Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Voluntary Arts England (arts 129)

Voluntary Arts is the national development agency for the amateur arts sector and works to promote practical participation in the arts and crafts. There are more than 49,000 amateur arts groups in England with an estimated 5.9 million members, in addition 3.5 million people volunteer as extras or helpers making a total of 9.4m people. We are making this submission on behalf of the sector. Although we haven’t had time to consult with groups extensively, the views expressed here are informed by forum posts, requests for advice and training and the report ‘Our Creative Talent, the voluntary and amateur arts in England’ published in 2008 (DCMS)


i. Most amateur arts organisations do not rely on government subsidy to maintain their level of activity however they do rely on the support of their artform umbrella bodies and Voluntary Arts as the development agency for the sector. Together we offer advice and training on income generation and making effective use of resources which is vital in a climate where public subsidy is hard to come by.

ii. Many groups benefit from small grant schemes and in-kind support administered by local authorities and would suffer considerably if such opportunities were reduced.

iii. Severe cuts affecting the professional art sector would cause amateur arts practitioners to lose out as consumers, audience members and could significantly affect the quality of life for large numbers of people.

iv. Most amateur arts groups already operate on low budgets which are accustomed to stretch to gain maximum benefits.

v. We would welcome initiatives to encourage collaborative working and would be interested to see how Voluntary Arts could develop this within the sector

vi. Voluntary Arts has a good relationship with Arts Council North East as one of its Regularly Funded Organisation clients and would oppose the centralisation of the grant.

vii. With reference to proposed changes to Arts Council funding, we would support a structure that was transparent, equitable and did not favour large professional arts organisations over smaller, more localised organisations and amateur arts organisations with an overt social or community benefit.

viii. Local Authorities could be encouraged to work with amateur arts groups to extend budgets for participative activity.

ix. We welcome the restoration of the National Lottery to its original mandate vis-a-vis the proportion of money awarded to arts projects.

x. Voluntary Arts would like to ensure that small grants for arts projects with a social, community or health benefit continue to be awarded and there is not an undue emphasis on awarding large grants to cut administrative costs.

xi. Amateur arts groups already represent many aspects of the Big Society in action. We would welcome a funding scheme that awards groups which develop this ethos.

xii. Voluntary Arts makes a distinction between ‘arm’s-length’ infrastructure support organisations and grassroots membership umbrella organisations which fulfil a vital role and should be maintained. Voluntary Arts was formed by and supports such membership organisations and is integral to the development of the sector.

xiii. We feel that the decisions to cut such bodies as the UK Film Council were made quickly without sufficient consultation or evidence on the impact of such cuts.

xiv. Although currently amateur arts groups do not receive significant donations from business and philanthropy, we would welcome moves to provide better tax incentives to enable donations and sponsorship to become more attractive. We would also like to see donors being encouraged to support the Big Society, with its wealth of social and community benefits

1. What impact recent and future spending cuts from central and local government will have on arts and heritage at a national and local level?

i. Across the UK, tens of thousands of amateur arts groups stage plays and operas, festivals and concerts, put on exhibitions and run classes and workshops every week. Amateur arts groups are rooted in almost every local community across the UK. They are almost all independent local organisations established by their participants, self-financing and fiercely independent of national and local government.

ii. The amateur arts sector does not rely on government subsidy to maintain its level of activity. Traditionally amateur arts groups are self funded, self governed and are proficient in good housekeeping to ensure that the income is well spent. Research tells us there are 49,140 amateur arts groups in England involving 9.4 million people (‘Our Creative Talent’, DCMS/Arts Council England, 2008). The amateur arts sector also includes at least as many people taking part individually or through adult education classes. In 2008 the income of the sector was estimated to be £543m per year. (Our Creative Talent) Across the amateur arts 82% of finance is self generated: in general the amateur arts are not looking for core public funding.

iii. However many groups benefit from small grant schemes administered by local authorities and the reduction or cessation of these grants will have a damaging impact. Also local authority reduced budgets may make it more difficult for groups to have access to decent venues, networking opportunities and training.

iv. Cuts from local and central government on arts and heritage budgets will have an adverse effect on amateur arts practitioners in their role as consumers and audience members as their attendance at theatres, galleries and other cultural venues is generally more than the average. Many amateur arts practitioners are inspired, stimulated and encouraged by professional art activity and reduced opportunities to access this would impact on their own art practice.

