reviving the 50p seat at Citizens Theatre 21012 - ©

In today’s highly codified and regulated subsidised arts sectors, all sorts of business and quasi-business behaviours are required. Strategies, plans, systems for delivering objectives and for measuring success are all extremely useful tools.  But in the days before market principles were applied to public expenditure, and before 25 years of increased public expenditure on the arts led not only to more investment in artists, arts activity and buildings but also to a proliferation of policy makers and monitors, there were far less requirements.  The weight of encouragement which public agencies provide to extol arts organisations to  ‘innovate’  , to improve or change their ‘ business models’ and to train their boards and leaders in being more ‘entrepreneurial’ and strategic, for example, could give the impression that arts leaders do not naturally do these things for themselves – left to their own devices.

But successful leaders in the arts have always taken risks and often demonstrated a razor-sharp instinct for business as an essential element of achieving ambitions to create great art and to attract audiences to enjoy and appreciate it.  Long before Glasgow had any cultural policy or arts development officers and when the Scottish Arts Council was a small organisation with a few officers, these was some serial innovation happening in the Gorbals under the direction of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.  Not only did they transform the Theatre artistically but they attracted an audience of a size and demographic mix which would turn today’s  ‘audience development’ agency green with envy.  The reputation of the productions was the greatest factor in this and there were also all sorts of experiments including the radical ‘All Seats 50p’ policy.  I have gone back to the box office and financial records to assess the effect of this and the detailed results are in this article for the Scottish International Journal of Theatre and Screen. This shows how, at the same time as its cheap seat policy,  the Citz increased and diversified audiences at the same time as increasing its box office income while also attracting additional subsidy and putting more money into the work.  It did this through some luck  and some clever tactics, not least an extremely commercial approach to its annual pantomime, for which the tickets were not 50p.  It was not all plain sailing, with the SAC at one point granting  the Citz 5% less than the other Scottish producing theatres on the ground that the Citz refused to increase its ticket prices. And subsequent innovations, like no advance booking, were less successful.

Havergal was a risk taker, refuse-to-take-no for an answer leader with a mission to produce and present great work for the audiences of Glasgow. The Citz directors did not use business plans or strategies to shape their innovation but rather an intuitive experimentation. The simple mantra for all innovation, whether artistic or business was, as Philip Prowse often said “Not to change in art is to die”. A ‘taught’ entrepreneur AKA a manager using established business tools and techniques, would not have considered a flat ‘low’ ticket price after what had been three years of growth in revenues and attendances. But for Havergal, there was no formal strategy, no management objectives, no annual review. “ I don’t think we knew what had happened. We just looked at the money we had for the year ahead”.

Havergal and Prowse did it to shatter the inherited mould of complicated ticketing and to see if that might attract more and different people. The experiment was successful not only in its contribution to attracting additional audiences but in achieving more income from public bodies. The Havergal regime led the way on innovation, income generation and audience development and the public funders followed. In today’s arts funding system which is heavy on policy, strategy, measurement and evaluation, could similar theatrical entrepreneurialism flourish?


England is the most consistent nation..- in Scotland there is a dramatic and steady deterioration..- For Wales the picture is more erratic … and -Northern Ireland’s Index scores are also erratic

Politics? Football? Weather?  January 1800, 1900 or 2000? No, this time the judgement from London is about the Vitality of the Arts in the nations and regions and its in December 2011.

The words are from  the UK National Campaign for the Arts in its Arts Index which it has now made available after a period where only its members could view.

Few people in Scotland will have had sight of the full report before now, as the National Campaign is largely associated with Westminster and England for most of us in Scotland, what with culture being a devolved responsibility and the  Scottish Culture Counts campaign delighted that the Scottish Government has listened to its requests and responded with a new national indicator for Scotland, to increase cultural engagement.

And so it is with dismay that we see that the first digest by Sam West as NCA shares its intelligence with the rest of us, headlines just how poorly Scotland is performing in comparison with England. Or was.  Although the Index speaks in the present tense, it covers the three years ending in March 2010, before the austerity budgets and cuts in English arts funding and a time when Arts Council England was propping up the sector with major lottery investment.  The same period in Scotland saw the hiatus in arts funding associated with the last days of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen and with no arts lottery funding. And ,as the report states, some of the variances relate to the different ways that different nations describe allocation in funding.

