Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Dr Alana Jelinek (arts 39)

An independent submission addressing the following:

· Why a government concerned with democratic engagement should fund the arts

o Museum of Modern Art - MoMA (New York) case study in the problems of little or no public subsidy

o Tate Modern – trends in the first 10 years

· The mixed economy for the arts: what level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable

o The myth of a ‘US-style’ non-subsidized system

· A case for an arm’s length policy: systems / structure of funding distribution

o Where New Labour got it wrong

· ArtAngel – a positive case study on whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level.

o Philanthropy compared with co-branding/corporate marketing

1) A government concerned with democratic engagement should fund the arts for a number of reasons, where ‘democratic engagement’ is understood as access by the greater part of the population to a variety of the best that a culture can provide. Funding questions must consider both the impact on audiences (or wider society) and on practitioners (content providers). In other words, people who ‘consume’ or participate in cultural events need to be considered on the one hand and the people and locations that make the arts happen need also be considered because by considering both we are determining the type of society we want Britain to be.

1.1 Access to the arts for audiences from a wide variety of backgrounds can be seen as a social mobility question as well as a question of helping to create the civil society. There is good evidence that without public funding and therefore with high(er) entry prices, the range of audiences for a given exhibition or event becomes limited to those who already know they can afford it and want to participate. Entry prices or high ticket prices create a barrier to those for whom participation in wider culture and the benefits of the arts is already difficult. Social mobility and the civil society can be understood as two sides of the same coin. The social mobility question is well understood as an issue of exposure to the arts and culture: good role models are created for those from backgrounds excluded from participation in the arts by virtue of actual or perceived barriers. Experiencing those cultural forms currently funded by government can help people understand the society around them. The best of the arts helps to deepen our understanding of our world from our own perspective but it also helps to create an understanding of the world from other perspectives. This deepening and expansion of understanding is as true for those from privileged backgrounds as it is for people from impoverished backgrounds. The arts help us all to understand our own perspective and deepen our understanding of ourselves in our world. The arts also help us to gain perspective on those lives we have little or no contact with. Of course, not everyone responds equally to the same things but exposure to the various creative arts – serious music, fine art, literature, theatre, dance, independent film – creates the opportunity both to see oneself reflected ‘on stage’ and to grow from a continued exposure to other perspectives, other ways of seeing the world in order to make sense of them. This in turn helps to create a society of tolerance, even appreciation. Public funding therefore needs to go into the arts to create access for the widest possible audience to help foster a tolerant, understanding society.

1.2 A notion of democratic engagement must also consider the practitioners– the people who provide the ‘content’ for the arts. In order to foster the best in culture, a wide range of people need to be supported. This will mean the pool of talent reflects the society it comes from, which is one societal good to come from public funding, but also, more importantly, when the greatest variety of talents are fostered it ensures the arts are constituted by the best of all the talents found across society. This is a question of diversity in its widest sense. Nurturing as many talents as possible across the widest range of society ensures Britain maintains its position as a cultural centre, competing at the highest level. Without funding, there is no way to ensure artists and those who work in museums, theatres, and arts organisations are indeed the most talented and most innovative. Adequate funding means they have come from the widest ‘gene pool’ of talent. Public funding of very small organisations and projects as well as large internationally significant institutions helps to create this wide gene pool of talent. On the one hand, small organisations tend to be training grounds for the larger ones and, far from replicating each other’s efforts, the many small organisations create a wide variety of cultural outputs, each supporting a slightly different set of artistic practices and each contributing to the internationally significant institutions which bring in the tourist dollar and private investment.

1.3 Consider biodiversity as a metaphor: biodiversity is not only important in its own right, where it is good to stop the extinction of species because extinction in itself is a bad thing, but because as yet we do not know which species are ‘useful’ to us, particularly when things change. This biodiversity in the arts and culture requires public funding because without public funding, culture becomes in danger of becoming a monoculture. The two examples in paragraphs 1.5 and 1.6 demonstrate this monocultural tendency. In summary, when a state relies on a single method of funding the arts, this is reflected in a narrowed range of cultural practices available to society. When funding only comes from the commercial, cultural output is driven by these concerns. When funding only comes from the state, the same is true: cultural output becomes driven by political concerns. A narrow funding model creates a limited culture. Relying only on the market – both the elite market and the mass market – has the tendency to create a culture which is either plutocratic or populist, even demagogic: the tastes and opinions of the very rich and tastes and opinions pandering to the very popular, even when it appeals to the very worst in our nature, prevail. The great diversity of perspectives and full range of ideas that the arts can explore is limited if the funding model is limited. This is particularly so for those practices which question or rub at the status quo.