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

I. With over 49,000 amateur arts groups in England there are a plethora of small groups with an interest in a particular artform or craft. These are grouped together under 200 national umbrella bodies that represent their members and offer advice support and member services such as specialised insurance, access to conferences, training opportunities and equipment. Amateur arts groups already operate on shoestring budgets but there may be potential to work in collaboration with other organisations to develop their activity. We would welcome the opportunity for professional arts organisations to make closer links with amateur groups, using premises out of office hours (when many groups meet) or being invited to events. There is potential for economies of scale to be made between groups on a local level usually around skill sharing such as marketing and promotion, IT or accounting. Voluntary Arts would be interested in brokering such a scheme or supporting local authorities to develop such a role.

3. Is the current system, and structure of funding distribution the right one?

i. The current system gives Arts Council England the dominant role as funder of arts organisations and projects. Voluntary Arts has been a regularly funded organisation for some years, has a good relationship with Arts Council England North East (ACENE) and Arts Council England (ACE) and is actively involved in the ACE Amateur Arts Partnership Development Programme, helping to break down barriers between the amateur and professional sectors. To date the system has worked well for the organisation and the sector as a whole. As a national charity with a base in the northeast, Voluntary Arts is well placed to ensure that its national policy is informed partly by the regional experience. We have a good relationship with our lead officer and would vigorously oppose any move to centralise the funding system.

ii. Arts Council England is proposing to replace the current system of funding regularly funded organisations on a three year rolling programme with a system of tiered funding relating to a) specific work carried out over 1-5 years, b) a long term partnership relationship and c) a fee bearing contract relating to specific tasks.

iii. While it might be necessary for ACE to achieve a flexible funding strategy in the current climate there is a danger that large, heavily-subsidised, London-based arts organisations will continue to be underwritten by long term funding programmes to the detriment of smaller, more provincial organisations with an evident social and community focus. The proposed scheme will enable numerous types of funding arrangement to arise but a concern would be that transparency and equity might be reduced. ACE has historically been criticised for subsiding ‘high art’ which is elitist, Voluntary Arts is concerned that the ACE clients would effectively receive three levels of funding and that amateur arts groups and their umbrella bodies would be relegated to the ‘third division’.

Local Authorities could be encouraged to work closely with amateur arts groups to enable their budgets to reach large numbers of participants. Access to premises, in-kind support and training opportunities can be extremely valuable to amateur groups and may not cost vast sums of money. For some groups it is important that a local, accessible grant scheme operates. Currently local authorities vary considerably in their support of amateur arts groups in their area. There are Arts Development teams that actively work with the sector, convening meetings, and encouraging networking, operating a small grants scheme and developing opportunities for groups to contribute to wider agendas such as health and wellbeing and community cohesion.

4. What will the impact of recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds be on arts and heritage organisations?

i. We welcome the restoration of the proportion of arts Lottery funding to the original level of 20%. In the current climate with a funding squeeze on arts and culture, and with Arts Council England regularly funded organisations being asked to model cuts of more than 10%, any increase in arts funding is welcome news. The Lottery was originally conceived to fund areas of activity that fell outside core statutory responsibility; so we welcome this restoration.

ii. We do have reservations on how the proposed change might impact on the amateur arts sector. We worry that as our sector spans both arts and community sectors it may miss out from both when it comes when it comes to funding. Grants for the Arts applications to Arts Council England are principally judged on ‘artistic criteria’. For many amateur arts groups, projects are often about using art to achieve social or community outcomes. We would like Arts Council England to consider providing opportunities for groups to apply for funding for instrumental use of the arts and we would like the Big Lottery Fund to encourage applications from groups using artistic activity to deliver outcomes in line with Big Lottery Fund criteria. [There is anecdotal evidence of amateur arts groups being advised by the Big Lottery Fund to apply to Arts Council England because they are arts organisations, regardless of the fact that the project for which they are seeking funding is designed to deliver social and community outcomes and would not fit Arts Council England’s artistic criteria.]

