Monthly Archives: February 2011

Nic Green's Trilogy

The arts are about more than the simplistic and somewhat crass measurement of bums on seats.  Quantity does not always equate to quality and there must be experiment and innovation, risks and some failures in a rich and diverse cultural ecology.  But with a public mission to engage the many, ACE should expect its investment across the portfolio to deliver additional attendances in return for additional investment. And the evidence is that it does.

The Arts Council of England’s report on its Regularly funded organisations: Key data from the 2009/10 annual submission contains a mine of useful information, showing activities, attendances, staffing and finances from all its RFOs showing variances by artform, region and size of organisation.  Most interesting is the data for the last three years, which shows trends from 2007 to 2010.

ACE has increased its investment from £336m to £372m (+11%).  Activities/events have increased by 10% over this period and attendances have increased by 26%, according to the report on a constant sample of respondents. This includes a wide variation by region, with London and Yorkshire showing the largest increases in attendance and the East and West Midlands showing the greatest decline.

The 11% increase in ACE investment worked in tandem with an increase of 12% from local authorities, supporting RFOS to increase their earned income by 16%, more than compensating for reductions in private donations and other investment.

The point of any major piece of data analysis like this is how it is used to inform decision making. For ACE, making hard decisions now on future investment, this data will inform specific interventions by region and by art forms.  But delving into the detail shouldn’t obscure the key message: increased public investment in core organisations delivers more art for more people.


John Butler's Rabbits from CentralStation

There were some high quality ingredients at the RSA State of the Arts Conference 2011 last week. 400 delegates including creative luminaries and politicians for whom the southbank venue facilitated easy in and out access, an interesting provocation from John Knell and Matthew Taylor challenging ‘the Arts’  to create a new currency with which to weigh the value of the arts in making citizens more active and a flashconference which included short straight-from-the-heart comments about the state of the arts from the next generation.

Despite high quality ingredients and wide distribution, apathy was the prevailing mode with an undertone of  amnesia as Lyn Gardner reported, as last year’s SOTA was full of politicians promising a golden age for the arts.

The twitter back chat complained about the apathy of Ed Vaizey and the lack of engagement of artists and the repetition of sound bytes spiced up with spam from hackers on #SOTA11 reached 1.4m white noise tweets, reaching many, saying little.

Its hardly surprising.  The delegates were largely comprised of arts professionals from the arts council subsidised sector  – referred to as The Arts by the conference organisers as if it were a viable self sustaining species, able to answer questions such as “What should the Arts do to change?”  Many of the delegates were representing bespoke companies built to manage arts council financed projects which are unlikely to survive the impending cull.  Faced with a mantra from the podium that they should collaborate more, and that the stronger companies should support the weak, they responded best they could, defending their undeniable efficiency and collaborative ventures but looking for leadership.

Such leadership was not forthcoming at the conference from the many commentators and policy makers talking mellifluously about creativity and collaboration. The real leadership was demonstrated by those who were getting on with it, like those in the session on Rethinking Cultural Philanthropy, Julia Peyton Jones of the Serpentine, Erica Whyman of Northern Stage and Ed Whiting of the social enterprise crowd funding platform WeDidThis all demonstrating success in engaging individuals with skills, time, expertise and money in meaningful cultural philanthropy.

The State of the Arts should not be entirely about the Arts of the State. Policy makers and politicians may control state funding, but they don’t lead the arts in the UK.






In appointing Liz Lochhead as the Makar of Scotland, the Scottish Government has not only selected a popular and accessible poet but has also defined the role. Liz Lochhead will have a role in promoting Scottish literature at home and internationally as announced by Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop . This makes absolute sense and Liz Lochhead, modest, personable and very much her own person, should be brilliant at this.  In her first offical engagement,  she opened  the Robert Burns  Birthplace Museum in Alloway, and read not one of her own poems but brought to life Burns’ own  epitomal Tae a Mouse through reciting it.  And, as she wrote, poets need no laurels..

Poets need not

be garlanded;
the poet’s head
should be innocent of the leaves of the sweet bay tree,
twisted. All honour goes to poetry…. (more)

The announcement of the details of her role has been made at the same time as the rejection of some of the proposals made by Scottish Literature Working Group.  This group was convened before Creative Scotland was established and before the full implications of our empty public coffers were understood. It had some good ideas, strongly waved the flag for literature but got a bit tangled up in its ideas for structures.  One of its key proposals was for a Scottish Academy for Literature but this has been shelved in favour of a suite of activities and advocacy by Creative Scotland working with Liz Lochhead in her role as Makar.

The power of the single artist, the poet, the piper, the painter is often greater than that of the public policy or institution.  Scotland should empower its artists and the public agencies should work alongside and behind them. For the Makar to play a role as a champion for literature in Scotland makes more sense than new structures and institutions for now.