Memorandum submitted by Dance UK
Thank you for your invitation to Dance UK to
comment on the Arts Council of England's plans to create nine
regional offices of a single body.
Some 15 million people engage with professional
dance artists each year, as audiences of participants in dance
activity. Dance audiences are growing faster than audiences for
any other art form (TGI statistics), and there are 10 times more
dance companies working today than there were in the 1970s.
Dance is the least well-funded of the performing
arts. Central government funding through ACE has been unable to
keep pace with the growth in activity, and the lack of dance spaces
and buildings means that local authority support is significantly
lower than for theatres, concert halls, galleries or libraries.
With the exception of the Royal Ballet, all dance companies tour
the UK extensively and so engage with communities regardless of
regional boundaries. Only the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal
Ballet have "home" theatres, and these are shared with
other arts organisations. Dance is an excellent cultural ambassador
for the UK, with no language barriers and particular strengths
in its diversity, quality, education, training and community work.
The national network of dance agencies and centres provides local
opportunities for dance creation, production and education, enabling
artists and communities to engage with each other in a myriad
of exciting and innovative activities.
For these reasons, Dance UK welcomes in principle
the move towards a more integrated arts funding system. Current
administrative boundaries are unhelpful to a mobile art form,
and mean that dance companies may have to negotiate different
priorities and arrangements with up to 11 different bodies. They
also inhibit the ability of dance agencies and centres to determine
their own catchment areas, to work locally and nationally or to
cross regional boundaries.
Arts Officers being freed from administrative
tasks and releasing more funds for the arts. At this stage, there
is insufficient detail to substantiate the claim that officers
will be freed from administrative tasks. A single body should
reduce the time spent in internal debate between the various parts
of the system and reduce managerial time and costs. Examples include
single finance, HR and communications departments rather than
the current 11 separate departments, and cost savings resulting
from single logos and stationary items.
The roles and responsibilities of arts officers
in the new single system are, as yet, unclear. On what basis is
it assumed that arts officers will be able to lever more funds
for the arts? This would be a new role, and there is no evidence
that existing staff would be appropriately skilled, capable or
interested in such a role.
While it is appreciated that there will be some
costs attached to change, it would be helpful to have an indication
of the projected costs, the point at which administrative savings
might be available, and an indication of the priorities for the
allocation of the newly-released funds.
The proposals would seem to offer the only means
of simplifying funding schemes, and this is a welcome change.
To an extent this claim could be at variance with that for greater
decision-making responsibilities at regional level. Simplifying
and unifying application procedures would represent time and administration
savings for artists and arts organisations, and free them from
administrative tasks to concentrate on creating and promoting
their work, and engaging with the public. However, if the assessment
priorities and procedures remain regionally determined then there
will be only a partial simplification.
The proposals are convincing on this count,
in particular in terms of national financial accountability. There
is a danger of excessive accountability and the associated bureaucracy
undermining the administrative savings referred to previously.
There needs to a clearer line of ultimate accountability to avoid
endless negotiations about whether regional or national concerns
Greater funding and decision-making responsibilities
at regional level, greater regional input at national level, and
greater involvement of regional and local governments. This is
not an entirely beneficial ambition. There is no evidence that
achieving this objective would not result in the same old system
under another name. It would be possible to achieve this situation
under the current arrangements, and there have been various attempts
to do so. They have always failed because of competitive, territorial
behaviour between regions and the centre. The proposed new structure
may inhibit such tendencies, but it cannot guarantee to change
hearts and minds.
A single organisation has the potential, over
time, to find a balance between regional and national interests.
How much more relevant and appropriate would it be for decisions
to be made in the best interests of the arts and the public, rather
than on the basis of needing to balance regional and national
The need to refresh and revise systems in all
areas of life is self-evident. However the course of this particular
debate and discussion has become dominated by politics. It might
be expected that the voice of local authorities would be most
strident, and that this would strengthen the position of regional
funding bodies in their desire to resist the giving up of power.
Appeasement measures are in danger of undermining the benefits
The alignment of regional offices' areas of
responsibility with those of the government offices would seem
eminently sensible. The boundaries between areas must be permeable
and allow the free-flow of artistic activities.
The evidence contains nothing to substantiate
this claim. Ambitions for reduced bureaucracy, consistency and
simplicity are, of course, welcome but do not in themselves promise
better communication with artists and arts organisations. There
are hints of a rather patronising attitude to the "arts community"
in the evidence that does not promote confidence in potential
to deliver better communication.
We need a funding system that is better at listening
and less inclined to dictate or to duplicate the services it funds
other organisations to deliver. Will the stronger, modernised
partnerships include partnerships with artists and arts organisations,
in particular umbrella bodies? These exist in all the art forms
and are positioned to be faster and cheaper at delivering services
such as training, general information and networking directly
to their art form practitioners.
There will be a continued need for specific
art form expertise in the system to promote better communication.
This will need to be distributed geographically, but focused on
working as a countrywide team, for example, of dance officers.
This would allow for enhanced expertise in specific areas, such
as dance education, digital dance, and the full range of dance
forms, and would allow for this expertise to be shared effectively
by artists and communities wherever they may be located.
The various parts of the English arts funding
system has achieved much, and contains many good people. In recent
years new responsibilities have brought additional layers of administration
and bureaucracy, a greater concern with individual organisations
having distinct identities and unhelpful competition for profile
The proposals for change could bring great benefits,
but they remain at too general level of detail about how the new
body intends to engage with artists and arts organisations in
order to promote an ever more lively, dynamic, vibrant, relevant
and excellent artistic life for the country.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should
you require any further information or explanation.
6 February 2002