Does the Arts Council need trimming too?


4:00 pm - October 17th 2009

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contribution by pagar

Unity wrote an article recently questioning whether, as we approach an era of fiscal restraint and pressure on public spending, it was appropriate to give public money to a rich organisation like the Catholic Church. And this got me thinking.

Are there other areas where we are currently spending public money that it would be appropriate to axe before we have to get to the nurses and teachers?

I came up with quite a few but perhaps the most obvious is funding for the Arts Council.

In September 2008, a £150,000 managed funds grant enabled 40 artists and scientists to set sail on Cape Farewell’s 12-day Disko Bay expedition. The trip aimed to put artistic responses to climate change in the spotlight, and the crew featured 10 musicians (including KT Tunstall, Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker and Ryuichi Sakamoto), two architects, two oceanographers, a ceramicist and a comedian. This was the organisation’s seventh expedition.


To put this in perspective, spending by the Arts Council from 2008 to 2011 will be in excess of £1.6 billion. They will spend £570 million in the current year and this spending is a combination of one off grants to individuals and groups plus regular funding to selected supported organisations.

The administrative cost of the Council in the current year is £49 million and seven of its seventeen executive directors earned in excess of £100,000 with the CE being paid £175,000.

I am not a philistine.

At its best, literary, visual or dramatic art is uplifting to the human spirit and challenging to the intellect. But if it is of high quality it will stand on its own merits- people will want to read the book, own the painting or experience the performance and there will be no need for public subsidy. So, by definition, the Arts Council is funding art that is not good enough to pay for itself.

And of course responses to art are highly subjective. I might like ballet whilst you might like sculpture or even rock music. So presumably the critetia under which grants are provided will be clearly set out and the processes under which funding is granted will be rigorous and open to public scrutiny.

The Arts Council “investment strategy”, as described on their website, is as follows-

On receipt of our funding settlement from government, we undertake an exercise to determine the nature of our investments for the coming period.

That’s it. The whole “strategy” is expressed in a single line. There is no rationale other than- we will decide what is art, what is not, and where the money goes.

Over three years £1.3 billion will be given to regularly funded organisations like the Royal Opera House and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Still, this is public money so at least other artistic ventures have the opportunity to apply for it.

Well, no.

We currently do not accept applications for new regularly funded organisations. We identify organisations to invite to join the regularly funded organisation portfolio.

That translates as “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

So, in summary, in a financial climate where front line public sector jobs are under threat and hundreds of thousands are being taken off invalidity benefit, the Arts Council are expensively subsidising the cost of George Osbourne’s seat at the opera and squandering over a million pounds sending celebrities to Lapland. Is that really an appropriate use of resources.

I just hope the comedian got some good polar bear jokes.

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Reader comments


“At its best, literary, visual or dramatic art is uplifting to the human spirit and challenging to the intellect. But if it is of high quality it will stand on its own merits- people will want to read the book, own the painting or experience the performance and there will be no need for public subsidy. So, by definition, the Arts Council is funding art that is not good enough to pay for itself.”

So you’re saying that the best art is also always the most popular, or rather that only popular art is worth maintaining? What a load of rubbish.

2. Alisdair Cameron

I think the issue is not the popularity or accessibility of the art produced by way of Arts Council funding (though much is meretricious), but rather the accessibility of the Arts Council funds to artists and creators outside of a cliquey few fawned upon by overpaid administrators and an unwieldy, costly, structure. One of the favoured few and you loadsaloot for any old shite, out of the magic circle, and no matter how talented, you’ll get diddly-squat.

Philistine

“… by definition, the Arts Council is funding art that is not good enough to pay for itself.”

The inference: only art that is able to generate a profit is “good”… Not, as Jacob (@1) suggested, “popular”, but profit-making.

What a load of reactionary bullshit.

There are a huge amount of literary projects that the Arts Council fund – it is not at all for the cliquey few. Earlier this summer I was able to attend a wonderful writing residential through a 50% bursary from the Arts Council – as I am still paying this off 6 months later there would have been no chance of me attending otherwise. This was vital for networking and confidence.

