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cultural philanthropy

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.