Monthly Archives: October 2010


Brownie Guide Artist Badge 1960 - inspired by Brown Owl

As the Big Society supercedes the Welfare State as the defining political and socio-economic concept of our times, there will be radical changes in cultural policy and state support for the arts.  The mantra of excellence for all will be qualified: Excellence for all in the traditional art forms but only in those cases where local authorities choose to subsidise or where private individuals patronise the arts.  Support for the delivery of artistic experiences -helping to create the conditions for the meeting of, and transactions between, audiences and artists – will change dramatically. This zone used to be occupied by impressarios, patrons, art dealers, teachers, volunteers and Brown Owls and the like but now is held by an arts administration industry which has growed like topsy over the last thirty years  In a Big Society, there will be less benefits and services provided by a public sector populated by employees living in a protective state bubble.  That bubble has burst and the Arts Council  is having to make decisions fast as to how best to work with severely reduced funding at the same time as dealing with government directions which clearly demonstrate how short the arm of an arms length body really is. 

The Arts Council has prioritised its regularly funded organisations (RFOs) in the short term and signalled its intention to prioritise those working in creation and production which must be right.  While ACE has already cut Arts and Business and CCE as being two very large clients who are intermediary agencies, it currently core funds several other agencies involved in development of audiences, arts community support and the like.

Will the future see the stripping out of the multiple layers of the subsidised arts industry?  A blank page approach would allow ACE and others to be very focussed and efficient in procuring the delivery of development and other services it deemed to be strategically essential on a time limited basis.  Following the boards well-trodden by almost every other industry, the Arts Council should tender for services, encouraging entrepreneurs, independents, social enterprise companies and the like to provide innovative approaches to delivering these projects and programmes.

Or are the Arts Council and others caught up in a self-perpetuating system which looks after its own? Many of the development agencies were set up by the Arts Council and are run by ex-arts council or local authority employees who have developed their skills inside the system and enjoy terms and conditions reserved for the public sector. There are people and organisations out there with more arts experience, entrepreneurial skills, innovative ideas and a more flexible approach to remuneration. Some of these are found in existing front-line arts organisations – using the term to describe organisations working directly with artists rather than Ed Vaizey’s definition which equates to RFOs.  And there is also a new generation of creative entrepreneurs who havent’t been able to make a difference because of the log jam in the existing organisations.  There is a good chance that ACE could get a better deal for the sector as a whole by tendering for fixed term services.

But the default position is to keep it in the family.  Jeremy Hunt in his letter to ACE’s Chair, Dame Liz Forgan, directs ACE to develop the Cultural Leadership Programme into a ‘broader organisational development resource for culture and the creative industries’.  In turn ACE states that it will be asking its funded organisations to take on more responsibility for furthering its strategic goals, particularly in the areas of touring and audience development. The implication is that the existing funded organisations should be supported to change, rather than the right people or companies should be contracted to deliver the required services.

ACE is right to prioritise funding which will directly support art and artists and will need to ensure that the core arts ecology is sustained. It must use the current crisis to be radical in its approach to service delivery and open the doors to innovation and new blood and not close ranks.


In the expectant and dreadful hush before tomorrow’s announcements of the slash and burn of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we have seen some wisps of white smoke giving faint signals of how the arts will be supported. There must be major core cuts as has been trailed consistently and these blows will likely be presented as being softened by measure to encourage philanthropy. The other piece of cushioning is to be provided by changes to the Lottery.

Jeremy Hunt has announced a reinstatement of Lottery Funds for the original good causes after the raid to pay for the Olympics. The arts will regain an estimated £50m each year from 2012.  Unless the terms of the original Lottery Act are amended, these funds will need to be used in the spirit of public benefits and must be applied according to the principle of  ‘additionality ‘. Every penny must be used wisely to support artists and creative experiences and in particular to make sure that the risky innovative creative artists are supported and not lost at the expense of funding the Arts Council and the multiple intermediary agencies.

Rooting around for lottery funds also leads us to NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, set up with an endowment of £250m, subsequently supplemented with £75m.  It spends around £30m each year but very little of that is in the arts.

NESTA describes its mission as to make the UK more innovative although its statutory objects  in the 1998 Lottery Act are “to support and promote talent, innovation and creativity in the fields of science, technology and the arts”.

In its earlier years, it was involved heavily in the arts but now its priorities are to invest in early stage start ups and to research, experiment and advocate for change and innovation in the delivery of public services.  Its support of artists is restricted to important action-based research into innovation in the arts – which includes the brilliant NT Live.

But now it is to lose its status as an NDPB in last week’s bonfire of the quangos, does that mean it will be free to drop the arts completely?

NESTA has declared its pleasure that it is wholly independent at last from the restrictions of being an NDPB, freer to invest more in early stage companies and to work in the voluntary sector.  The implication is that NESTA’s hands have been tied.  It is now to become a charity.  The Charity Commission’s guidance includes principles for good governance  and for the role, recruitment and remuneration of trustees.  The application of these principles to the NESTA Charity will likely mean some change to the way it is governed.  For example, the guide emphasises “The concept of unpaid trusteeship has been one of the defining characteristics of the charitable sector, contributing greatly to public confidence in charities”, and NESTA trustees are all paid currently.

The real issues are: what will NESTA’s charitable objectives be and who will its members be?

