The current measures of success for public investment in these theatres are based on the 20th century model of theatre, average attendance and the like.  In addition, public funders look for measures to demonstrate achievement of instrumental objectives, diversity etc.

We need to overhaul the system of metrics used to weigh success.  Our A list 21st century theatres need to be trusted to vision, plan and deliver the best theatre and creative experiences for their communities in and out of the buildings, collaboratively and digitally.

The extra millions have created a strong base of well funded, well staffed, confident, capable theatres in buildings fit for purpose, led by highly experienced and trained leaders.  Surely its time now to let them take the lead and determine their own metrics.

ACE commits to showing leadership and is consulting on its plans for a theatre strategy. Lets hope this includes light touch funding for the A list theatres, with maybe five years of funding provided on the basis of a set of agreed outcomes and measures of success agreed by all parties at the outset.



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.

nasmyth inventor of steam hammern by Hill and Adamson 1844 from NGS

Portrait of James Naysmith, Inventor of the Steam Hammer, by Robert Adamson and David Octavious Hill 1844 from the National Galleries of Scotland photostream on the Flickr Commons

The latest Skirmish in the Great Struggle for Control over Digitised Content is between London’s National Portrait Gallery and Wikipedia developer Derek Coetzee.  The NPG has challenged Coetze’s unauthorised use on Wikipedia of high resolution images of around 3000 paintings.  Although ostensibly the issues are about rights control, the skirmish raises some serious questions about how we get the best public benefit of our art work.

The first order issue is that all art works held in trust for the public should be as widely available and accessible as possible. All digital impressions of the original art work should be easily available and visibly promoted.

There are several second order issues which cloud focus on this central premise.  Some of these are technical.  In a global virtual world, the legal interpretation of  the ‘rights’ over art works  differs and indeed the difference between US and UK copyright legislation is one of the issues at stake in the NPG Wikipedia Skirmish.  Coetze cites Bridgeman v. Corel which suggests that photographs of public domain paintings do not carry any copyright, since the photograph does not add any new expression.  There is also the issue of breaching the database of NPG according to the full letter from NPG solicitors Farrer and Co uploaded by Coetze  on wikipedia.  NPG certainly has a case to make.

We can sympathise with our colleagues at the National Portrait Gallery.  The trustees not only have to ensure that the paintings are conserved for the benefit of the nation but also to ensure compliance with government and fiscal policy and legislation.  They are likely to be suffering from the ongoing challenges to their economic sustainability arising from the recession, with likely further reductions of the public subsidy upon which they depend.  And they are likely committed to maximising access using all means especially the internet.  Digitisation of the collection is not only in itself a very great and costly task but also involves intricate navigation through the tangle of individual, national and international rights issues.

But trying to hold back the tide of collaborative appreciation of art is both counter intuitive and counter productive.  The more people can appreciate art the better and the higher quality the images the better.  The wider the circulation of the images the more likely people are to want to see the real thing.  And the chances of the NPG creating a sustainable income stream from exploitation of its digital images are next to nothing.

Many of us believe that all creative content should be common, including Christian Engtrom of   Sweden’s Pirate Party.   Some of us also advocate using monies raised from rights to fund experimentation and aspirational creative content, in the way that the  Eady levy did for cinema last century. This would mean using royalty incomes raised from the digitisation of creative content produced for past platforms to fund future creative content and social innovation.

The current complex arrangements for using digital images of public works stymie most of us who want to promote art, artists and our public collections on our blogs.  The NPG tells us how easy it is to apply but it wont be instant -and so is no use for the real time blogger.   So we end up using poorer quality images taken by individuals with their own digital cameras and posting them under the Creative Commons license on Flickr (while they may or may not have the rights to do so) , use images without permission, or use them from the Commons stream on Flickr, as above. This stream include images which have no known copyright restrictions from a group of museums from around the world keen to promote and share where they can including the Smithsonian and the National Galleries of Scotland.