Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Independent Cinema Office (arts 223)

Our work is largely concerned with cultural film and so our evidence will be confined to this area. We are the national support organisation for independent film exhibition which comprises film festivals, cinemas, arts centres, film societies and community cinemas. Our main areas of activity are film programming advice and booking; professional development training for staff; promoting artists’ moving image work in a cinema context; distribution and consultancy.

Our main objective is to support the film exhibition sector to ensure that culturally valuable film gets seen by the widest audience possible.

We are a charity with a board of trustees, we are not a membership organisation, our services can be accessed by any organisation although the majority of our work is concerned with the not for profit sector – trusts, charities, local authority venues, voluntary groups and community organisations. The venues we work with range from 4 screen artplexes such as the Broadway in Nottingham and the Showroom in Sheffield to community groups who screen films in village halls in rural locations. We work across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and we are also part of the European-wide Europa cinemas network.

There are 5.5 members of staff, we are funded by the UK Film Council, Arts Council England, Skillset, the British Film Institute and MEDIA. We generate about 40% of our funds from our own activities.

We would like to see:

· A more streamlined and flexible approach to lottery funding with one application process from one organisation encompassing exhibition, archives, education, capital projects and items and organisational development.

· A national film exhibition strategy with robust priorities and clear ambitions about how best to achieve cultural aims and a strong national cinema culture.

· A clear distinction made between the commercial and cultural film sectors, with responsibility for both been given to separate institutions or organisations so that economic and cultural ambitions are not conflated.

· A much more informed and clear set of priorities about what constitutes a healthy cultural cinema sector which offers true diversity and choice for audiences in the 21st century.

· Service provision and the distribution of public funds should be housed in separate organisations.

1. Structural changes in arts funding, particularly the abolition of the UK Film Council, should not mean that revenue funding for cultural organisations should suffer. There should be consultation with the sector about the best mechanism for delivering public funding, which includes value for money, advice and support. There should be a differentiation between funding bodies and service providers. We do not believe it is possible to house both in one organisation effectively.

2. We are already seeing an impact of spending cuts from central and local government on provision of venues across the UK with many having their grants cut from local authorities. The most immediate impact of funding cuts is that the most interesting work is dropped from programmes as well as ancillary activities such as education and outreach programmes to local communities. At the same time, as is characteristic in a creative sector, times of recession ensure that businesses become more entrepreneurial and conversely audiences often increase, as can be seen from domestic revenues in the commercial cinema sector. This is a further demonstration of the role that cultural cinema centres can play in developing creative economies particularly in urban areas where there is a synergy between production, distribution and exhibition.

3. One of the problems currently in this sector is there is no national exhibition strategy and funding has been spread across many different organisations including regional screen agencies, Skillset, the UKFC and Arts Council, England. This means that an organisation on the ground may have to apply to a number of different organisations for funding for the same project, whether lottery or treasury funding. Many of these funds have different criteria, different deadlines and different priorities. There is no shared strategic view of how best to support cultural cinema across the UK.

4. For example within the theatre sector, regional theatres are seen as flagship venues which require some level of subsidy in order to present innovative and challenging work which the market will not support. They often act as hubs of activity for other theatres in the region with the national institutions also offering benefits and support to smaller, less well-funded organisations. Within the cultural cinema sector, some regional venues are well supported, others are not. The changing and differing priorities of regional screen agencies have ensured that there is a piecemeal approach to supporting cultural cinema whether it be through cinemas, archives or education programmes which does not build a strong and sustainable sector.

5. Public subsidy for the arts can help to encourage and seed fund enormous entrepreneurial activity – public funding for venues in the UK on average constitutes around 1-5% of turnover although there are notable exceptions to this. Public subsidy therefore is necessary but should be seen as seed funding to provide organisations with sound financial footing in order to enable them to grow and prosper rather than as a replacement for good business practice. This sector is under funded, generally (outside the major institutions) has low salary rates and so therefore is often deficient in business skills and experience. Cultural organisations are businesses and need to be run professionally – when they are not, funding organisations need to be much more pro-active in identifying problems and intervening responsibly. There should be much better training and recruitment for board members and more professional training and support for senior managers.

6. There needs to be greater recognition particularly in the film sector, that there is a difference between the commercial industry and the cultural cinema sector. When responsibility for these two areas are housed in the same organisation, it often results in one being the poorer relation or certainly less well-served. Other art forms do not seem to have the same problems in differentiating between the commercial world and the cultural world – ie classical music, theatre and often, creative synergies can grow from partnerships between them.

7. National lottery funding for film does not currently allow for organisations to bid for money for capital items whether small (new cinema seats for a village hall) to large (funding a feasibility study for a new build). It also does not encompass capacity building for organisation ie seeking external business advice and consultancy or establishing a company limited by guarantee or charity. It is also contained currently in a number of different agencies – 9 regional screen agencies and 3 national agencies. We would propose that lottery funding for film is streamlined, housed in one place, made much simpler and opened up to allow funds for capital items and capacity building. This would ensure a much more strategic approach and help organisations in the long-term as well as foster partnerships between exhibitors across the UK.

8. There also needs to be a much more integrated approach to the use of public funds wherein there is a distribution and exhibition strategy for publicly funded films. This does not necessarily mean following a commercial model – the cultural cinema sector offers many examples of flexible and fruitful approaches to distribution and exhibition but there needs to be a more formal approach to adopting different models which ultimately will serve audiences wherever they live.

9. There should be much greater parity between funding for the different areas of production, distribution and exhibition – in the past, production has always received a lion’s share of funding available but arguably, funding education work, screening archive material , funding cultural cinemas, film festivals and film societies has far greater impact on a wider variety of audiences by ensuring that culturally important films can be seen and engaged with, by the wider public.

September 2010