1.4 A government concerned with democratic engagement must pay for the arts and culture because this is the only way to ensure that dissent and critique, or in other words democratic debate, is embedded in culture. One of the hallmarks of the democratic society is the amount of critical debate available in public. More totalitarian regimes fund only those ideas they concur with, while market orientated funding favours ideas which sell, that is, the highly popular or that which is flattering to the rich. Neither of these market orientated models of support for the arts and culture are supportive of dissent or criticality, innovative and therefore unpopular thought. If we value democracy and the cut and parry that entails, we must support it financially through the democratic mechanism of public funding.

1.5 One example of how narrow a culture may become if it relies too heavily on one type of relationships or funding can be seen in research at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. It showed ‘ a system which is hardly subsidized, [where] museums are largely dependent on the collectors with whom they can form relationships. The museum collection is almost entirely built up from donations from collectors, on which the latter get significant tax rebates. This is much less the case for European museums. … Thanks to government financing, the museum director can therefore afford to take up a more independent position. Or rather, as suggested earlier: it is precisely dependence on a range of actors (government, private collectors, companies et cetera) that offers the curator or museum director more chance to operate independently .’ (Pascal Gielen 2010)
Some level of significant public funding for the arts at the museum and collections level buys independence, which is not only a value in its own right, but also a position that is more likely to achieve the best for a museum’s collections and exhibitions.

1.6 Study of Tate Modern from the years of its inception until 2010 demonstrates the strengths and pitfalls of corporate sponsorship. In summary, it can be shown that in the beginning, Tate Modern benefited from various patrons and sponsors as well as public finance to create a popular and important museum of international renown. After the fact, this may seem inevitable but at the time, this result was far from guaranteed. The first 18 months was a time of excellent, experimental exhibitions that were also popular: the ‘holy grail’ of both access and excellence had been achieved. By the 2003 Funding Agreement with DCMS, finances had become straitened as the unprecedented levels of attention brought wear and tear costs forward and the exactingly high numbers of visitors became a target in its own right. This equated to greater amounts of corporate sponsorship being sought with more strings attached. It can be shown that, as time worn on, Tate Modern lost its financial independence despite being a paragon of the ‘mixed economy model’ (1/3 public, 1/3 private/sponsorship, 1/3 self-generated income) and more of its temporary programme was devoted to the type of crowd-pleasers that corporate sponsors have been shown to favour. There was a greater focus on income-generation in exhibition planning which can be shown to have limited innovation in later years. (NB this summary belies the complexity of the story and the various pressures, both internal and external, on Tate Modern)

2 There is evidence that the greater the diversity in types of support for the arts, the greater the independence, and therefore strength, of the institution. This means that public subsidy must continue in substantial quantities in order to create the type of strength required in order to maintain world class institutions. Though the mixed economy model (as described in 1.6) has its pitfalls, it does guarantee at least some distance from each of the sources of income, particularly if there is no de facto link made between the percentages of income, that is, if funding from one source isn’t dependent on funding from another source. In the latter case, there is little strength or independence for the institution from either funding source and most particularly there is no independence from the non-public funding source, creating therefore an imbalance in negotiations. If an institution raises money from a wide range of sources, logically it is not too dependent on any one of those sources. In the arts, this will ensure the independence of voice for the institution where it need not be afraid of losing either corporate sponsorship or public funding if it broaches difficult but important subjects or supports the types of artists not ordinarily supported within traditional corporate sponsorship models.

2.1 Arts and Business, the London-based organisation that brokers ‘partnerships between commerce and culture’ runs workshops for people in the arts on how to work with the corporate sector. This is good common sense of course, but it also betrays the pitfalls of relying too heavily on corporate sponsorship. Corporate sponsorship is not philanthropy and mustn’t be mistaken for it. For corporations, sponsorship is a marketing opportunity and sponsorship opportunities must be in line with a corporate brand. This fair stipulation may in fact preclude support for many types of artistic practice which, following the biodiversity model described above, should be funded if a government supports democratic engagement. Public financing of the arts must be considered the primary source on which corporate sponsorship and private giving can be built in order to ensure the independence of the institution and the diversity of its artistic output.

