Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by New Writing North (arts 01)

· Funding for the arts generates both a creative as well as economic return.

· The arts and culture are a UK success-story. Turning support away from them will damage our international profile and reputation.

· That funding for the arts outside of London is not the same and does not offer the same possibilities.

· That gaining new income from private givers is easier for large organisations but much harder for small organisations. Many of the most exciting organisations around are small.

1. What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level:
 Each year we use our £180K grant from Arts Council to generate up to three times that amount in project income.  This money is then spent on developing new talent from the region (Northern Writers’ Awards), taking writers into schools, producing projects with young people and producing book festivals and events which thousands of people enjoy and benefit from.

It is clear that the reach, value for money and cost-effectiveness of subsidised literature activity more than repays its initial investment. To damage this carefully balanced ecology with 25% cuts in the next financial year would destabilise many organisations and wipe out some. It would mean the end of streams of work for many freelance writers, impact on readers’ engagement with books and writers and potentially lead to an increasingly risk-averse publishing industry. We would like you to support our request to the coalition government that they think carefully about the impact of when cuts are implemented to help protect the diversity and richness of our literary heritage.

Many leading writers and publishers have recently joined the subsidised literature sector to warn of the dangers that damaging cuts would pose to the sector and to the wider publishing economy. Although one of the smallest areas of funding supported by Arts Council England, carefully targeted subsidy for writing and literature plays a key and often-unacknowledged role in the lives of many successful writers. From advice and support in the early stages of a writer’s career to the festivals and events circuit, public subsidy is a key part of the UK’s literary ecology.
 
Over the last fifteen years mainstream publishers have pulled back from undertaking research and development work with writers and many now expect writers (and their novels) to arrive on their desks fully formed. The writing development networks built up by Arts Council England have done much to create an efficient, accessible and cost effective model of development for new talent.  Subsidised writing agencies and awards programmes are often both the initial talent spotters and the silent investors in new talent, a vital role that is often under-acknowledged within the sector.
 
Subsidising writers and writing offers potentially great economic return as the first time novelist Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s experience shows.  In 2008 Carolyn received a Northern Writers’ Award from New Writing North of £3,500 to help her develop her work.  The awards programme is funded by Arts Council England and match funded by The Leighton Group, a commercial sponsor.
 
With support from New Writing North, Carolyn’s first novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, went on to sell in the UK and in another 13 territories internationally.  These initial sales generated sales worth 50 times the original modest investment of £3,500. Carolyn wouldn’t have received the early support and investment in her work from the private sector. Carolyn’s agent Madeleine Buston from the Darley Anderson Agency explains how it came about:

"I met Carolyn via an introduction from New Writing North. They prepare writers extremely well, work with them to get their writing up to a publishable standard, and introduce them to a range of editors and agents.  I look forward to their events so much because I know I am going to hit gold. I see them as a breeding ground for new talent and a valuable part of the national publishing scene."

Book festivals are now an important part of the cultural infrastructure in the UK and yet, all but a few, still rely on public subsidy from Arts Council and local authorities to enable them to thrive. Best-selling crime writer Val McDermid who lives in Northumberland, sees the relationship between publically funded literature activity and the careers of mid-career and well-known writers as ongoing.   

"For me, one of the key areas of arts funding is the subsidy of festivals, workshops and individual events that bring together established writers, beginning writers, aspiring writers and readers. Writing is a lonely road, especially at the outset, and discovering fellow travellers can often be the difference between giving up and actually completing work that goes on to be published or performed.
 
The writers’ income generated by workshops, festivals and reading events should not be disregarded – for a lot of writers, it makes the difference between survival and financial ruin".

Many in the sector believe heavy cuts to funding for literature will damage the UK’s national literary culture. For Lee Brackstone, Publishing Director of Faber & Faber the links between subsidised regional organisations like New Writing North and the London-based world of the publishing industry means that developing writers is a two way street.  
 
"Working with regional literature agency New Writing North has made me realise just how important a strongly voiced, and articulated, regional literary scene is to the vitality of literature in this country. A writer is made by his or her environment, and how that impacts upon a unique sensibility. New Writing North creates and fosters that environment for generation after generation of writers, working alongside, before and after, publishers such as Faber, to ensure the region is represented through literature. And the literature that emerges, in turn, feeds back into the communities and lives from which it was born, generating hope, intelligent discussion, and lively debate".

The subsidised literature sector upholds many partnerships with commercial organisations and personal philanthropists as well as state funded organisations, such as libraries.  The sector accepts that it has to take the inevitable cuts in funding that have been announced and is working hard to explore more new ways of generating income to support activity. The subsidised sector doesn’t feel that it should be immune to the funding cuts but is asking for the timing of them to be considered with more depth so that the long term impact of cuts doesn’t cause damage that we will struggle to recover from.

2. What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale: In my experience arts organisations are looking at this area to immediately reduce costs and much work has already been done in this area and is continuing. But, there is a point at which combining resources detract from independence and artistic creativity. I think larger organisations (usually building based organisations) should and could do more. Most small organisations have been working in this manner for years, as forming partnerships, sharing expertise and resources are the only way that they can build capacity. My own organisation works with over 40 partners a year to develop projects, manage work and to combine income and expertise. It is already happening.

3. What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable: I think that the current funding system for the arts – namely Arts Council England is the right one. Funding needs to be arms length to be credible and trustworthy. I cannot envisage any other kind of body that could genuinely work nationally to present a strategic vision for the arts and interact with organisations to ensure that it was delivered. Our Arts Council also speaks on our behalf internationally. Arts Council England has cut their overheads drastically in the last two years and should now be left alone to get on with the job.

4. What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations/Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed: Basically, we would like the money back that was stolen from the arts to pay for the Cultural Olympiad, a project that we are now being asked to support but which has no impact outside of London. The money should be returned for the original good causes that it was meant for. It should also not be spend on formal educational projects.

5. The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council: I am disgusted that these cuts were made with little or no consultation with these bodies or with the sector. I cannot believe that this is a rational way to go about building sustainable work. I do not disagree with the cuts but am shocked that so little has been said about why these organisations were not needed? Will the work that they were doing just stop? Will their responsibilities be passed to others? Also, many questions remain unanswered, such as what will the end of FCUK mean for the regional screen agencies? The picture is not complete.

6. Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level: Yes, they can and do support a great deal of activity. I would like to make the following points in relation to this question:

-I work in the North East of England and we do not have many corporate head offices or many very rich people. The picture is not national and the South and South East have a much better chance of gaining this income than organisations and activities that are outside of the capital.

-That philanthropists like to co-fund activity but don’t always want to be the only funder. If public money is harder to come by so will private money.

-That many smaller organisations do not have staff members to devote to nurturing relationships with individual givers. Doing so tends to take longer than making a grant application and require much more wining and dining than we are usually resourced to do.

-Business funding, in my experience is great, but again, in the North East this is usually only going to be small sums – great for small projects but it won’t help with core costs.

7. Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations: In my personal experience having an incentive scheme is hugely useful. Arts and Business used to co-fund sponsorships and my own organisation benefitted massively from this. It was a useful incentive to be able to offer when talking to business. If the government wants people to give more it will need to look at tax incentives – I believe that this will be very complicated and difficult to make happen. But, I also don’t believe that the government is being realistic about how much individuals are willing to give at the moment. The arts are in competition with children, medical campaigns, international aid etc – and next to all those things we are unlikely to be able to compete very well.


August 2010