If Lottery funds must underpin artists then lets put the Arts back into NESTA

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.

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