Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Dr Simon Jenner (arts 222)

Poet, academic (PhD Cantab), administrator. I direct the ACE Regularly Funded Organisation Survivors’ Poetry. This charity (also Company House registered) encourages those with mental distress to empower their lives through the writing of poetry – in many cases, to magazine and collection standard.  We direct workshops, an interactive website and regular events at for instance the Poetry Society, including literary festivals. I also direct Waterloo Press, another ACE-funded not for profit publishing house for poetry, which ploughs its revenue into more production, and aims to be self-sustaining. We specialise in radically good poetry (of all kinds, refusing isms), and translations. My own work as poet has resulted in a flurry of publications and reviews, and I’ve just completed a two year Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at UEL and Chichester Universities, combining with my other roles. I’ve also received RLF and other grants. I’m returning to Chichester University on a freelance basis.


 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 mantras of the arts producing 7% of GDP, and the disproportionate impact of cuts on this output, need no rehearsing here. This paradigm, definitively nailed in the Boyden Report on theatres of 2000 and finessed and amplified since to all art production, has held good for a decade. Denying its truth seems part of a dark incomprehension of what small benefits can accrue to government with such cutting, what devastation to the arts sector and fabric that employs and benefits so many. To say we cannot afford the arts or other wealth generators that require seed-funding is like saying we could not afford to set up – or now continue - the NHS. We were bankrupt when we set that up, and opening up a huge debt we’ve just paid off to the U.S Yet no-one denies – except the Conservative part of the Coalition government that fell in July 1945 – that we could afford it.

In the arts, it’s also a question of wealth generation, not simply absolute ‘loss’ which the NHS might represent for some. In the 1970s you could not ‘afford’ investment in oil wells, despite the massive profits they bring - though these were used or misused, and now BP currently blackens this metaphor. I’ve noticed that the same argument – that we cannot afford it – has not been made of nuclear power, for example, though that does not seemingly bring wealth, merely the illusion of independent power grids.

To quote Boyden in 2004 on a later review:

A vibrant theatre culture has a dynamic contemporary relevance for any engaged society by celebrating collective identity, strengthening social purpose, providing a public forum for ideas, harnessing creativity, feeding energy and talent into the creative industries, and enhancing international perceptions of that society.

ACE itself cut 40% and regionally 50% of its own staff in a fruitless attempt to head off central government cuts. I put this point in January to Alan Davey, ACE CEO, who had blithely deemed it a cauterizing move. He could not accept that a further set of cuts would then be imposed on him, doubling the internal haemorrhage within ACE, and its effectiveness in servicing the arts and arts economy. Cuts start in the regions and smaller, less visible art forms. It perhaps reflects an unconscious mind-set in administrative circles. Less visible means out of London or out of those arenas that say those in positions of responsibility are likely to come across there or in major cities. Out of sight, as it were.

Local government always reaches for the arts budget first when cuts are mooted. Devolving responsibility to local government will effect radical cuts, unmediated and part of a reflex action. There is little of the European local constituency to oppose this. We’ve seen this already. This impacts on any matching funding from local government for ACE, for example.

Other bodies - let’s take the NHS schemes, who provide a fluctuating level of support for arts and health - will also simply fold. Cuts to the Maudsley NHS have resulted in closure to some of the last mental health units for older people (i.e. the Felix Post Unit), stayed only by the remarkable arts productions that emanated from them (my organisation was involved). It did not simply empower and drastically improve quality of life for patients; it also stayed the executioner’ hand, till the recession bit.

The Boyden figures you have. Central government cuts encourage local ones too. The domino effect is self-evident.

There is no doubt that quite apart from the destructive effect on the quality of life in this country, many will find themselves jobless, directly or indirectly because of these cuts. I can vouch for this effect on Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) and the disproportionate effect a few job-cuts mean in vulnerable sectors like mine, for instance that addresses mental health.

The enormously disabling effects of unemployment on kick-starting the economy were of course tackled by Keynes, whose shadow, once deemed obliterated by the sun of 1980s plate glass, returned in 2007 after the collapse of the banks. A wider lesson is again self-evident, whether or not we’re in denial about the sustained growth of purely capitalist systems.

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

Many of us have long been essaying this. In my own case, for 21 months. I believe that office-sharing and the pooling of resources that entails, can lead to harmonious, cost-effective and linked action, programmes that can be co-operatively shared between those who have something in common. And of course lobbying-power is greatly enhanced – both positively, in terms of funding application; and ‘negatively’ when faced with cuts. Personnel can be shared to some extent – though this takes finessing and has to be individually addressed.