Also I am a member of a gay/bi writing group which is wholly funded by the Arts Council which gives me a huge amount of confidence in a society where Jan Moir’s still reign supreme. Also my favourite gay/bi literary journal is Arts Council funded.

Some of my published writer friends also rely heavily on the Arts Council for ‘self-development’ grants enabling them to continue in what is an extremely low paid and sometimes depressing career path.

Take this away by all means – just expect the writers you read in Borders to revert back to middle class/straight white drivel…

An example relevant to me (I live very close to it): Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’.

“Arts Council England, North West awarded £15,000 to South Sefton Partnership towards the project. Part of the total investment received by the partnership was also used to create two new posts, and establish an education programme working with local schools.

Rod Yeoman, Director, South Sefton Partnership, [says]: ‘Installing Antony Gormley’s Another Place on our coast has received a fantastic response from residents, visitors and local businesses. It is hard to quantify, but the “feelgood factor” for residents through enjoying the piece, and putting the area in the national spotlight has been very noticeable.'”

http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/our-work/another-place/

@4, @5, some boringly predictable (and wrong) responses to an article that I’m confident most people outside of a narrow few self-satisfied elitists would agree makes complete sense.

8. Just Visiting

My view is that Pagar’s piece raised some sensible questions.

Just one angle – their Admin burden.

AC admin is £50M on turnover of £570M – ie 8.8%.

Whereas the Church of England that Unity lambasted last week (concerning £3M/pa of tax-payer input within a turnover of £1B), spend £57.4m or 5.7% of total expenditure.

So two issues there:
i) if the AC matched the CoE’s admin % – they would save ~£17M pa
ii) why is it that the trustees or senior management of the AC allow tax-payers money to be spent that way – whereas the CoE do better with their money?

Wanting to do some detail research of moeny that they did give out:
I just spent 30 minutes on the Arts council site, wanting to find a complete list of organisations funded – I did eventually find a spreadsheet, listing organisations and amounts – but it did not help to show _why_ that group got the money: as very many of the groups and projects have names that give no clue, eg

The Suitcase On the Road I.P (In Peace)

And searching their site for ‘The Suitcase’ shows no match (despite that being in a spreadsheet on the site).

So hard to do my own detail research of where the money is allocated.

Has anybody seen anything more useful, as a source of real detail?

The argument about the way in which ‘The Big Four’ (Royal Opera House, Royal Ballet, RSC and Royal National Theatre) , as well as ‘bricks and mortar’ organisations hog a huge chunk of the Arts Council theatre grant is legitimate. But the regularly funded organisations also include pretty much every regional producing theatre in the country (e.g. Birmingham Rep) as well as somewhere like the Royal Court and a number of touring theatre companies. Not having ‘RFO’ status does not preclude applying for grants for fixed-term projects, by the way. Moreover, we’ve all seen the games the likes of the Daily Mail and the Taxpayers’ Alliance play regarding ‘waste’ and ‘mad luvvies/arty types’ as a means of imposing a cuts agenda which would make naff all difference to the deficit. So the question is whether the priorities ought to be different (whether in terms of clients or artforms), the decision-making ought to be more accountable and transparent – or whether the budget ought to be cut and the arts should ‘go out and hustle’ just like they did in [sarcasm alert] the glory days of the 1980s. And if you want to play the ‘priorities’ card, it would probably justify cutting the entire ACE grant for the sake of the NHS. (Maybe the Tories are working on that one, given their decision to ring-fence the Health budget).

PS: If you want an actual idea of the criteria for awarding grants, I suggest looking at the actual Guide (pdf), especially pages 43-47.

I love the way people now take as written that there must be cuts to public sector funding.

How about we leave public sector funding as it is, and recoup money pissed away on the banks from the banks, and/or by raising taxes for the top 5% of earners?

Why keep buying this 3-mainstream-party line that cuts must be had?