2.2 It is widely believed that the US system of financing the arts has little or no subsidy. This is not strictly true. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was scrolled back during the 1980s under Ronald Reagan but there is the State tier of subsidy to consider as well. New York is widely considered one of the global centres for the arts across music, theatre, museums, and the arts sector enjoys a relatively generous state subsidy. In addition there are tax benefits which encourage philanthropy. The Chinese government also spends increasing sums of money on its cultural sector in order to play in the new world league of globalized cultural centres. States that invest in the arts play on the world stage and this, as Richard Florida has famously pointed out, has direct economic benefits.

3 The last time Britain was as in debt as it is now was just after WW2. It is important to note that the government of the day actually initiated the Arts Council of Great Britain in spite of its debts. The Edinburgh Festival (and subsequent Fringe Festival) was also inaugurated. Spending on the arts and culture was considered vital to the well-being of the nation especially as the country was undergoing continuing attrition. Spending on the arts and culture was to lift the morale of the British people and it was to send a message to the rest of the world that Britain was still great despite the war and the imminent loss of Empire. Today we wouldn’t fund the narrow range of arts and cultural events the then government funded but it worth noting the choices made at the time and importantly, the innovation of the ‘arm’s length policy’.

3.1 The initial incarnation of the Arts Council of Great Britain had an arm’s length policy from government. In other words, it had a budget that it spent according to criteria laid down by the Arts Council and not according to any other government agenda. Of course this was easy it the time. Keynes was central to the Bloomsbury Group so there was a profound respect for (bourgeois) arts and culture at the heart of government – something that cannot be assumed today. The New Labour government turned its back on these arm’s length principles (while also espousing them). Like elsewhere in public financing, this meant a culture of targets was fostered. The arts and culture became yet another area for New Labour policy-driven practices, this time around social inclusion and narrow diversity issues. Under New Labour, public funded arts tended to a mediocrity of output as described by Munira Mirza (sometimes unfairly). Because definitions of excellence came from the government and not from the arts themselves, part of the publicly funded arts and culture programme became de facto education and an exercise in ameliorating social-ills. Any public funding must be kept free of government agendas or the arts loses its independence, which is the its very value to society.

4 An interesting case study in models of financing the arts can be seen in the medium sized but internationally important arts organisation, ArtAngel. ArtAngel runs a programme of quirky, innovative, sometimes difficult art commissions, some of which are hugely popular and most of which receive critical plaudits. ArtAngel derives some of its income from Arts Council, particularly for its outreach programme, but a majority of its income comes from ‘angels’, sponsors who are nameless. These sponsors are often people who also give large amounts of funding to other galleries but in this case they are anonymous and have no influence over the commissioning programme. This cannot be said of their contributions at other venues. (It could be said that if the artworld operated like the financial markets, there would be many key players indicted for insider trading. See Chin Tao Wu for a fully researched analysis of this) This distance between the financier and the commissioning process comes from the good management of the organisation’s directors, who help the Angels to feel good about their contribution without exacting anything directly in return. The directors can achieve this because of the great reputation of the organisation for delivering high quality art experiences but also because they are not tied to any percentage of income from specific sectors. ArtAngel had no targets so it was free to operate independently of both the government and its private financiers who change over time.

4.1 The point to emphasise here is the difference between a sponsor (corporate or individual) and philanthropic giving. While I am not going to argue that philanthropy has always been disinterested – Haraway’s analysis of the early twentieth century eugenicist underpinnings of the American Museum of Natural History and its connection to the philanthropic donations of William K Vanderbilt puts paid to that idea. Nevertheless there is a difference between a government fostering a system for funding the arts and culture based on corporate sponsorship and one based on philanthropic, and therefore usually anonymous, giving. Corporate sponsorship is a commercial deal struck for marketing purposes. While philanthropy is often complicated and usually a form of tax-avoidance, it more often allows the project, commission, event a measure of ideological or artistic independence from the financial source. This is not true of recent government funding or recent corporate sponsorship deals, since the balance of power swung towards the sponsor after 2003 DCMS specific targets were introduced.

5 In summary, for the arts and culture to develop fruitfully in a democracy it requires a good measure of public funding but there is also the need for private money to be involved as this helps to distance institutions from governments agendas. The most appropriate form of private funding is philanthropy and not sponsorship, as sponsorship can and does unduly influence the type of artistic practices and voices supported. Philanthropy can be encouraged by tax breaks. Instead, sponsorship has been encouraged as it was tied to public funding targets, which in themselves served to create a tendency to mediocrity where the focused on those targets and not on excellence in specifically cultural terms.

Dr Alana Jelinek, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge

September 2010