ACE itself attempted to create an umbrella capital project in 2002-03 to enable disability organisations to share a single building. Unhappily the process dragged and the money was severally divided so that each went their separate ways to weal or woe. There must be a better way to ensure people want to work together. I rather think the sharp end of a recession might do it.

 One mode is for CEOs and their seconds as it were to share funding applications. This sharing of resources at the jagged end of survival is a wonderful quickener. Joint applications, already encouraged, could be even more actively sought where applicable Please note that it isn’t always the case, or that some organisations many fail through no fault of their own, to secure a funding partner. They should however feel free to indicate (where relevant) their attempts to do this on any form, even if they’ve not been successful.

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

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

There always needs to be a buffer between government and arts bodies – if only for the safety of government officials. Cynically, then, ACE is indispensable to government. In effect, ACE proves an interface – thinning all the time to the width of a screen monitor – between government and DCMS policy, and those they serve. They also feed a hierarchy of funding priorities, starting with the cliché of ROH and working down to the brass door knobs.

Only ACE can ensure the infrastructure of ACE regional bodies, for instance, bodies can be re-labelled but this is expensive and debilitating. ACE, whatever its perceived flaws, is a lot more cost-effective, particularly to those it serves (which must also be taken into account: it cuts both ways) than reconstituting or shrouding another body in difficult-to-access, more quasi-government machinery. That might be desirable to some in government, but the backlash would soon prove this short-sighted.

I would - naturally - argue for a restoration of arts budgets. No other area of our national life does so much for so little. This unthinking, unblinking blanket cut approach, which punishes all for sins committed by those rich enough to pay for the ROH every night, is fast dividing the country like no other. And the arts articulate and focus this rage more effectively than anywhere else.

 The current year, already slashed by £23M, of £460M, is a fraction of the budget tithed for the Olympics, a venture which like other gestural politics, costs infinitely more than more sustainable and ultimately more nationally efficacious area such as the arts. I don’t particularly want to address the Olympics/Arts divide, but logic, as elsewhere, seems to have disappeared since 2005. I know there have been cuts here too, but the long-term damage is infinitely less. Trickle-down benefits might be likened to the Russian millionaire buying cigarettes in a Greenwich corner shop. I use North Greenwich tube, and delightful as it is, its brief function as a world hub has left it somewhat desolate, bar gusts of excited Wednesday visitors after Thriller. The profit lost in selling the Dome of course belongs to another government, though this in turn took its selling-family-silver approach directly from the 1980s. The whole peninsular looks set for a similar desolation after 2012. Pockets, like the Beckham Academy, will of course ensure some activity, but hardly justify the concrete landscape.

Heritage is a different matter. Conservation and heritage are cuter than live arts, and often can raise far greater enthusiasms – witness the TV Restoration series, voting on buildings to save. This was and is admirable. The existence of the National Trust and other bodies are palpably less dependent on government, and though recession might mean that private monies are less forthcoming , they’re more likely to emanate from relatively well-to-do people than a government tackling re cession. I must emphasize the differences evident to all between heritage and current arts, as we do between capital and other projects.

This is not to sound complacent, coming as it does from a contemporary arts scene practitioner. I take a keen interest in heritage. The funding structure and channels are demonstrably different. Restoration-type initiatives are sexy, productive, community-based and boast extremely attractive outcomes. There is too something of the Strongest-Link, buy-to-let/restore-to-sell consumerism feel-good factor involved, though at a subliminal level. In this case it’s for a good cause.

TV choices for Lottery initiatives going head-to head were tried out in 2006. The trouble with this kind of Big Lottery initiative is that it does become a subjective lottery, with a bread-and-circuses approach from executives to public.

• What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations;

We should treat 2012 as a blip, and of course the shift away from the arts that has been a feature of the National Lottery, is unlikely to be reversed unless it’s addressed directly and persistently. Now competition is fierce this may well become a feature of bidding wars between interested lobbying groups. Certainly the disgruntled will gruntle more noisily than heretofore. ACE executives have been muttering to their clients for some time about the haemorrhage. The arts must now be chief beneficiaries. Soft targets must have something soft to fall back on. A very significant amount of our GDP and capacity to attract overseas investment and tourists is directly dependant on this perceptual shift.

