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Monthly Archives: September 2010

The campaigns must go on and the British public must show that we value the arts.  But there are already smoke signals which point to where the axe will fall.  The signs emanating from Jeremy Hunt and from the Arts Council of England follow twin clear lines Hunt trailed in January at the RSA: the first: cuts to administration, management, intermediate agencies and  miscellaneous 20th century machinery; the second:  enable creative and artistic experiences to happen through digital technology.  Today’s subject is education and associated access, participation and inclusion in the arts.

Public subvention for the arts in the UK is largely targeted at achieving excellence and (demographically inclusive) participation,  in the belief that, left to a free market, there would not be enough of either of these.  Over the last ten or twenty years, the participation agenda has become more prominent. Sometimes the tail has been in danger of wagging the dog, as DCMS has passed on to the Arts Council, and the Arts Council has passed on to individual arts organisations, specific targets for increasing the diversity of participants year on year.   This sort of target chasing has some advantages as it encourages arts organisations to attempt to attract the sort of individuals who are generally less likely to engage in the arts – those from black and minority ethnic groups, the disabled, the poorly educated and the poor.  But while some need the stick to strive for diversity, almost everyone involved in the arts is passionate about the need to engage young people.  The audience and artists of the future duh.

 Many arts organisations are evangelical about all types of education, outreach and community work.  Engagement in arts activities has been proven time and time again to improve individual and community lives.  But on the whole, this engagment is severely restricted.  Arts organisations will undertake programmes when they have the money and only the largest tend to have enough to offer a full time programme.  Many arts organisations’ education and outreach work is grant-reactive, following a social work department or a health board’s dollar for a project where the instrumental benefits of arts engagement will deliver a social target.  Many of these projects involving hard-to-reach partipants,  are labour intensive and involve few participants and work out to be very expensive activity.  One -off projects in schools likewise have great benefits for those who happen to be in the particular class in the particular school which gets the artist this year, but not for the 99% who are not so lucky. The majority of education and outreach projects run by arts organisations are very worthy and highly beneficial to the participants but a hard look across the country at long-term impact and value for money would likely challenge the costs in relation to the benefits. And across the board, these programmes have not made much of an inroad into broadening participation in the arts. 

Which is why people in the arts were delighted when Creative Partnerships was set up to deliver a more universal programme to embed creativity in schools. Set up by DCMS the programme was floated off to the new public intermediary Creative and Cultural Skills CCE with a dowry of about £38m.  CCE has evidenced the wide ranging impacts of embedding the arts, culture and creativity into the curriculum with the latest evidence it has gathered citing an economic impact of  £4 bn .

Both the universal approach of CCE and the piecemeal but important good work of arts organisations are under threat today. The Stage reports that CCE has been served notice of the end of its funding by ACE. Unpalatable but perhaps inevitable. While Creative Partnerships are well worth supporting by the public purse, its hard to justify why that £38m should com from severely constricted Arts Council England budgets.  

Meanwhile the same industry newspaper reports that  Jeremy Hunt has told theatres that they must resist axing their education and outreach programmes and move away from ‘tick box’ targets based around ethnic and social data to using digital media to promote wider access.

This is the first sally on arts funding.  As in all wars, winning depends on choosing your battles. The battles worth fighting are those which will support the artists and enable the creative experience.  Not about arts funding directly providing education.

This brilliant video by David Shrigley demonstrates simply, humorously, accessibly and artistically, why we should value the arts.  “The arts in Britain are like the sunshine in Spain” quoth Shrigley, with a confidence reserved for the artist.  The public bodies have gathered all the evidence to make the case and today’s launch of the  I Value the Arts campaign harnesses many of the UK arts industry bodies.  Together with the arts funding ning network and the online petition, digital technology has enabled the most coordinated, personalised, professional, positive and coordinated campaign ever undertaken in the arts.  There is an exponential difference between this campaing and the last major campaign against arts funding cuts in the 1980s which were pilloried in much of the media as being the rantings of whinging luvvies. This campaign involves artists and individual members of the public as well as state subsidised professional organisations.

Except for viewers in Scotland.

Many arts professionals north of the border are ambivalent about the campaign.  The arts are a devolved matter and increasingly the UK industry associations are perceived as being English with little relevance to Scotland.  Scotland’s own few associations, like the Federation of Scottish Theatre, have not signed up to the I Value the Arts campaign, while the Theatrical Managers Association and Association of British Orchestras has.  Was FST asked or did it not show up on the London radar? Or did FST decline?