The UK Arts Index uses twenty consistent numerical indicators including subsidy, earned income, financial reserves and attendances against a base index for the UK and against which annual, national and regional variances can be measured. It is a good resource and to be welcomed although of course it can’t, and doesn’t claim to, be the only set of measures by which we value the arts.. This version is playing catch up with its three year review with a promise now to produce annual figures. The 2010/11 figures are bound to look different, after the major ACE cuts in England and taking into account the new confidence in Scotland. Lets hope that colleagues in London can’t cry that the vitality of Scotland’s arts are deteriorating again.


Bust of Jimmy Reid, trade union activist and writer: by Kenny Hunter
at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery: ©Kenny Hunter

Today’s strike action by public servants has closed large parts of the nation’s cultural institutions and local authority services.  Libraries are closed and the fabulous new Scottish National Portrait Gallery has had to disconnect its first day of opening to the public with St Andrews Day in a sad case of poetic injustice.  Libraries and museums are bound in to public services, carrying the heavy weight of civic responsibility in conserving collections  held in trust for the nation or in providing education and information. These civic cultural facilities which we support through our taxes are operated by public sector workers and today those workers are on strike over changes to their pensions.

The arts, on the other hand, are relatively unfettered by civic burdens. Free to take risks, make money and entertain as well as educate, stimulate and inspire, arts facilities are largely run by people without a pension. Most people who work in the arts do not enjoy the benefits of pensions and other terms and conditions associated with the public sector.  Most people who work in the arts are self-employed artists, actors, stage managers, dancers, writers and illustrators.  The majority of those who are able to earn a full-time living in the arts are the support staff, the managers, arts centre directors, box office staff and technicians and few enjoy the protected conditions of the public sector.

So today, some arts centres are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles and imaginatively engaging with their communities. Horsecross Arts in Perth are running music and dance workshops for children looking to get involved in the arts since their schools are closed. And for most, from the Corby Cube to the Brunton Theatre Musselburgh,  its business as usual even if they are run by a local authority.

A few municipal arts facilities are closed because of strike action like the Pontardawe Arts Centre,  and The Princess Royal Theatre.  But there are other closures  in arts centres where the local authority has put the arts out to trusts to operate, like Glasgow Life. Most local authorities establishing cultural trusts do so mostly to avoid paying VAT and Non Domestic Rates.  But in TUPEing staff over to the new trust, the old local authority terms and conditions apply and sometimes stick.  So the Tramway, one of the most innovative and risk taking contemporary arts centres in Europe which is part of Glasgow Life has had to close today and cancel a talk by artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar.  The talk, rather ironically is about the exhibition Jean Genet’s Walls, Speaking of Revolt, Media and Beauty.  But there will be no Speaking of Revolt today as workers at the Tramway strike to protest about pension changes.

Stairs at side of Sydney Opera House by Mister Peterman on Flick'r 

There is no surprise that the latest report from Arts Development UK shows that local authority arts expenditure has decreased to two thirds of the levels reached in 2008. It is interesting that, in this second slicing of arts budgets, much of the cuts have been own blows to local authority arts services rather than to grants to independent and front-line arts organisations, like theatres and arts venues. Surgery is now being routinely applied to the soft underbelly of local arts services, including development projects and now to arts officers, whose activity is not obligatory for local authorities and whose presence is often unseen.

During the last two decades of growth in public investment in the arts with the funding of new infrastructure, ambitious events and audience development programmes, those we entrusted to spend our taxes enjoyed a relative largesse which allowed investment which often did not need to evidence an impact.   Research and evidence gathered by arts organisations and arts councils have largely been used as advocacy tools, with hard evidence often being buried if it doesn’t prove the required point.  This devalues the research process and diminishes its validity.  But a new cold dawn is rising as investors apply the scrutiny which is applied in science, medical treatment and engineering and technical fields.

