Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Kathryn Dean, Sound Sense



  1.  This is evidence to the Culture Media and Sport Committee's enquiry into arts re-development projects, specifically the Arts Council of England's (ACE) plans for reforming itself, from a number of national arts infrastructure organisations (see Annex). It follows closely a response we made to ACE's proposal Working together for the arts. This joint response concerned only a matter of operational detail that affects these organisations jointly.

  2.  We understand that ACE's view is that "touring companies and what are currently termed the national companies" should be funded, in the new structure, from a regional office; and that this would be the region in which the funded organisation "is physically based" (all quotes are from Working together for the arts). This isn't helpful to infrastructure organisations for a number of reasons.


  3.  Infrastructure organisations (also called second-tier, umbrella or support organisations or arts agencies) occupy a unique position in the structure of the arts. Their role is not to create or perform art, but to support those who do. They are national. They variously carry out the following roles:

    —  develop national policy and strategy, both within and outside the arts, for the support of the organisations and artists they represent;

    —  offer support and advice, including very comprehensive national information systems (which often provide source data for ACE at national as well as regional level);

    —  influence artistic practice, from a broad agenda;

    —  develop high-level relations with national government—not only in the DCMS, but variously in DfES, DWP, the Home Office, and many other places;

    —  establish partnerships at a national level across the arts and non-arts sectors;

    —  promote the arts and their value nationally, and manage major advocacy initiatives;

    —  commission research to develop policy and make the case.

  4.  All these are roles ACE is seeking to retain within its proposed national office. It doesn't make sense, therefore, for infrastructure organisations to have their primary relationship with a regional office.


  5.  ACE's proposal makes it clear that regional offices will, if anything, have a stronger regional focus than RABs currently do. There is no reason for them to have any interest in a national organisation. Some will be less disposed to infrastructure organisations than others—unfortunate if that's where one happens to be "based".

  6.  Without a clear acknowledgement of their national role, infrastructure organisations will find it more, not less, difficult to form relationships with regions other than the one they end up billeted with: already, one infrastructure organisation reports difficulty in getting funding for regional activities from an RAB because they happen to have their headquarters in another region.

  7.  The capital-centric nature of much of the arts world suggests that those infrastructure organisations who happen to have a London postcode will be better off than others: already, one London Arts officer has been heard to refer dismissively of one national infrastructure organisation as being "based in a shack in the country".


  8.  Infrastructure organisations are truly national, working over the whole of England simultaneously with information and advice, or by promoting conferences, training courses and other events in a number of regions—much more so than the so-called "national" companies, which are just very big, or touring companies, which can have a relationship only with one region at a time. Many already have distributed workers working nationally, or are virtual organisations with no single physical location, and so would have to be arbitrarily allocated to a region.

  9.  The infrastructure organisations work closely together, often giving their time to working and steering groups at the now Arts Council of England. With different infrastructure organisations having their primary relationship with different regional offices, according to the arbitrariness of their postcodes, this close collaboration will become much less effective and will lead to inefficiencies. A place for dialogue with the infrastructure organisations at the centre of the arts funding system needs to be enhanced, not destroyed.

  10.  Many infrastructure organisations work across the UK. Some have their headquarters outside England, even while having as strong a role in England as in other nations of the UK. In ACE's model, they couldn't have any relationship with the Arts Council of England.

  11.  It makes it impossible for infrastructure organisations who currently don't have a funding relationship with the arts funding system to develop one.

  12.  There will simply be no incentive for a regional office to pick up as a client someone who (a) only works in their region for 10 per cent of their time; and (b) is in any case concerned with national policy and advocacy which is none of a regional office's business anyway.

  ACE says in Working together for the arts that they want the national office to concentrate on "genuinely strategic issues". That is what we do, and that is what we want of ACE. We believe this cannot be done effectively unless the national infrastructure organisations continue to have their primary relationship with the national office, not an arbitrarily chosen regional one.

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