11. the a&e charge nurse

It would be a great shame to cut back on arts grants – we have a great tradition of music, painting, theatre and so on.

£1.6 billion does not seem excessive given how much things cost in the UK today.

The NHS has done rather well out of recent government awards, and perhaps not all of the £100 billion or so handed over has been spent wisely.

Certainly statins, antibiotics and anti-depressants are all massively over prescribed while some patients call out an ambulance (at a cost of £160 a throw in London) for all sorts of daft reasons.
http://emj.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/6/368
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5394697.ece

The swine flu hot line and tamiflu debacle were beyond parody – think how many sharks could have been dumped in formaldehyde for that sort of money, eh?

“Why keep buying this 3-mainstream-party line that cuts must be had?”

They’re more popular than tax rises if the polls are to be believed?

Well – not necessarily, Richard. I remember reading research fairly recently that said most people would be happy to see the wealthy taxed at higher rates.

Will have a poke around and see if I can find it.

Danar, @8 – I think it is utterly ignorant to refer to “a narrow few self-satisfied elitists” as the beneficiaries of Arts Council money.

The example that I mentioned – ‘Another Place’ in Seaforth – benefits tens of thousands. Indeed, the local community insisted on securing the rights to the installation, which was initially due to move elsewhere.

The same can be said for the ‘Angel of the North’.

Jo Anglezarke (@6) referred to the gay/bi publications – and other authors – supported by Arts Council funds.

“Take this away by all means – just expect the writers you read in Borders to revert back to middle class/straight white drivel…”

I quite agree.

Of course, there is an argument as to how funds are distributed and I would rather see far more democratic participation (and transparency) in the process – redpesto @10, I agree – but as to the question of whether funds should be distributed at all, it’s a no-brainer.

Everyone benefits from access to the arts.
And art / culture is a huge national export.

It would be incredibly short-sighted and ultimately destructive to cut funding to the arts.

Interesting.

@6 sorry to hear about the “extremely low paid and sometimes depressing career path.” that you and your colleagues have chosen. Were you expecting sympathy as well as continued cash payments from public funds? I was pleased to hear that you got 50% funding for your “writing residential” which was “was vital for networking and confidence.” My only question would be “vital to whom?” Apart from you and the people who took your, and the Arts Council’s money. Oh, and I realise that if funding is cut then I should “just expect the writers you read in Borders to revert back to middle class/straight white drivel…” (whatever that may mean) but, to be honest, if it’s likely to save 1.6 billion, it’s a risk I’d be prepared to take, how about the rest of you?

@10 You paint a terrifying picture of funding being withdrawn and artists having to “‘go out and hustle’ just like they did in [sarcasm alert] the glory days of the 1980s.” (Further sarcasm alert) It could be even worse than the 1980s, it could take us much further back in history to such periods of cultural atrophy as 17th century Holland, 16th century Spain or Renaissance Italy where no art of any kind was produced because they didn’t have an Arts Council. Oh, wait a minute …..

Great post pagar.

Ok, declaring personal interest first: I’m a musician – ex-pro, now slowly trying to get back into it after kids. So please go to my website and pay 50p to download one of my pieces of meandering nonsense! :-))

I don’t create pop music for the masses, everything I’ve ever been involved with has been pretty much minority interest, and none of it has received any (Scottish) Arts Council funding/grants/etc. Sure, it would have been nice to have the cash, *but*…

…I’d scrap the vast majority of Arts Council largesse directly to individuals/groups, but would channel it into the provision of arts education & ‘facilities for all’ instead – offering people the opportunity to have a place to perform/display/rehearse/build scenery and props/cut Damien Hirst in half and stick him in formaldehyde/etc their work.

Yeah, I know, it’s far from perfect, but it’d be better than the current system.