We in Scotland are in danger of being too insular and even burying our heads in the sand.  The arts in Scotland have had a stay of execution for a year or so, firstly because the arts were protected from cuts during the delicate last phases of the birth of Creative Scotland and secondly because the Scottish Government has elected to defer its cuts.  The Scottish Government has declared the importance of the arts, culture and creative industries to Scotland’s success as a globally successful nation.  But we dont have fiscal autonomy and we face the same magnitude of cuts as the rest of the UK.   The UK campaign to educate the general public to understand the deep value of the arts is a common cause even if the direct link to funding is not evident.  The evidence collected and arguments made by UK cultural leaders is invaluable and applies directly to Scotland.

Scotland does not have its own alternative infrastructure for collective leadership, advocacy and representation. We need to get behind this campaign.  If the petition gets 100,000 signatures, then there will be debate in the House of Commons around the value of the arts.  Remember, we have MPS there too.

Art knows no boundaries. David Shrigley, graduate of Glasgow School of Art, citizen of Scotland, the UK and the world illustrates the value of the arts.  And the rest of us have a part to play, to lend our voices to the UK campaign.

from Maise NYC's flickr photostream

The economy of arts organisations in the UK is based on a trinity of finance streams: investment from the public purse, philanthropy and sponsorship from private indviduals and income earned from sales and trading.   The current excellent campaigns from the cultural sector are firmly focussed on persuading the coalition government to maintain the first and enable the second of these.  Public investment in the arts should be ringfenced in the October spending review, many maintain.  And the government should deploy a suite of fiscal tools and incentives to encourage greater arts philanthropy.  But what about the third element, income generation?    

As debates about arts funding have become more mainstream, the arguments are becoming sharper.  What started as blunt battle lines, those for arts funding versus those against, the debates around kitchen tables as well as in the media are exposing the specific issues where there is most dissent.  The arguments that the arts are important to our well being and that funding  is essential to support artists to develop and to drive the creative economy have been made well.  Where many take issue is in how the funding is used, as well as how much at these times of public austerity.     

There is a feeling, increasingly expressed, that public expenditure is being used to fund art where other private benefactors could pay.  A recent poll found that two thirds of people agree with the government’s stance that more private funding should be used to fund the arts and a fifth of the 2,022 British adults questioned said visual arts should not be given any government funding according  to the BBC.

Another argument is gaining traction, that the current system of arts funding is unfairly weighted towards those people who could afford to pay.  And there is some evidence that this is true. Our arts funding system still has one foot firmly planted in the days of free school milk and in the days when dental treatment was free to all.  Subsidy is applied to all audiences, whether they want it or need it or not. The price of tickets for performances at subsidised theatre  is connected neither to the cost of creating the work nor to the ability to pay of some audiences.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse is an example of a very good  and successful regional theatre, supported by the public purse to the tune of £2.5m each year to produce and present a high quality programme of theatre, education activity and tours.  It sells around 170,000 tickets in Leeds each year, from £12 to £30 and it takes another £2.5m at the box office. Using a blunt calculation, each seat is subsidised on average at £15.   The difference in price between a full price ticket and a concessionary ticket – for unwaged, over 65s, students, under 18s etc in most theatres is marginal – no more than 20%. Every ticket is state subsidised, in a system where subsidy is used to protect punters from paying the full cost.

 Many performances venues have a much higher subsidy per seat than WYP but all commonly subsidise every attendance, creating a false economy. But should they? How many members of the audience would be happy, willing and able to pay more and to recognise the value and cost of putting on the production?  And if they did pay more, how low could the price be for those who really can’t afford to pay, or have had no experience and hence unable to judge?  If public investment is to be viewed as an essential public service,  arts attendances could be free for the needy and the under 18s and those adults with the wherewithall could pay full price.  Of course, simply doubling ticket prices would not be the most sensitive way to achieve this.   But as the welfare state becomes more of a distant memory and its open season on all universal benefits, it seems sensible to look at ways to allow individuals to make a greater contribution to the costs of their local venue. 

Subsidising all theatre tickets means that public taxes are more likely to be used to subsidise the arts experiences of higher earners than those of lower earners.  In its major research study, Taking Part in the Arts, the Arts Council found a significant demographic gulf in regular arts attenders.  Put simply, the more income one earns, the more likely one is to participate. 68% of people in the higher groups attend and 47% of the lower groups.  The current practice of maintaining a false ceiling on the top ticket prices means that disproportionate subsidy is applied to those who are least in need.  None of this would matter if there was enough money to go round and if our current system was successful in broadening access.

We need to ensure that we can invest in and support research, development, the artist and put public money where there is no other investment possible.  And that could mean an end to subsidising EVERY ticket.