Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by First Light (arts 122)

1. Introduction

1.1 First Light gives young people aged 5-25 in the UK the opportunity to tell their stories, recount their experiences, learn new skills and share their views through creative, digital film and media projects.

1.2 We have enabled almost 30,000 young people between the ages of five and 19 to make more than 1000 films and to create 100s of media projects, including magazines, TV and radio broadcasts, comics and games since we were established in 2001.

1.3 All of First Light’s activity is unique and shares the following ethos:

· Professional support for young people to ensure high level, relevant skills development;

· Industry engagement to provide ‘real world’ experiences, validation and pathways to employment;

· High levels of youth leadership to ensure authenticity of voice and creative expression;

· Exhibition and distribution activity to ensure the young people’s work is seen and enjoyed by a wide audience.

1.4 We believe that every young person regardless of gender, heritage or economic background should be given the chance to realise their creative potential using a form of media that makes the most of their particular talents.

1.5 First Light distributes National Lottery grants, via funding from DCMS through the UK Film Council and is therefore directly affected by the recent announcement of the latter’s abolishment. The First Light Board and its Executive look forward to discussions with the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as to how the organisation will be enabled, and further supported, to continue supporting the aspirations, creativity and talent development of young people across the UK.

In consideration of the issues raised by the Committee, First Light offers the following views and comments:

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;

2.1 The recent cuts to public funding in the arts/heritage sectors are a retrograde step. The years of investment that have gone into developing capacity, strategic partnerships and improving the experience for both participants and the respective workforces will be eroded.

2.2 First Light in its funding criteria requires applicants to have a certain threshold of match funding (some in-kind, part in-cash). Many of the type of organisations that we typically fund bring match from local authority sources. Consequently they will have to identify and compete for monies in areas less familiar and starting from a lower knowledge base, it will take time for them to become skilled.

2.3 This is not to say that they will not be successful but rather competition for alternative sources will increase and smaller organisations will be disadvantaged. They are often reliant on project funding which is a fine balancing act and capacity to fundraise is more often than not, a function that is informally included into a staff member’s role.

2.4 Training is usually the first target when budgets become constrained, whereas it should be retained as skills and expertise become important capital to the organisation.

2.5 Spending cuts both at central and local Government levels may discourage partnerships as organisations and sectors become more territorial and competitive, keen to establish an edge and unique characteristics that make them more fundable.

2.6 Smaller organisations are liable to be more vulnerable at the local level whereas larger, established ones are likely to be able to ride out the years of austerity that lie ahead, though it could be argued that the less well known brands outside of London will also find it difficult to fundraise.

2.7 We could see the merger of organisations which will of course create savings due to scales of economy being met. However, the diversity and breadth of expertise which smaller organisations represent will be lost. The UK is a country defined by the variety of distinct communities our arts and heritage sectors engage with and we will be all the poorer if such uniqueness is lost.

2.8 First Light is a national charity that champions the full spectrum of diverse backgrounds that young people can be drawn upon in our funded projects. We seek to support new opportunities for those who would otherwise not have access to filmmaking activities. It is essential that we continue to have different voices and fresh talent exposed to what the creative moving image industries is about, contributing new ideas and developing the business case for greater diversity in the workforce. The film and television industries need to be more representative of the UK population, more technically adept (which young people are), and able to contribute and participant in the creative knowledge economy, one of the UK’s strength in the global marketplace.

3 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;

3.1 The UK Film Council’s demise has a direct consequence for First Light. It is the channel through which the charity receives its National Lottery grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sports. However, taking aside this issue, First light identifies the following impacts that will arise from the abolishment of this strategic agency for UK filmmaking.

3.1.1 The UK Film Council has been able to bring under one umbrella the various distinct but interconnected areas of archives, film education, young people’s filmmaking, audience development, production, exhibition and distribution, certification, etc. This has enabled partnership working and development of strategies which have served not only the public well but also strengthened the sector as a whole.

3.1.2 The discussions to date in the press and public at large have understandably concentrated on production, the profile capturing story. However, without acknowledging the important of audience development and film education/ work with young people shortsightedness comes into play. Key to developing the UK’s film production base there has to be a parallel strategy to develop the knowledge, appreciation and cultivation of British cinema audiences who will drive the need to produce more indigenous films. Solely concentrating on making more British films ignores that fact that without input at the other end of the film value chain means that British filmmakers will more often than not lose out to the stronger, higher profile US film fare.

3.1.3 The Regional Screen Agencies and Nations will also be affected. Funded by the UK Film Council, the majority if not all, are also funded by their respective Regional Development Agencies which are also being abolished. This double hit consequently means that the less glamorous grassroots work to develop audiences and education work are most vulnerable to being cut.

3.1.4 The UK Film Council has become an international brand around which UK film activity can coalesce around and use to strong effect to promote the full value chain of British filmmaking. It has its respected ambassadors whom they are able to draw upon to promote the UK as a place to do business and that has some of the world’s leading filmmaking technical expertise.

4 Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;

4.1 Developing a philanthropic culture to mirror the American model will take many years and may require incentives to stimulate interest. There is a danger that without support/incentives/pressure for businesses and high net worth individuals to consider becoming supporters, the culture will take a long time to develop. This gap between public funding being withdrawn and the philanthropic culture becoming established could result in may arts/cultural organisations closing.

4.2 There are some areas that businesses and philanthropists will not view as fundable. This is particularly pertinent given that these alternative sources of funding will not be subject to the level of scrutiny and accountability as publicly funders, who have to be transparent in their decision making processes.

4.3 There are particular issues that are of wider public interest that require the intervention of the public purse. Companies are unlikely to endorse projects which cannot fit into a business or CSR case for them, and similarly philanthropists will not necessarily be wide ranging in their support, but may wish to support particular niche areas. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with either approach but it does mean that there is the potential for a narrowing band of organisations that are seen as fundable.

4.4 Experts in the arts and heritage sectors with their knowledge and expertise are able to bring to the fore strategic overviews and opinion pieces that business and philanthropists will lack.

4.5 Smaller, less well known organisations may not be as attractive to support, whereas headline organisations will have resources (human capital, skills to navigate this specialism, networks, etc.) to succeed in connecting with both businesses and philanthropists.

4.6 Where both could play a role would be to offer skills transfer exchange to make organisations in both the arts and heritage sectors more business-like. More often than not, arts/heritage managers have learnt on the job, without the training and development budgets their equivalent in the business sectors would benefit from. Consequently some practices are not as strong, efficient or robust as they can be. In these economic straightened times managers need to be even more smart and business like in their approach to running their respective organisations.

4.7 The interplay between business and organisations/agencies such as First Light who operate within the wider creative moving image sector is more dynamic. The charity has been working with a wide range of industry partners to support its work around access and connecting with diverse talent. This is an area of work the organisation will develop and anticipates that film/television businesses as they come to recognize and trust the brand, will seek it out to source potential talent.

4.8 Support from businesses has to date come in all shapes and sizes, depending on capacity, work-flow, appropriate work available, etc. Cash support has been thin on the ground, but instead, businesses have been playing the long game and have become involved through activities such as mentoring, placements, offering experts for masterclasses, technical support, and creative training.

September 2010