Why the suspension of funding from Lloyds TSB strikes at the foundations of the arts in Scotland

The collapse and reforming of the banking system has had obvious effects on the arts, most of them blows.  Taking the most sweeping view, the banks can be scapegoated for  our worship of money, greed, imprudence and blamed now for the recession and for the medium to long term reductions in public expenditure which we will need to make. And then for the decline in corporate and individual sponsorship and giving, which makes up a significant part of the economy for arts and cultural institutions and where 70% of London institutions report a drop in income.  Some of the trusts and foundations which have supported our arts have also had to call a halt to funding while investment income is low.

But this week’s news that Lloyds TSB Foundation Scotland is suspending its grant-making activities for the foreseeable future has sent shock waves through Scotland. The Foundation has been  more than a supporter, its has enabled activity throughout Scotland that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  Since 1986  it has provided £85m to charities in Scotland, to the most disadvantaged groups through a wide range of general grants as well some targetted, like young people affected by drugs abuse and its capacity building support.

The role of Lloyds TSB in the arts is pivotal because of its support of many community arts programmes, particularly through part funding of staff.  Many of these community programmes simply cant earn any more money to make ends meet.  Many of them cant achieve some public sector funding because they dont meet the artistic quality thresholds framed by the purse holders.  So Lloyds TSB has been a godsend, funding artistic activities which would not happen otherwise, engaging communities who would not be engaged otherwise.

A scroll through the 2008 general awards includes sums to :

  • Project Ability Ltd working with 32 Black and Ethnic Minority disabled
  • Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy for a Music Therapist
  • Drake Music Scotland Towards the salary costs of the Artistic Director
  • Dynamica Drum Corps To purchase new instruments £ 2,450
  • Visual Statement Towards the salary of the full-time Production Assistant/Choreographer in order to deliver a pilot project to disadvantaged young people within Greater Easterhouse
  • Sounds of Progress To contribute to the salary of the Music Development Officer
  • Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre Towards the salary of the full-time Artistic Director
  • Creative Therapies to support the salary and running costs of Art Beat, an art therapy project supporting children and young people affected by substance misuse

Most of these are unknown outside their communities and most are in Glasgow, most are firmly rooted in local communities.  If it were left to the public agencies entirely, they wouldn’t survive.  Take Visual Statement, Founded 30 years ago in darkest Easterhouse by Danny Dobbie, a local lad who defied all expectations by going to ballet school but, unlike Billy Elliot, came back to his own ‘scheme’ and started a dance school. Easterhouse was at that time widely known as the worst slum in Europe and perhaps the biggest, poorest,  unhealthiest and most violent.   At the interval of a show, full of razamatazz,  in a delapidated, disused, dank and damp school, before the shiny new Platform Arts Centre was built, the whole audience went out for a cigarette at the interval.  The community is engaged in the arts in a way that a strategic public arts worker on a three year project will never achieve let alone sustain.

For this example, Lloyds TSB  has supported many more over the years, often with three year funding attached.

Meanwhile, in the bigger world of private investment in the arts, we look to Arts and Business.  In return for over £7m each year from the public purse, A and B champions private investment in the arts,  conducts research, encourages sponsorship and partnerships and runs some great parties and award ceremonies.  One of the current competitions is the Lloyds A nd B award for innovation.

The Lloyd’s A&B Innovation Prize recognises the most innovative and progressive partnerships of the last 18 months. Each finalist is an example of how innovation and strategic risk taking can lead to unique projects that expose brands to new markets, deepen audience engagement and develop new audiences.

In particular, the successful implementation of innovative solutions through new channels and methods from which both the arts and the business have benefited is the key to the Prize.

A good and glittering prize – Scottish Opera , National Theatre and Accenture are up for it for their partnership and that ticks all the right boxes for partnership, innovation and sparkle.  This prize is for additional activity from clever organisations.  But the Lloyds TSB Foundation supports more important community grass roots activity.  Surely one of the lessons we have learned as a society recently is the value of the less glittering prizes, community activity?   More and more of these decisions will fall to the public sector agencies and hard decisions will need to be taken so that we sustain core artistic capacity at all levels to survive the recession.

Meanwhile, the fall of the banking sector might deliver some public benefit as the RBS art collection might go on display.  Hooray!

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