Now, go on, off to http://www.andygilmour.com, please…remember, I’m not getting any taxpayer-draining subsidies, and I’m not too proud to indulge in a spot of public begging…
🙂

Euler – sure, a few artists have be fortunate enough to find a rich patron or two to sponsor their work, or have produced work commercial enough to turn a profit. If you’re really lucky, it might even coincide with period of considerable artistic achievement (at least in terms of what has survived). But there’s no guarantee of either the funding or the greatness. If you’re unlucky, you end up with a pile of commercial dross or vanity material to keep the patron happy or very little artistic activity at all. There’s also the problem of the availability of private funding in a recession, where budgets are tight. But given the ACE remit to support innovation and risk in funding artistic work, as well as being able to support work (or costs) that might not be met in any other way, or enabling that work to reach audiences it might not otherwise find, I think subsidy enables more good work to be produced alongside anything privately funded, rather than hoping your patron won’t cut your pay if your work displeases them or they move on to the next big thing. (One sure-fire way to maintain any middle-class bias in arts work would be to have it privately funded by the wealthy.)

Andy Gilmour (re. subsidy): have you asked?

Redpesto, nope, but I’ve investigated the guidelines before, and I’m not doing anything that would qualify.

“If you’re unlucky, you end up with a pile of commercial dross or vanity material to keep the patron happy or very little artistic activity at all.”

I don’t agree it’s such an all-or-nothing scenario. I reckon what you’d have is a great deal more ‘semi-pro’ and amateur art happening – which is how it used to be for most art in this country, and how much of the world still operates. What we do have to recognise is that we’ve now got an over-supply of some of the ‘big’ funding guzzlers, such as symphony orchestras at a time when the market for classical music (allied to loss of revenue from falling cd sales) *is* contracting. [A folkie mate (who’s a pro fiddler) reports the folk scene seems to be going in a similar direction.]

This may well mean that if we want to hear large-scale classical performances outwith a few major population centres, we’ll have to accept a drop in playing standards, since semi-pro’s simply don’t have the time for the necessary practice/rehearsal.

But at least under my system, the local musicians (of all species) would have cheap/free decent rehearsal and performance facilities, whith correspondingly lower ticket prices for the audience. You’d end up with a greater variety of live performances on offer, but with a probable lowering of quality at the ‘elite’ end.

The internet is, at least, offering some interesting opportunities for the small, independent artists… Steve Lawson (fabulous bass player) is particularly hot on this topic. Check him out at:

http://www.stevelawson.net

Oh, then go and download my stuff! 🙂

It is incredibly misguided to suggest that if art is good enough it will stand on its own two feet and be able to exist without funding. If you abolish all public funding for the arts, the only ‘arts’ that will survive will be Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and Strictly Come Dancing on Ice. That is the kind of ‘art’ that can survive without public funding. You would decimate the entire cultural sector. You clearly write from a position of absolutely no understanding of the arts sector, of how the grass roots need supporting in order to generate a vibrant cultural landscape. Any number of cultural genres would simply not survive without public subsidy: abolishing it would lead to a mediocre, stagnant and prostituted picture: something I for one would be extremely sad to see.

What a blinkered load of toss.

1. Availability of Arts Council funding has *already* taken a significant hit in recent years. Your proposal is nothing new.

2. Art that is half-decent will stand up for itself, eh? And who’s gonna produce, promote and distribute that art in order for it to stand up for itself, if access to financial help isn’t available to those who need it? Ah, I see, rich people. Cos art is really just a plaything for the upper classes to use as a hobby. Or at least, in your world it is.

It’s not indulgent or elitist to provide financial help to talented people who need a leg-up in order to realise their potential, in fact it’s the opposite, it’s about equal opportunities.

The assumption that if something is good it will inevitably achieve success is a) rooted in ignorance, privilege and class prejudice; b) wholly capitalist-centric; and c) doesn’t explain the success of Dan Brown or Tracy Emin, to name but two.

Improving…

25. the a&e charge nurse

[23] “If you abolish all public funding for the arts, the only ‘arts’ that will survive will be Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and Strictly Come Dancing on Ice”.

For this reason alone, subsidies are vital for the mental health of the nation?

Hmm, pagar the libertarian. Letsdo a little thinking about what’s doing the work in this piece.

