We need a pot of funds to support arts managers to let go and move on

 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.

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