Many charities in the arts suffer from weak governance, with the directors of the company – the board members – being the only members of the company, self-perpetuating and elite. IF NESTA is not to become NEST, the arts need to come higher up the agenda and NESTA’s membership needs to become much broader and more open than it is now. NESTA boasts it is the UK’s foremost expert in innovation. Excellent, it should apply its expertise to setting up and governing an exemplary 21st charity that benefits artistic innovation.

 All over the country beleaguered arts managers are doing contortions to twist their activities and organisations into shapes that could survive cuts of between 10% and 40%.  Adaptive and flexible, many have already looked at how to share services and how to earn more income, often as the result of arts council funds for the purpose.  Some wily agencies begun to reposition themselves and to offer new services for arts councils in order to remain in the publicly subsidised game.  The tenacity of arts managers is renowned. Determined that the show must go on, they are programmed to duck and dive to achieve their goals.     

Many arts managers view their careers as a vocation, determined to support artists and creative experiences in the best way that they can.  But they are also ordinary working people, with children and mortgages and most, unlike their colleagues working in arts councils and local authorities, don’t have pensions and good public sector benefits. At this time of rapid shrinkage, there are less and less jobs and so we have a cohort of well-established and experienced arts managers running most of our subsidised arts organisations with very little churn in the sector  Churn is important, it allows new ideas, refreshed thinking and encourages the next generation.  At this time of having to create new and disruptive business models, we need innovators and the next gen at the helm.  But today’s arts managers have had to dig in to defend not only their own organisations but their own jobs.  All over the country, groups of arts managers are engaged in meetings and projects to collaborate and share services at a pace which suits them and which will not threaten their own positions.  Most are charities where board members are hands off and who see their roles as to protect their employees and the status quo.

So everyone is dug in, waiting for the arts councils and local authorities to decide where the cuts should fall, and then managers can react. Meanwhile, many arts and other administrators who took the king’ shilling have already lost their jobs.  The Arts Council of England’s 215 redundancies and restucturing costs of £7.3m (£2.5m over budget) will have given many administrators a significant cash sum and many are enjoying very good final salary pensions. Generous severance terms can create space for the new to flourish but there is no such generousity available for the hundreds of senior arts managers out there in the field.  With the exception of the few and the national companies, arts managers generally have very poor employee benefits in comparison with arts council employees.  Most have less holidays, less flexible and more hours, less generous maternity, paternity, sickness and redundancy conditions and tiny if any pensions at all.

Many of these senior arts managers have skills and expertise which could be utilised for the greater good were they to leave. Many are practicing artists, some entrepreneurs.  Before we had such a swollen cultural landscape, many would have been doing other jobs and volunteering in the arts in their local communities.

The public sector bodies should create a one-off pot offering funds to support arts managers to move on.  This could include sums in lieu of pensions and enhanced redundancy packages to support new ventures and to allow for the all important churn and refreshment.  There could be strings attached, perhaps less for the individuals but more for the organisations.  The voluntary departure of top managers could encourage boards to take a hard look at mergers and change for themselves.

Oor Willie: An inward looking view of Scottish culture?

Scottish arts unions and industry bodies give various reasons for not getting involved in the UK I value the arts campaign, quoted in the Sunday Herald. Some because of circumstances and others because they dont think its worth it.   Certainly its essential that there is a Scotland campaign as we approach our own cuts in public expenditure and the May elections for the Scottish Parliament.  The arts and culture are devolved matters and the main focus of any campaign to highlight the value of the arts should be fought on Scottish soil.  But to ignore the UK context would be foolish.

1. The arts  – artists, arts organisations and arts participants – operate within a broader cultural and creative economy

  • A playwright or actor working now in a Scottish theatre was yesterday working in a film made in London or LA and tomorrow writing a television play.  A textile designer will apply her designs to virtual and physical artefacts sold throughout the world.  Our artists don’t work within an economy defined by Scotland’s boundaries or single-art form formats.  We need the best conditions for our artists throughout the UK. These conditions are not simply those enabled by public subsidy, either.  It equally important that fiscal policy is used to create favourable tax controls and breaks.

2. Key parts of the cultural and creative economy are governed, controlled and funded with powers reserved to Westminster.       These include:

Fiscal powers

  • Westminster reserves the power to tax and provide tax breaks.  For the arts, culture and creative industries these powers currently do or in future could signicantly improve conditions through:
  • tax breaks for the film and video games industries
  • tax incentives for individual and corporate patronage and philanthropy
  • tax breaks for individual artists


  • Broadcasting is a reserved power but remains the most  influential and pervasive system of communicating culture 

International Affairs through the Foreign and Conmmonwealth Office

  • the FCO funds the British Council, which takes responsibility for promoting Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries throughout the world

3. Scottish MSPs and MPs talk, share ideas and policy. 

  • The current balance of political power, where we have a minority SNP administration in Scotland and the Coalition in Westminster could change in May. It is not outside the realms of possibility that we could see Labour-led governments in Holyrood and Westminster this decade.  Why would we want to give MPs the idea that Scotland’s arts bodies aren’t interested in the arts in a UK context?

We do need a coordinated approach in Scotland.  This should involve not only arts industry bodies and unions, but colleagues in the games industry, the private and voluntary sector, museums and heritage.  Collective cultural leadership could deliver powerful advocacy to support Scotland’s arts, culture and creative industries.  But this needs to happen not only within Scotland, but also in the UK and in Europe.