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Monthly Archives: May 2010

It’s begun. The new coalition government has made the first slashes into public expenditure, culture is not exempt and nor is the Arts Council of England.  A 4% cut  – or £19m on top of the £4m already cut this year is likely to be the forerunner of more to come.  So how will ACE respond ?  Having already gone through the pain and considerable expense of slimming and restructuring, reducing administration costs by £6m, ACE will hardly have the stomach to cut deeper into its own body. By implication, ACE is now the lean organisation it needs to be and hence it is now likely that cuts will be made to artists and arts organisations.   But there are choices.  The Arts Council could prioritise the core arts community, the people involved directly in making art and creating artistic experiences with audiences, and cut back on the peripheral for this next period.  The peripheral includes the bulk of subsidiary development agencies and the Arts Council’s own initiatives, programmes and overheads attached to this stream.  This would mean the Arts Council returning to its core purpose and relinquishing the role it has enjoyed during the fat years, that of being a  ‘development agency’.

The Arts Council is widely understood to be a funding body, aligned to its purpose in the 1946 Royal Charter ,  “to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts and  to increase accessibility of the arts to the public ”.   At some point over the last few years, the Arts Council restated its purpose as to ‘develop, promote and invest’ in the arts in England, presumably as a result of directions from DCMS, whose funding agreement with ACE sets out objectives including “To be an authoritative development agency”.    To many in the arts community, this extended role looks like mission drift,  and an argument for the large organisation ACE has become.  All would agree that the investment role is core and most that the promotion role is pretty important, reflecting the aims set out in the Royal Charter.  During the 90s and 00s the development role was important in building up capacity, infrastructure and resources through the capital lottery programme, leadership training and increasing skills and resources.  But that was then and this is now.  We now have the buildings, the organisations and the skills we need to support artists to make art  and to engage with audiences  complemented by the establishment of Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) to stimulate creative engagement across the board.  For the most part, we have a strong and confident professional arts sector clear about its ambitions, purpose and how to go about its business and one which is perfectly able to respond directly to any strategic priorities required by the Arts Council as the agency of government funding.     

So should ACE be a ‘developer’ at times when public expenditure needs to contract?  No, it should use its strategic powers and intelligence to determine what ‘development’ is truly essential and look to the core arts community to deliver it, devolve budgets to arts organisations and  reduce short term initiatives.

Arts, culture and creativity are essential for the UK during this period of revaluation.  So it is more important to focus, to fund artists and sustain the artistic eco-system  than for public bodies to act as developers.

John Maynard Keynes set up the Arts Council: ‘to give courage, confidence and opportunity’ to artists and their audiences. At times like these, that will best be achieved by setting strategic priorities,  and by championing and advocating for the arts not by delivering and funding a plethora of distracting development initiatives and their associated machinery.

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scotch pie

The Public Sector Reform Bill was granted Royal Assent last week, the last link in the chain of legitimising Creative Scotland.  With the CEO now officially in post, the vacant roles in the structure are now being filled.  The Chair and board should be appointed imminently. In parallel, the senior team is being recruited, with three key posts of Creative Development Directors advertised externally.  How much new blood there will be and how much its a shuffling of the existing pack remains to be seen but with casting almost complete, its time to look at the bigger picture of culture, arts and creative industries in Scotland. 

Creative Scotland has been the focus of attention for the arts and cultural world, media and politicians for more than three years now, a moving target as passed from one political administration to another.  The lack of clarity over its remit, its relationship with Scottish Enterprise with regard to the creative industries, and its costs contributed towards a difficult birth, played out in public.  Much of the lack of clarity was caused by the loud messages conveyed by politicians in manifestos, and the muted tones thereafter, specifically, the SNP before the election committing to transferring public support for the creative industries from Scottish Enterprise to Creative Scotland. After the SNP formed its administration, it changed tack, but quietly, and it took many a discussion to finally come up with a framework for all public agencies to work together to support the creative industries.

Some of the confusion was created by the introduction of the new language of the creative economy, a term used internationally to encompass arts, culture and creativity in all aspects of life, but one which frightened artists who felt that creative and economy, like arts and industries, were oppositional and irreconcilable concepts.

The discourse and debate has been a necessity and Creative Scotland will be stronger for it, its role clear, its consultation with the cultural community extensive. Against the backdrop of declining lottery funding and increasing squeezes on the public purse, talking about Creative Scotland has sometimes been a distraction for arts managers from focussing on the business of making a more creative Scotland through artistic endeavour.  And for the wider cultural community, it has also served as a decoy from scrutiny of the wider cultural policy of the Scottish Government. Because Creative Scotland, influential as it will be in its roles as champion and supporter of the arts and creative industries in and for Scotland, is not the whole Scotch pie.  In fact, its only a small slice.  And, while there are thousands of words describing Creative Scotland, its remit, roles and responsibilities in the Public Service Reform Bill, the Scottish Government’s published cultural policy is succinct if not scant.

“The Scottish Government wants to see a culturally cosmopolitan Scotland, capable of attracting and retaining gifted people, where our creative community is supported and their contribution to the economy is maximised.

The creative industries generate more than £5 billion of turnover in the Scottish economy. Scotland has talent in abundance and we need to support success.

Creative Scotland’s budget will be around £60m in its first year but the overall culture budget is £207m.

This culture budget represents only some parts of the public funds allocated to culture.  Scottish local authorities invested some £100m  into culture in 2009. 

And then we have the British Council.  One of Creative Scotland’s key roles is to promote Scotland’s arts internationally, a role already played by the British Council Scotland, part of the British Council funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the tune of £750m. Looking at this bigger pie, Creative Scotland represents 18%.

So we have a Ministry of Culture with a much wider influence than Creative Scotland and a much bigger budget.  Its led by various Culture Ministers, (9 in the last 9 years) and various officers from the civil service with generic skills in public administration equally applicable to fisheries as to culture, none of whom are publicly recruited to fill specific cultural posts.  And we have a much bigger pie of cultural public expenditure taking into account local authorities and the British Council. But its there where the power lies, there where cultural policy is made, if not articulated. So its time for the cultural community to look at the bigger picture and not the side show for Scotland’s cultural policy.