The Paul Hamlyn commissioned report ‘Whose cake is it anyway’ sends out the first chill signal of this new order.  The report into the outreach and participation activity in museums and galleries finds that

this activity exists on the fringes of the sector’s activities, rather than at its core, and suggests that decades of investment in participation related activity, have not only failed to embed participatory practices in museums and galleries, but appear to have been instrumental in keeping this part of their work on the periphery

The report marks a distinct shift in tone from most of the usual research reports published which emphasise the positive. The BOP report on the impact of the Edinburgh Festivals, for example, is an excellent document which seeks to demonstrate benefits of investment much more widely than the economic measurements.  In talking up the positives, the report is used as an advocacy tool – and we are all for flag waving for funding festivals.  But, in sweeping under the carpet the fact that the relative economic impacts relative to invesment is reduced ( Every £1 public investment in 2004  generated  £61 new output. Using the same measures, every £1 of public investment generated £35 new output (table here), the report goes the way of most research reports commissioned by cultural agencies.  It needs to serve the purpose of the commissioners and not to seek the truth.

Respected researchers and consultants have been chipping away at this for some time, but they are largely ignored.

There was 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 .  But although it was published for the most recent State of the Arts Conference run by ACE and the RSA which Taylor leads, it wasn’t even discussed .  There were few deaf ears thouugh in Galway last week  at  the Irish Theatre Forum conference.  The Irish National Campaign for the Arts have proven themselves streets ahead of England in expressing the value of the arts and its leaders are aware of the need to express and communicate the true value of the arts, which goes beyond instrumentalism.  But that value needs first to be established in a rigorous and scientific manner and not just in the rhetoric.

In Its not Rocket Science, (2010), Hasan Bakhshi, Radhika Desai and Alan Freeman challenged

two entrenched prejudices which block arts and cultural organisations from playing their full role in society and economy. First, arts and culture are largely excluded from R&D by definitions based on its Science and Technology (S&T) origins. Second, the arts and cultural sector relies on a conception of creativity that mystifies too much of its work, preventing it from accessing valuable public resources

The reality is that much of the arts and cultural community views gathering evidence of impact as a tiresome diversion. The feature on Arts and Health in the latest Arts Professional magazine  explains that the NHS requires proof of impact and includes several citations of the woeful lack of rigorous evidence gathered to date to demonstrate the benefits of engagement in the arts as a positive healing activity.  There are several calls to arms for the arts to get together to provide the evidence the NHS needs to justify investment in the arts rather than in some other health interventions.  Dr Jenny Secker, Professor of Mental Health highlights the need to move beyond the anecdotal.

Measuring instrumental impact on health is important but there is a more fundamental issue.  We need to get down to the basic life-enhancing benefits of art, describe that and then set up research to measure it.  Take empathy for example. Long-known as one of the core processes of being part of a theatre audience, empathy is a capability which leading neuroscientists fear  lost in a  video gaming  world.

Seeking to find empirical evidence of the positive impacts of engagement of the arts on active citizenship and wellbeing must become a clear objective for the arts and cultural community over the next few years.  To do this, there need to be a substantive independent and objective research programme which seeks the truth rather than seeks to make the case for more funding of current practice.  The research needs to include longitudinal elements and comparisons of the costs and benefits of engagement in different types of creative and arts activities against engagement with other activities.

Such an investment needs a research programme which is rigorously defined, conceived, planned, executed, analysed and communicated.  This means harnessing the skills of research scientists and academics and means being honest about the results.

Suspension of Disbelief?Rain drops hanging from a cobweb from ecstacitist' flick'r photostream

The headlines about the Scottish government’s support for the arts, culture and creative industries in a budget to deal with £1.3bn cuts next year appear less lurid than in England. For a start, the language used in the budget is warm and appreciative about the importance of the arts culture and creative industries to Scotland’ s success and, having already been through the abolishment of the Scottish Arts Council, we have been been spared the public flogging of the Arts Council of England.  Efficiencies have already been made in establishing Creative Scotland and hence its core funding of £35m has been ringfenced. The V & A in Dundee will go ahead. Arts & Business funding is secured. So all good news at face value. But there are other stories yet to unfold which could may describe a bleaker picture. The cultural budget cuts look like this:

‘Creative Scotland and other arts’ overall budget decreases from  £59m to £53m. While its ‘core budget’ of £35m is protected, CS, like SAC and Scottish Screen before it, habituall depended upon a series of additional funding programmes which allowed it to undertake extra initatives. Most  of these will be gone, although the reinstatement of Lottery funds to the original good causes may well result in money for jam if not bread and butter.