Namely, utopian libertarian assumption that the world would be no worse off if the state were nothing more than a night watchman. Thus, the implication that what is culturaly worthwhile would survive in absence of the state and that only ‘undeserving’ art (and I’m happy to grant that some of what pagar identifies is such ) would be lost. Which is of course a fantasy. Now, there is a difficult and complex argument to be had about whether it is right for the state to fund and make possible ‘high’ culture only enjoyed by a usually already wealthy minority, but it is simply dishonest to suggest that a) that if left to the Market then all worthwhile culture would survive unpeturbed and by (libertian) implication b) only those that did so survive are worthy of survival. But of course, that sort of oversimplified picture helps libertarians avoid (publicly) biting difficult bullets.

Incidentally, pagar, surely you want to cut the teachers and nurses and benefits too, though, surely? They are all funded by the theft of taxation and the evil freedom destroying state. So a little up front honesty in future please.

If you abolish all public funding for the arts, the only ‘arts’ that will survive will be Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and Strictly Come Dancing on Ice. That is the kind of ‘art’ that can survive without public funding.

Good grief.

Has anyone ever been to New York?
There is as much “cutting edge” music, theatre, art on offer there as in London, with no large public subsidy. Opera too, of course.
As there is in Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and so on…

28. the a&e charge nurse

[28] yes, cjcjc – but what about American telly – not enough adverts for my liking.

Paul Sagar [27] gets to the crux of this issue very nicely – redpesto [10] makes some telling remarks as well.

29. the a&e charge nurse

By the way ‘Red Riding’ is the best British drama I’ve seen in a very long time.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL3qypfj8DY

Partly funded by the UK film council, I believe.
http://www.screenyorkshire.co.uk/funding/

On the back of it Ridley Scott is to make a feature film but based in America.
Should any of the profits generated by Scott’s film find its way back to the UK film council (who under-wrote the initial financial risk?).

Well telly is not the topic under discussion.

Though I assume you are familiar with (eg) a (privately owned) outfit called HBO?

31. the a&e charge nurse

[31] good grief, cjcjc, are you suggesting that TV is not an artistic medium – I dread to think what Stephen Fry et al would say about such a view.

It can be, and the private sector – eg HBO for drama, Discovery for documentary – is just as capable of producing the goods without subsidy.

But the topic under discussion is the Arts Council, not the BBC.

And Stephen Fry is not an artist. He is a panel show host and presenter.

33. Alisdair Cameron

I think there’s a lot of unrealistic wishful thinking going on with both sides of the debate here:
Leaving all artists to a dog-eat-dog world without subsidy would lead to the prevalent artistic culture being set by the oligarchs and corporates who’ll then flog it to the masses, top-down.
However, as I pointed out in 2, the Arts Council’s administration leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. Some big names get ludicrous sums, and worse many grass-roots projects and schemes get nothing. If they do get something, it’s only in collaboration with certain ‘facilitators’/parasites that your regional arts council favour.
An example: as some of you know I run a mental health project. A sister project is an arts studio for users of MH services, run by users but with 2 artists trained in MH in attendance.It applied for some Arts council money for an exhibition, and was told in no uncertain terms that they’d get nothing unless they also engaged a certain arts company and its project manager. In other words, we had the artists, the service users, the creativity ourselves, but wouldn’t get money unless we had an expensive middle-man (who was wanting half the cost of the whole scheme) who was not an artist, not from a marginalised group, and indeed was ignorant and borderline offensive about mental health.
This is not an isolated example, and I’ve heard many similar ones about regional arts council workings.
That is the real level of cronyism, with the subsidy junkies being the leech-like middle-men and administrators. The Arts Council, pace assertions upthread is not good at directing art money to marginalised groups efficiently, without some of the favoured few getting a huge rake-off.

Thanks for the comments so far.

@1 So you’re saying that the best art is also always the most popular, or rather that only popular art is worth maintaining?

Not at all.

