Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Apples & Snakes (arts 124)

Written evidence

1. This submission is made on behalf of Apples & Snakes, the UK’s leading organisation for performance poetry and currently a regularly funded organisation of Arts Council England. We run just under 100 performance poetry and spoken word events every year, arrange nearly 700 participatory educational workshops each year that help deliver real social benefits, and provide top quality training and artist development opportunities for both new and established poets throughout the year.

2. I believe that the proposed funding cuts from central and local Government will have a hugely detrimental impact on the arts in this country; particularly if they are front-loaded so that there is no transition period in which organisations can seek alternative means of support and plan for a much more challenging financial future.

3. Arts organisations already work closely together in a way that would seem alien to the business community. The current financial situation means that we are doing so more and more, and finding new ways to collaborate at an artistic and operational level. On behalf of Apples & Snakes, I am talking to three different consortia about how we can work together and potentially make economies of scale. However I think it’s important to bear in mind that the not-for-profit arts sector, although not commercial, has always operated as a competitive market. Organisations doing exactly the same work as each other simply would not have got funding, and there just aren’t huge areas of overlap and duplication of activities. This is particularly the case within the literature sector, which has always been poorly funded in comparison with other artforms.

4. I was lucky enough to start my career in the arts in 1997; near the start of what I think will be looked back upon as a kind of golden age for arts funding. This doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that money was always plentiful or indeed that it was in any way squandered. However there has been a sustained level of funding which has led to a vibrant, artistically exciting, technically ground-breaking and financially viable arts sector. I am very concerned that the proposed draconian cuts in public funding could potentially lead to the opposite: a weak, vulnerable, overly cautious sector that is scared to take artistic risks and who can’t subsidise access to the arts for the most deprived members of our society. It could also become a place where people like me – without the privilege of an income from elsewhere or support from wealthy parents – are unable to find a (paid) first step on the ladder.

5. I believe that it’s right for government to remain at arm’s length from funding decisions and that the Arts Council does a good job in its strategic role. Apples & Snakes has been involved in the consultation that ACE has been running into their proposed new funding strands and look forward to finding more about these plans in due course. We are hopeful that the reallocation of National Lottery funds to their original good causes will have a positive impact on arts organisations as it will increase the Lottery funding available at a time when other funding sources are in jeopardy.

6. As an arts organisation, Apples & Snakes has not been directly affected by the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council; however, it seems difficult to imagine that closing down two organisations with considerable expertise and years of developing projects, programmes, infrastructure and relationships within their respective sectors won’t have a detrimental effect.

7. Businesses and philanthropists already play a substantial role in funding arts at both a national and a local level. Many arts and heritage organisations already have strategies in place to raise funds through these means, and staff that are skilled and experienced in working with the corporate sector and/or high net worth individuals. Therefore I do not believe that this is a hirtherto untapped market which could in some way replace public subsidy. There are also some organisations which find it harder to attract this sort of funding because of the nature of the work; and this is where public funding becomes all the more crucial. Clearly more Government incentives to encourage private donations would be a positive move, but I don’t think business and private donors can ever replace direct Government funding of the arts.

September 2010