Overall the cut to the culture budget is 10%.  This is higher than the 6.4% John Swinney quotes as being the cut passed on to non-ringfenced services. While the national performing companies, who are overseen by civil servants within the Culture Division, not by arms length agencies, are cut by a mere 5%, the rest of the sector is hit proportionately more. The cultural collections – National Galleries, National Museums and National Library are cut by a swingeing 12%

And there is room for many a twist and turn in the way that support from local authorities will pan out. The Scottish Government currently has a deal with local authorities, whereby authorities decide for themselves how to allocate cash best to meet the Government’s priorities in return for a fixed settlement. John Swinney spelt out today that a new deal was on the table – local authorities can agree to meet specific targets for early years’ intervention, smaller class sizes and so on in return for a 2% decrease in funding – or take a 6.4% decrease.  As we have seen in England, reductions in local authority funding may have the most serious implications for the arts and culture, with Moray Council considering following Somerset Council’s suit in cutting all arts funding.  As in England, there is no statutory obligation on Scottish local authorities to fund or provide culture.

And of course, the budget is only for one year. With an election in May, it is unsurprising that the SNP did not want to give away their three year plan to dig us out of the larger hole.  But its the next instalments that will determine the support for Scotland’s culture.


Sutherland Hussey's design for Creative Laboratories at Edinburgh Sculplture Studios winner of the Edinburgh Art Prize

The collapse of the financial services sector and subsequent recession brought with it a decline in the corporate sector sponsorship which Arts & Business had so successfully encouraged and promoted and with which its name is synonymous.  A&B’s recent grant cut from the Arts Council and the indications that the Arts Council will take on the job of incentivising corporate and individual invesment in the arts means an end to all that.  The position of A&B in Scotland is somewhat different.  In common with many Scottish branches of London based UK national institutions, the  A & B Scotland division has a profile, position and  relationships which differ from the UK/London head office and, in common with others, the time may have come for it to break away from London. Its funding comes from Creative Scotland, Museums and Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Government and A&B is more meshed in with the overall cultural economy.

The profile and practice of much of last century’s commercial sponsorship jarred with large swathes of Scottish society. The big sponsors inevitably crowded in around the high profile events, festivals and city venues with facilities for canapés, champagne and other corporate entertainment. This has been fantastic for those in this sector but always, unfairly, made other less corporately-alluring arts organisations feel a bit of a failure.

In response to the downturn, A&B has been promoting a programme of private philanthropy, in what could be described as Arts and the Individual Investor. The individual is key to future support.  While arts organisations have focussed their professional resources on chasing corporate sponsorship, trusts and funds, many have neglected their committed communities, dismissing ‘friends’ organisations as tiresome amateurs.  Yet individuals and members of the audience may represent the most sustainable source of income for the next period. A&B are behind the arts strand of The Big Give, channelling government funds to match individual donations pound for pound.  The power of the crowd is being increasingly harnessed by other creative industries, most notably in films and in publishing, through crowdfunding, where individuals buy a stake in a creative venture. Whereas in movies, investors might hope to get a financial return on their investment, the motives in the arts will be altruistic, like those philanthropists in the New York Kickstarter web crowdfunding project which has generated some $20m arts, film and design projects.

Altruism is a key value in Scottish society and benevolence sits more comfortably for many than the boosterish bashes of high profile business sponsorship. Scotland has produced generations of philanthropists with a passion for public access to culture, from Andrew Carnegie who gave the US and UK libraries, to Robert and Nicky Wilson who have made the fabulous Jupiter Artland.  The latest altruistic artistic gift was unveiled last week without any song and dance at all, without help from governments, public agencies and the like.

