Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Murray Weston (arts 140)

1.1 This submission is made by Murray Weston, Chair of the Film Archive Forum UK* and Chief Executive of the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC)**.

1.2 At the time of submission, the content of this response has not been ratified by the boards of the two organisations cited. This response must therefore, for the time-being, be regarded as personal.

*The Film Archive Forum is a national representative body which brings together the senior managers and curatorial staff of the UK’s regional and national audio-visual collections which receive public funds.

**The British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) is a national representative body which promotes the study and use of moving image and sound, and related media in post compulsory learning and research.

1.3 This response concerns the long-term support of the regional and national audio-visual archives in the UK and proposes:

(i) a move to legal deposit which may be required to secure audio-visual content and catalogue data for long term storage and to support access

(ii) an increase in recurrent funding at all levels in the sector

(iii) a formal reassessment of moving image archives and an evidence-based review of recurrent financial sources which may be applied

(iv) further development of the ‘Union Catalogue’ to integrate information on all publicly-funded archive holdings with other data sources nationwide to promote public access and use, while retaining elegance of search operations


2.1 Although moving image and sound are pervasive media in the 21 st Century, they remain a Cinderella story in the world of UK libraries and archives, bearing in mind the quantities of content and contextual documentation which is being created and lost through neglect and lack of investment or a coherent forward-thinking national strategy.

2.2 Future generations will be the judges of our efforts to value, capture and preserve the UK’s audio-visual heritage. Right now, those of us who work for or with audio-visual archives in the UK know that we require a sea-change in policy terms comprehensively to capture and preserve audio-visual works for long term access. For the time-being, those who engage professionally with the curation of audio-visual works are aware of substantial shortcomings in the system when compared to the current treatment of published text.

2.3 During the last 100 years, audio-visual media have been among the most powerful in communicating knowledge and entertainment to the largest audiences. In the early part of the 20 th Century, cinema newsreels (for instance) were the only source of authoritative news for a predominantly illiterate population so the cinema was their ‘window on the world’ and it had a profound effect on public opinion. This is one example of the value of these media historically, and one which is thrown into high relief when we consider the quantity of broadcast news which is currently being discarded or lost.

2.4 The careful cataloguing, preservation and access to these media is essential to underpin scholarship and learning in a society which intends to value its past to inform the future.

2.5 However, the story of the cataloguing, preservation and access to audio-visual works in the UK is one of disorganisation and under-investment that appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

2.6 This situation in the UK compares very poorly with other EU states. In France, for instance, the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel INA (in Bry sur Marne) receives some €75 million per annum to capture, store and preserve radio and television, whereas the UK invests around £3 million per annum in these media. In addition to the INA, the French government also supports the massive Cinémathèque Française, which has the benefit of legal deposit, plus an ongoing system of digitisation and remote access.

2.7 ‘Parity with Paper’ is the epithet which is heard from frustrated UK scholars fighting for access to archive audio-visual works. This is not without justice because a simple analysis reveals how far behind text audio-visual works in the UK are in being drawn into the scholarly corpus.

2.8. 1 Text – books and journals

Legal deposit – publishers are required, by law and if requested, to lodge six copies of each published work for storage in the six copyright libraries in the UK and Ireland

It is important to note that most printed publications are published in a minimum run of 1000 copies, whereas television programmes, for instance, may only exist in one or two copies (if that) at the time of transmission (although addressing and affecting an audience which may be counted in millions). They are therefore a great deal more vulnerable to destruction and loss than literary works published as books. Audio-visual works may therefore affect a great deal more lives through transmission to mass audiences, but be a great deal more vulnerable to loss.

Inter-library loan of books – the UK’s book libraries enjoy the benefit of a developed network which collaborates to deliver a service of inter-library loan which

operates throughout the UK public library system.

Cataloguing – is an integral part of the process of legal deposit of published text which supports the use of ISBNs and ISSNs and standard catalogue descriptors by the publishers and by the recipient libraries. It goes without saying that, without a properly developed library catalogue it is not possible to know what is there to be found.

Citation through published bibliographies and reading lists is a process embedded in the culture of scholarship.