Other ACE initiatives have drained the reserves built up. First, the Sustain programme, and subsequently raising the reserves to fulfil their 2010-11 funding commitments, which the government seemed sanguine on their reneging on. Happily this didn’t happen.

One solution would be an incentive for those who pay significant tax to donate directly to the arts through further inducements– but the Treasury won’t have this. What surprises me is the pusillanimity of the Treasury in going for tax evaders on a large scale. If resources targeting the relatively tiny amount lost in benefit fraud were directed towards the real fraud, many billions might be recovered. These people have nowhere these days to flee to. And no party to vote for.

• Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed;

These need to be made simpler, privileging the efficacy of the project over the fluency of presentation. Of course there are limits. Nevertheless the clever nuancing – I’ve made successful applications myself – is one way of ensuring that only educated people can articulate adequate replies. There are shibboleths here, people who understand jargon, catch-words and comforting language to mirror that of the executives who read them. I’m good at it so speak from experience.

•  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;

This seems the most disastrous choice of all. The anti-quango drive has reached one of its reductio ad nauseams, before being even absurd. The Film Council alone has lobbied, finessed, and otherwise brought into being or sped numerous British films, and enhanced the whole film culture. What will replace the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is unclear. There is a mode of presenting these different streams of heritage that cannot be lumped into one kulturpolicy. Why punish the wealth generators who know how to promote such culture as comes within their remit? Doubtless a fantasy of efficient slim-line bureaus might appeal to some, and would be preferable to what in effect will be a costly transition and muddying of resources.

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

Business – particularly absurdly over-flushed ones, like football clubs – of course must be given tax incentive on the American model. The American model of philanthropy on a an individual basis is more flawed (see below) when it comes to the standard British or British-resident millionaire or billionaire. But businesses can certainly profit from ensuring that some of their tax goes as profit to the arts.

Gerry Robinson was Chair of ACE 1998-2004. He needs to address a new TV programme. What’s Wrong with the Arts? If it was made interactive, and Sir Gerry could be philanthropic about his erstwhile catchment area (before his aborted Rentokil days) then some new positively vulgar assault could be made on art prejudice and Robinson himself come up with intriguing solutions we might be able to use. As well as providing rich entertainment, partly as ever, at the expense of arty types. No matter. Art, like murder, must advertise.

A local level is where of course ACE Regional bodies could score, had they resources. It seems the most effective realization is to see that money will not come to the arts without being courted. That is, either government, DCMS/ACE personnel or arts organisations (who have been doing this for themselves, in an ad-hoc manner) need to approach at a national and local level.

ACE operatives must offer more help through consultants (which in part they have) to court, net, land, or otherwise induce philanthropists to part with sums of money. This takes time. It would be better if the government changed the culture by signalling a change in tax breaks and much else, which would push such philanthropists half-way. The next layer, ACE with NGOs like Arts and Business, must then provide a framework for approach that arts organisations can shelter under, in umbrella format. This three tier system – government policy, ACE template of a structured culture-shift (even meeting at ACE venues) and finally the art organisations themselves, could all act in triple measure.

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

The Canadian model of philanthropy has been mentioned after the vaunted American one rather collapsed. In truth the culture here is different. The millionaires tend to be Russian and most tend to invest in football clubs, not arts projects. Even J. K. Rowling dedicates herself to medical or social causes. That it doesn’t occur to her to think of the arts as a worthy cause – perhaps she feels she’s helped enough with Bloomsbury – is baleful evidence of the past 15 years’ failure to persuade the country at large that the arts are instinctively worth supporting. There is no solar plexus for the arts to prod, as there demonstrably is in Italy, Spain, France, Germany.

We have thus a philistine set of the very rich, and the only solution is to induce them to give to the arts with clever tax-breaks that enhance the donor’s goodwill and direct their munificence towards the arts. That is, if they pay tax at all. If so, first, they must be netted and then after the stick, the carrot. There’s no point in adumbrating a complex model. If there’s a will the Treasury will find a way to this. But some real drive must be directed – and this doesn’t take time, merely brains and a brief bill – to shift the culture of obscene footballs transfer fees to wealth generators for the rest of us. The money is there and must be reined in and harnessed to the country’s use. A great deal of it sits stacked up in flight patterns but never comes down to land. We must change this with radical incentives.

September 2010