I am saying that it is impossible to define what the “best” art is and it is incredibly arrogant for anyone to pretend that they can do so. In my view, all responses to “art” are subjective (of course it’s fun to compare and discuss) and the quality of what is produced by an “artist” has no relationship to its popularity or to its potential commercial return.

@7 Antony Gormley is an incredibly successful and wealthy artist. The Another Place project is estimated to be worth £4 million per year to the Crosby area. It would have happened with or without the £15k grant from the AC and the subsidy was therefore pointless.

@19 I have gone onto your website and listened to your music. I found it interesting and very relaxing but I think you are correct that you are unlikely to get enough 50p downloads to make a fortune from it. (I rather suspect, like many artists, that’s not why you do it).

But the fact that you do not meet the criteria to apply for an AC grant makes my point about art subsidy nicely.

Art is defined as the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. By granting money to a string quartet and not to Andy Gilmour, the AC are either saying that Andy’s work is not art, or that it is not good art or that it has less value as art than the music of the quartet. I don’t believe that is a judgement that they, or anyone else for that matter, are entitiled to to make.

But even if you disagree with my aesthetic relativism there is another point.

Unless you are one of those, like Kate Belgrave, who believe that the magic money that can be appropriated from taxpayers is unlimited and will always be there, you will realise that it is going to be necessary to make some hard public spending choices over the next few years.

Is anybody really saying that there is more value in sending Jarvis Cocker on a £40,000 cruise when that money could have saved the jobs of a couple of care workers?

If so, make the argument.

@34 – there are no subsidies in New York, yet its artistic life easily rivals London

This is not “wishful thinking” – the evidence is before us

Paul @ 27

Shall we try playing the ball……

37. the a&e charge nurse

[35] ‘Unless you are one of those, like Kate Belgrave, who believe that the magic money that can be appropriated from taxpayers is unlimited’ – a very good response spoilt by this blow below the belt, Pagar.

Kate says no such thing – £1.6 billion (in the great scheme of things) is a fair tax sum given the cultural importance of creative activity in this country.

The effect of ‘art’ spills into the very fabric of our lives (from the type of clothes we wear to the look of our buildings) – additionally, ideas that arise from creative prototypes may go on to be commercially successful later on (both in the UK and international markets – see Red Riding, above) – this hub of creative activity could easily be stifled if writers and so on are starved of any form of subsidy.

“Well – not necessarily, Richard. I remember reading research fairly recently that said most people would be happy to see the wealthy taxed at higher rates.”

That doesn’t mean they’re opposed to spending cuts at the same time though. I suspect those who favour higher taxes on the wealthy are not in favour of higher taxes on themselves, even if they borrowed ridiculous sums of money from the banks. Their view is that the wealthy should pay because they’re wealthy even though many of those wealthy people will have behaved responsibly and saved their money.

Pagar – I think I’m arguing that a better effort ought to be made to appropriate outstanding funds from the banking industry. One does not have to accept – as you seem to accept – that public sector cuts must be made.

I certainly accept nothing of the kind. A huge portion of the public purse was appropriated by the banking sector – a sector that required bailing out on a massive scale as a direct result of greed and poor practice – and now those who can least afford to are expected to kiss public services goodbye to make up the shortfall. The least well off will have less and less access to good schooling, welfare if it’s needed, housing, and perhaps even healthcare if the NHS ends up taking a hit.

You seem to find that acceptable – and you seem to find handing your taxes to the likes of Fred the Shred more acceptable than distributing tax money out to those who most need it. We shouldn’t be simply accepting that public services must be cut – we should be banging doors down in the city, demanding that our hard-earned cash is returned in full and that public services are left unscathed. I simply don’t understand why you’re prepared to accept that people who rely on public services must pay – perhaps for generations – for the greed and poor practice of a very small group of individuals.