2. 8 .2 Audio-visual works

No legal deposit arrangements –  a television transmission which is viewed by some 15 million people may be discarded by the producers within a very short time after completion. There is an off-air recording arrangement which partially captures independent television and BBC television output in the BFI National Archive.

Feature film prints and copies of other films are only deposited in the national collections through voluntary arrangements with owners.

No formal process of Inter-library loan for film and copies of broadcasts –this places audio-visual works at a substantial disadvantage, when compared to published text, from the point of view of scholarship and research.

Cataloguing of archive film, television and radio in commercial collections is often solely for the purposes of supporting onward sales so the scholarly components of context, and rigour of description are rarely accomplished in sufficient detail alongside technical data. There is no single cataloguing standard and no unified national catalogue for UK film and television archives (although recent moves have been made in this direction through the collaboration of members of the Film Archive Forum UK in the Screen Heritage UK initiative).

No developed culture of citation in research through publication of filmographic information and viewing lists

2. 8 .3 In the last decade, under the Labour government, the audio-visual archive sector made its case on these issues, initially through a well-attended conference at The British Library, under the title Hidden Treasures, and later through submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee. Then the British Film Institute compiled a paper entitled the Strategy for UK Screen Heritage which proposed that there was an urgent need to (i) secure the BFI’s own collection (the National Film and Television Archive), (ii) to support the established regional film and television archives, and (iii) to promote greater understanding and use of these media by educational establishments and the general public. The estimated cost of this initial investment was put at £55 million over five years. However, the government responded by allocating funds of just £25 million from the DCMS to the UK Film Council to disburse over a period of three years.

2. 8 .4 From this sum around £19 million has been allocated to a building programme for the BFI for new storage facilities. Around £1.5 million has been applied to the development of a ‘union catalogue’ (for the publicly-funded audio-visual collections in the English regions) and around £2 million has been allocated to regional archives under an initiative entitled Revitalising the Regions. In 2010 the incoming coalition government saw fit to withdraw some £2.5 million from the funds which had been allocated for digitisation and public access work. This relatively small cut in spend means that the general public will be less likely to see the benefit of, or appreciate the significance of, previous public investment in audiovisual archives.

3 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

3.1 The immediate consequence for the UK’s nations and regions is that the relatively modest funds now cut from the Screen Heritage UK initiative (some £2.5 million) will have the effect of hiding from public view the fruits of investment in audio-visual archives which stretches back more than 50 years. Curtailing digitisation activity for online delivery is therefore an inefficient cut which undoubtedly has a deleterious effect on the public impact of previous investments. Further cuts will be substantially deleterious for UK audio-visual archives.

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

4.1 As a result of the apparent lack of national appetite to install legislation for legal deposit of published audio-visual works, unique audio-visual heritage assets, which are arguably some of the most powerful records of British life and culture, are spread haphazardly across various sectors – industrial, commercial, private, public and educational – and there is still no unified national catalogue of the content assets which have survived. They are therefore highly vulnerable to disposal, degradation and loss as a result of inappropriate preservation policies driven by overly constrained finances and/or ignorance.

4.2 By and large, the various sectors holding unique audio-visual archive items recognise their heritage value and do hold constructive dialogue and, from time-to-time, work together collaboratively. However, the only way fully to secure the national collection and its context long term is to install mandatory arrangements under legal deposit and support the creation of centres of excellence for public access to and preservation of physical and virtual audio-visual media. Legal deposit would bind the regional and national effort to acquire, preserve, catalogue and make available our audio-visual heritage.

5 What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable

5.1 When considering the future, publicly-funded audio-visual archives have an increasingly complex set of tasks to accomplish to satisfy public expectations. However, in the UK the sector has been burdened by misconceptions from public funding agencies that have tended: (i) to place moving image and sound collections in a different category from text libraries, (ii) to expect ‘the industry to pay’ for these archives, (iii) to expect audio-visual archives to ‘monetise’ their collections when the ownership of the underlying IP rests elsewhere, and (iv) to characterise moving image and sound collections as ‘entertainment’ and not part of the scholarly corpus.

