Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Film and Video Umbrella Ltd (FVU) (arts 169)

1. Summary

§ Public funding has supported innovative artistic practice, where private giving is often more supportive towards established art forms and established artists

§ An immediate effect of significant cuts to the arts ecology is a slowing down of productivity as partnerships and funding become slower and less secure – this in turn makes projects more time-consuming and expensive

§ In a sector where a large proportion of contributors operate with not-for-profit or charitable status, there are little or no margins to cut and any reduction of support will directly effect productivity

§ Following on from the abolition of UK Film Council, a strategic rethink of support for cultural film could greatly benefit artists working in moving image from within the establish arts infrastructure

2. Introduction

This is a submission in respect of the forthcoming inquiry into The Funding of Arts and Heritage by the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, on behalf of the Arts Council England-funded arts organisation Film and Video Umbrella Ltd (FVU). This submission is in response to an email from Arts Council England’s Chief Executive Moira Sinclair in which she encouraged FVU and other RFOs (regularly funded organisations) to register their views on a number of questions posed by the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee. The submission also includes a Director’s Statement from Steven Bode, who has been director of the organisation for the best part of two decades.

3. Organisational profile

Film and Video Umbrella programmes, produces, presents and promotes film, video and new media work by artists.

Underpinning these various interlocking strands of our activity is a commitment to touring as the most effective model of reaching and generating an audience, and to working collaboratively with diverse, often regionally based venues to achieve this.

A similar eclecticism and scope is at the heart of our programming, which not only seeks to champion contemporary film and video work but also clearly and concisely locates it within a broader artistic or cultural context.

FVU is an RFO of Arts Council England and in addition to our ACE grant we currently raise approximately 50% of our turnover from funds and from paid fees. FVU employs three full-time members of staff, four part-time members and a further three freelance creatives on a project-by-project basis.

4. Director’s Statement

Like a lot of organisations across the country, we have been taking some time this summer to focus on the challenges and priorities of the months ahead. Everyone working in the arts faces some difficult, unavoidable choices, and an across-the-board review of strategic funding to look at best value for artists and audiences is an important part of that process.
Broadly speaking, the early responses to the situation that have emerged from Arts Council England strike us as both appropriate and imaginative. The challenges ahead obviously call for further innovative and creative thinking, qualities with which the arts community, to its good fortune, is particularly blessed.
While the arts community is able, and willing, to think differently, there are some fundamental principles that need to be highlighted, and reiterated, as part of any wide-ranging review, however radical, or well-intentioned. Much of the expansion of the contemporary visual arts in this country over the last decade has coincided with a strong, reciprocal relationship between publicly funded organisations and the commercial sector. While private giving, by wealthy collectors and other benefactors, has acted as an important stimulus in this, it needs to be recognised that there are certain activities (at the more experimental end of the spectrum especially) that the art market will much less inclined to support, but which are nevertheless crucial to the development of artistic practice. (It is worth reminding ourselves here how innovations outside today’s mainstream often accrue cultural, and commercial, value a few years on). We are not convinced that there is a queue of private benefactors who are able to fully grasp, let alone materially support, the range of professional and conceptual development that publicly-funded organisations regularly fulfill. The prospect of greater philanthropic giving is appealing, and not without potential, but its limits, as a regular and consistent source of outside revenue, need to be appreciated.
Similarly, we are not convinced that there is as much scope as might first seem to be the case for organisations sharing day-to-day resources. The current economic challenges have already seen a number of like-minded organisations working collaboratively and consensually to help further common aims and aspirations. Any move towards actively merging organisations’ operational/administrative functions in the interests of savings needs to be thought through very carefully, however; especially in the case of small- to medium-scale organisations.

- Steven Bode

5. Detailed response to questions raised by Arts Council England

In addition to the above statement we would like to add our responses to a couple of questions specifically from FVU’s perspective:

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

The recent funding cuts amongst arts organisations and the prospect of further cuts to come has meant that both FVU, and the organisations with which it collaborates, have been forced to remodel their budgets, and to consider the likely implications of any shortfall on their future programming. A number of projects that are currently in development have been placed on hold, waiting for confirmation from potential project partners – we are unlikely to receive these commitments until the impact of the settlement is known. In our field is not uncommon for projects to have a production/development life of 12-18 months, so the knock-on effect of the uncertainty in itself, let alone any cuts to funding, is likely to be felt for quite some time.

All of our collaborative partners are as aware as we are that the pressure on current sources of funding is due to become increasingly competitive and that a higher percentage of applications is likely to be rejected. This will mean that development and pre-production of projects will not only be more uncertain but that more person-hours will need to be committed to getting a project off the ground.

One concern is that funders will come to favour ‘safer’ projects with significant institutional backing, and that more challenging, niche and artist-led projects will consequently struggle for support. This would slowly but surely undermine a thriving arts ecology where experimentation at grass root level feeds through to the nation’s major museums as well as being part of the lifeblood of its small independent galleries.

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

The level of public funding for arts and culture that has pertained over the last decade has resulted in an extraordinary variety of internationally acclaimed work that has been accompanied by an equally significant groundswell of public interest in contemporary art. If previous levels of support have, in effect, got us to where we are today, there must be concern that a drop-off in funding will undo some of the advances that have been made.

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
As an organisation with a long-standing commitment to creative innovation with the moving image, Film and Video Umbrella is waiting to see how strategic policy for this area will be realigned following the abolition of the UK Film Council, but has been reassured by recent statements from Government stressing the importance of ‘cultural film’ within the publicly-funded sector.

6. Conclusion

Regular funding from Arts Council England has allowed FVU to set new benchmarks of artistic practice, audience outreach and technical innovation. A fall-off in that level of public funding presupposes new streams of income to make good that loss. We are not convinced that philanthropy and private giving will significantly ameliorate a substantial cut in funding, since collectors and other benefactors often follow the market rather than cutting edge artistic activity. The long-term effect of not nurturing today’s up-and-coming talent would be that the artworld and the larger moving-image industry would miss out on a number of important future players, and that the area would be poorer as a result.

In a more immediate timeframe, one of the practical obstacles FVU is faced with is the feeling of delay and hesitation which characterises the art world at present. This means that ambitious and forward-looking projects are not only difficult but also more time-consuming and therefore costlier to get off the ground.

In our experience the arts industry is already lean and operating with little or no margins. It is therefore a given that cuts in funding will directly affect artistic output.

September 2010