5. Do the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed?

i. Amateur arts groups have benefitted from grants administered by the Big Lottery Fund particularly Awards for All; a small grants programme with a straightforward application process and short response time. Voluntary Arts is keen to see the small grant scheme extended. It represents value for money, is based in grassroots need.

ii. We would like to see the National Lottery underpinning the ethos of the ‘Big Society’ In addition to the Big Society bank, Voluntary Arts would welcome the development of grants to reward small-scale, local action that brings benefits to people and their communities. To some extent the amateur arts sector already represents many aspects of the Big Society in action. But in most cases there is still a lack of connection between the amateur arts and other community groups. With some exceptions, amateur arts groups tend to be very focussed on their artform, their own regular participation/rehearsal and performances or exhibitions. A major strand of the work of Voluntary Arts is to encourage greater collaboration with other community groups and civil society activities to realise the underutilised potential of the amateur arts sector.

iii. The amateur arts sector contributes significantly to community cohesion, local pride and identity, health and wellbeing and many other aspects of strong communities but the scale of the amateur arts sector provides potential for it to play a much greater role in strengthening communities throughout the country and realising the Big Society.

iv. Currently the policy direction of the Big Lottery is under review and the question is being posed as to whether the direction should either follow

‘The need to ensure that money is distributed to projects that benefit people and local communities served by the voluntary and community sector’ or

‘The need to ensure that money is distributed to projects in the voluntary and community sector in order to benefit the people and local communities in that sector’

The wording of the first option implies that money would be distributed to projects that could be outside the scope of the voluntary and community sector but opens up the possibility of local authorities being recipients of funds. For that reason Voluntary Arts wishes to maintain the wording of the second option.

v. As there is a need to reduce bureaucracy and administration costs Voluntary Arts is concerned that there may be an emphasis on awarding large grants to large organisations, thereby making it difficult for smaller amateur arts groups to access funding.

6. What will the impact be 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. Voluntary Arts accepts that arts funding is not sacrosanct and cuts in line with other departmental targets will need to be made, however we believe that when cuts are made to organisations that are intrinsic to the development of professional standards and quality projects we believe that the detrimental effect on the sector will be more far reaching than anticipated. At a time of stringent cuts and falling audience numbers it is vital that organisations work intelligently, cutting back waste, developing innovation and having confidence to sometimes take risks. Umbrella organisations and development agencies can ensure that effective partnerships are made and resources used efficiently.

ii. The abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)will adversely affect cinema goers, filmmakers both professional and amateur, and amateur arts practitioners who have benefitted from MLA initiatives.

iii. We see a distinction between ‘arms-length’ infrastructure bodies and those rooted in grassroots activity. Although we would agree that it is important to protect front-line delivery, membership organisations and those which have evolved organically to support the sector are integral to an efficient, well run sector supporting a vast number of independent groups. Since the 1880s UK amateur arts groups have sought out similar groups across the country and 'federated' – forming membership organisations within particular artforms. This is a bottom-up evolutionary process which has resulted today in nearly 200 specialist national umbrella organisations (including the British Federation of Brass Bands, Making Music, the Lace Guild, the National Association of Choirs, the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts etc). Most of these umbrella bodies are small, unfunded members’ clubs which produce a newsletter and run occasional conferences or other events. A few are more substantial with professional offices and staff to provide training and advice to their member groups. Voluntary Arts was created in 1991 by some of these umbrella bodies to link them together and provide a single voice for the amateur arts sector in the UK and Ireland.  Much of our work is about making better use of existing resources by linking existing organisations – e.g. helping local amateur arts groups to access funding, training, advice and support from the wider voluntary (non-profit) sector as well as the arts sector. Voluntary Arts provides a single point of contact with the vast amateur arts sector. This organic network of 200 bottom-up infrastructure organisations gives the amateur arts sector a resilience and vibrancy.

iv. We are concerned that the ‘infrastructure’ bodies, even those embedded in the grassroots of their sector are vulnerable to cuts. The recent decision by the Arts Council of Wales to withdraw core funding from a range of infrastructure and support bodies including Voluntary Arts Wales is a case in point and we would vigorously oppose cuts to other departments of Voluntary Arts.

7.Individual philanthropy and business support

i. Amateur arts groups do receive business support and donations from individuals but it is usually on a small, local scale and is often because an individual donor is a amateur arts practitioner. Historically, large donations have been made to high-profile, prestigious, mostly London-based arts organisations. Voluntary Arts does not foresee this situation changing and if the Government’s focus is to encourage large donations in lieu of grant aid, the amateur arts sector could be diminished as a result.

ii. Voluntary Arts would welcome better tax incentives to individual givers but would like to see a greater emphasis on the promotion of benefits of arts activity to health, wellbeing and social cohesion. Individual donors could be encouraged to see the wider benefits of their donations, e.g. the savings on prescription drugs for older people who sing in choirs.

September 2010