5.2 Recurrent core grant funding is therefore essential to secure publicly-funded audio-visual archives long-term, but this should not be to the exclusion of other forms of income from trading, sponsorship, research and publishing.

5.3 The dark truth of private sector audio-visual archives is that less than 10% of any collection earns 90% of income from trading so precious few, if any, commercial collections will be able to support their collections long term (from trading in content) and most private archives will, ultimately, end up in the hands of publicly-funded archive agencies.

6 Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one

6.1 There can be little doubt that the current systems of funding for the support of publicly-funded audio-visual archives in the UK (especially the regional film archives) is not fit for purpose and should be reassessed and improved radically without delay (because it is currently so varied and inconsistent). While the national collections urgently require additional recurrent funding, the need in the regions is arguably even more urgent.

6.2 The BFI’s National Archive, along with the UK’s three other ‘national’ audio-visual collections (National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, and the Imperial War Museum Film Collection), are in receipt of recurrent core public funding. In a number of these cases (for instance in the case of the BFI’s National Archive) recurrent funding is in urgent need of uplift because the existing collections cannot be maintained or improved as would be expected. This is the result of the freezing of recurrent grant funding and the consequential reductions in staff employed to support quality cataloguing, curation and access long term. Poor funding causes a piece-meal, make-do-and-mend approach to curation that is not capable of engaging efficiently with the immediate challenge of capturing and storing additional content arising from the upsurge in production and publication through media such as satellite television, DVBT and the Web.

6.3 The very worst difficulty for those constructing forward financial plans to sustain audio-visual archive collections is the misguided notion (engendered primarily by public funding agencies) that these collections are capable of being ‘monetised’ or exploited in such a way as to support most of the archive operation. This is hard to understand. We would not, for instance, expect The British Library to sustain its future operation through the sale of books. Why, therefore, would it be expected that film and television archives enjoy such an opportunity when they are also custodians or repositories of works created and owned by others?

7 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

7.1 The abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council will, in our view, have a mixed effect. The UKFC was not established originally with a remit to take a serious long-term interest in the organisation and running of the nation’s film and television archives. It was therefore perceived to be (along with its associated Regional Screen Agencies) somewhat ‘in the way’ of the process of draw-down and application of funds for the benefit of the regional archives. There were also substantial political issues arising from a Screen Heritage UK initiative which (apparently) was only to apply to the ‘English regions’. On the other hand, the development of a specialist body to deal with film UK wide was a good idea. However, the unfortunate abrogation by the UKFC of any real interest in television, which has been palpable in the corridors of Little Portland Street, has been strangely retrograde bearing in mind obvious issues arising from the convergence of audio-visual technologies and multiplatform distribution.

7.2 The MLA was helpful to the national and regional audio-visual archives but their issues did not immediately map on-to the MLA schema.

7.3 The immediate concern is that the small advances achieved by audio-visual archives with the assistance of UKFC and MLA funding should be turned, as soon as possible, into measurable change and long-term benefit.

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

8.1 Business interests and philanthropists have had an effect on the funding of audio-visual archives. However, such relationships have been few and far between, and even fewer have had a long-term effect. By and large commercial business sponsorship is short-term and focussed on achieving immediate goals. The audio-visual archive sector requires long-term recurrent funding, so business sponsorship, as currently available, can only be regarded as project-based and short-term.

8.2 Very few philanthropists have made an impact with their support for audio-visual archives. The late John Paul Getty jnr was one of these rare people and his support for the BFI and the NFTS in the 1980s/90s was substantial, funding the purchase of 21 Stephen Street and the building of the John Paul Getty Preservation Centre at Berkhamsted. These were capital projects which were welcome, but such investment did not offer a significant long term contribution to recurrent funding. There can be little doubt that new forms of incentive for individuals and business interests will be required to provide sustained support for audio-visual archives.

9 Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

9.1 Giving by the rich in the UK is not yet an ‘expectation’ as it might be in the USA. This is a cultural change which may only be achieved through a variation in attitudes encouraged by an improved set of incentives. Some of those incentives should be financial through tax breaks and other benefits. However, it must be said that private donations will not, alone, fully sustain audio-visual archives long term.

September 2010