Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Hardish Virk (arts 73)

1. Short Summary:

i. I have been involved in the arts since the 1980’s as an actor, writer and visual artist and since the early 1990’s I have been leading on marketing, PR and audience development projects.

ii. During the last 20 years, I have promoted and developed new audiences for exhibitions, theatre, dance, festivals, music in the UK and abroad and this has included work within the subsidised and commercial sectors.

iii. Clients have included Arts Council England, DCMS, The Really Useful Group, Royal Academy of Arts, National Theatre, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the British Council.

2. 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:

i. The arts in this country are globally recognised for their quality and risk taking nature and this will be compromised. It is inevitable that risk taking work will suffer and we will see more traditional and high brow arts being funded and supported as they will be seen by many as an easy sell.

ii. Associated activities such as audience development and community engagement projects will suffer as fewer funds will be available to support these initiatives. These are integral to getting more communities from diverse backgrounds (cultural, economical, etc.) engaging and participating in the arts.

iii. The process of retaining existing audiences and developing new ones will be compromised and therefore having an impact on the business of both the arts venue and local businesses.

3. What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale:

i. Many arts organisations can share information, contacts, intelligence and resources so that there is more strategic cross partnership work. Examples including: sharing of databases, distribution resources and audience research intelligence.

ii. There is also need for more cross sector partnership work so that resources, expertise and skills are shared between, for example, the voluntary, education, arts and commercial sectors. The objective is to identify common goals and benefits and within all this, customers, service users and audiences tend to be the same, regardless of the sector.

4. What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable:

i. We need to view the arts as not a luxury or only a leisure activity but an integral part of a civilised and developing society. The arts contribute towards mental well being, employment, local economy, education, physical activity and social inclusion, therefore on this basis, arts should be seen as an important public service and therefore needs to be a high priority for public subsidy. However, there needs to be focus on running some arts organisations as better businesses and for arts organisations to prioritise community and audience development as integral departments within their organisations.

5. Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one:

i. Arts Council England is more than a funding pot and this has been proven over the last 10 years due to its’ role as an advisor, policy informer and for leading on ground breaking initiatives which have changed the arts landscape in England.

ii. However, there has always been an unfair distribution policy, where a handful (or so) of arts institutions have received a large slice of the funding and the remaining funds have been scattered amongst hundreds of arts organisations and artists across England. The irony is that some institutions have pretty much sustained a traditional audience due to their programming whereas the ones that have to fight for the smaller pot of funding have developed new audiences, led on innovative community engagement projects, set up training schemes to involve non-artists to develop a career in the arts, have created more relevant and risk taking work, etc. Therefore, this is about balance and value.

iii. Generally the system and structure seems fine but the historical loyalty and therefore decision making process can sometimes benefit some over many.

6. 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. Decisions made by the current government can either allow the UK arts sector to grow and flourish or it will push the sector back many years and the decision to abolish the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives are ill informed and not thought out. These decisions will lay the foundations for a nation that was a world leader in the arts to soon become one that still has the talent but not the infrastructure to support the development of this talent.

7. Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level:

i. UK is very different to the USA in terms of how the arts are supported and in the UK we don’t have the same kind of culture, where the business community financially supports the arts. In the UK, a business or a philanthropist will only support high profile arts institutions such as the Royal Academy of Arts or the National Theatre. More experimental, ground breaking and innovative work will be ignored as it won’t be seen to attract large audiences and offer the same publicity opportunities.

ii. Of course, the business community can play a role but it can be challenging to encourage it to invest in the arts, particularly if it’s a small or medium sized arts organisation, which doesn’t provide immediate publicity benefits. Arts and Business (A & B) have been brokering partners and offering advice for many years and it would be useful to learn how successful A & B have done in relation to this.

September 2010