An anonymous benefactor provided the £3m Edinburgh Art Prize  which was awarded last week to the Edinburgh Sculpture Studios for the Creative Laboratories designed by Sutherland Hussey.  The Creative Laboratories will allow space for artistic innovation and experiment, driven by ideas and not income targets.  The donor won’t be recognised at an A&B party, through a platinum membership or be plied with drinks at the interval.  In the best traditions of benevolence, he or she will be rewarded by the knowledge that this gift will allow experimentation and artistic development – and maybe the next Michelangelo to emerge.  We need to allow more discreet donations from individuals as subsidy declines and bring out the benevolent best in our communities.


Abandoned Champagne from gadgetdan's Flickr photostream

As cultural leaders voice the well made arguments as to why public funding of the arts is such a brilliant return on investment and why miniscule spending delivers maximum value for the UK’s cultural, creative, social and economic health and success, DCMS has put out a call for evidence. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into arts funding asks a series of questions about public funding and structures and also hones in on questions about private giving:

  • Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;
  • Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

Philanthropy should be seen as an addition to public funding and not as a subsitute. Simplifying gift aid, tax incentives for life time gvings are areas which many cultural leaders and philanthropists will advocate. But the tax incentives are not enough in themselves to create a sustainable income stream which will support the arts for years to come.  The last three decades have seen corporate and  private giving to the arts firmly established as an elite sport for the top echelons of society.  The great corporate sponsorships of the nineties were largely from banks, financial institutions and corporates who were happy to part with cash in return for an association with an arts organisation of similar rank.  Hence the lion’s share of sponsorship was to opera and dance companies, orchestras and national institutions where the wine was reliable and so was the performance.     But the flirtation between many arts and corporate brands is over.  The financial institutions, humbled after the crash, can scarcely justify champagne in the grand circle bar to their shareholders in these straitened times.  And the recent rebellion by artists about Tate’s acceptance of  what they saw as BP’s dirty money demonstrates its a two sided stand-off.  Arts and Business , so long identified as a match maker for high powered arts institutions and business as well as  holding some big parties for its awards, was quick to point out the negative impact of the financial crash on arts organisations and to switch tack to encourage private philanthropy.

But the world of private philanthropy is no less elite. Apart from the great individual philanthropists, many of whom have their own trusts, there are  ‘high net worth’ individuals who are listed in programmes as members of Golden Circles and Platinum Clubs, names of clubs which resonate with the world of finance and credit cards.  Most of these donors benefit from gift aid and tax relief on their charitable donations. 

But the number of regular donors to the arts is small and most of them are associated with prestigous arts organisations where the risk of artistic or financial failure is low.  The larger arts organisations also tend to be those with board members with contacts, expert development departments and a track record.  They are also those best equipped to weather the storm where public funding will decline.

What we mostly worry about at this time is the small arts organisation and the individual artist whose risk taking work drives the whole creative economy, what would be called the the research and development arm in other industries.  As local authority expenditure and national arts agency money declines, these are the ones which will suffer.  And currently, there are few routes by which these independent artists can attract any private philanthropy. There are a very few prizes and awards, most are for short term projects and most for a very short time scale but even these are few and far between. And they tend to focus on newcomers, or on young artists.  NESTA used to fund artists fellowships before it dropped the A from its central mission and limited investment in arts innovation to supporting organisations and research rather than individual artists.

But there are many individuals who would like to give to the arts, to support risk taking and experiment and who dont necessarily want to be a part of a gold circle or a club or indeed be associated with a single institution.  They dont necessarily have the will or skills to make a choice about where and how to give. But they would like to support, say, the development of new work or, provide a hardship fund for those in need because of the instrinsic value of the arts and the critical need to support independent artists who may or may not fail but whose innovation is essential to drive the creative economy. 

We need independent managed funds, for people to gift funds where they are not looking for recognition and where they want to support research, or well being of artists.  An independent fund could complement public funding and could be low cost to run, without parties and a big office.  But this cant be a public body, tied up with delivering outcomes. Some trustees, a few types of funds, and some administration – its not rocket science. And yes, extending tax incentives would help.