I love art. I love going to galleries and seeing new installations. I am also an MA fashion student. I love couture, I love avant garde dresses. I don’t expect to own any but I’d like to look at them more often. Guess what I have more access to and why. If we want to encourage private funding than accessibility to exhibitions becomes reliant on benevolent individuals who own art and if that doesn’t prop up class systems I don’t know what does. I don’t think the government should be increasing the wealth gap, and restricting access to art of all kinds does that. Look at the state of opera in this country, to see a Puccini opera at the Royal Opera House without a restricted view is incredibly pricey and there are constant complaints about the fact it’s seen as inaccessible but no one does anything about it and you want to extend that situation to all arts? You want to create a two tier system where some people can experience the reproduction but never experience the instantaneous reality of artworks. That’s appalling!

“even though many of those wealthy people will have behaved responsibly and saved their money”

Many of those wealthy people were also lucky or started off with an advantage over a considerable proportion of the population and they should be taxed more.

@cjcjc – the London / NY comparison you paint is not actually true. First, London is the theatre capital of the world – the artistic output of London is vastly above that which NY produces, both in quality and quantity. Much of this would not exist without ACE funding.

The NY state of affairs is a version of the old school patronage system – in which wealthy individuals and organisations contribute vast sums of money towards pieces of work, resulting in a lot of heavy sponsorship. This does not necc. produce the best pieces of art, merely those which are the most attractive to sponsors, in some instances actually curated and orchestrated in some part by those sponsors. Or there’s the other bit – the art made by rich kids for their parents and friends. Great. Whatever.

There’s some of this going on in the UK – needless to say the rich will always have access both to the means of production and to the comfiest seats in the auditorium. But that shouldn’t be the entire picture of art in the UK. Removing the Arts Council entirely will make this happen.

Yes, ACE has it’s flaws – there are many. There is cronyism, there is over-reliance on administration and check boxes over actually getting out there and seeing pieces, there are some organisations that do absurdly well in terms of funding where others, which are just as valid, get only crumbs.

Talent will not stand by itself. And talent will not pay for itself. Anyone who thinks so is short sighted. Talent needs room to grow, to develop and to come to fruition. In any field, not just in art. You can be the smartest potential scientist in the world but if you grow up in the wrong place, without a decent school or supportive parents or someone to prod you in the right direction you won’t get there. The same is true of art and artists. It takes money, time and a bit of thought to allow a decent cultural industry to flourish.

ACE doesn’t cost that much, by the standard of the public purse. And it does an awful lot. There’s a link below to the regularly funded organisations (yeah, ACE can’t tak on any more, because money was cut and went to the Olympics – you want ACE to fund more organisations? Give them more money).

http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/browse/?content=RFO

Have a look over them – after all, they are yours, paid for in part by your taxes. Go and see what they do, go and watch their work, enjoy it. Don’t wish it all away.

Kate Belgrave’s argument = as long as public money is spent on more worthwhile causes than Fred Goodwin’s pension it passes the test.

Certain bankruptcy follows.

Kate @40 I think I’m arguing that a better effort ought to be made to appropriate outstanding funds from the banking industry.

I don’t think they have any funds. They are busy trying to take money from us at the moment by charging interest at several points higher than the base rate and they are still going to owe the state money for a long time. The whole rotten edifice should have been allowed to collapse- it would soon have been replaced by smaller banks, credit unions etc. in which we could have some trust.

But to get back to the original subject.

Last Wednesday night George Osborne took his wife to a performance of Tristan und Isolde. The tickets cost him £138. Without the Arts Council subsidy to the Royal Opera House they would have cost approximately £220.

Questions

Do you think the additional cost would have deterred him from attending?

Is this subsidy an appropriate use of taxpayers money?

Too many people are couching this debate in “all or nothing” terms.

Athena25 “It takes money, time and a bit of thought to allow a decent cultural industry to flourish”

Yes, but at the moment I’d argue it’s being channelled in the wrong direction. If you want to facilitate/propagate “art”, then spend the money on arts education and performance/rehearsal/creative facilities for artists. The ‘elite’ end will, inevitably, shrink as a result, but the semi-pro and amateur (arguably more important at a local community level – I’ve done “community” theatre & opera, and they were great experiences) opportunities would improve. And the rich could still fund whatever they chose, so Mr. Hirst wouldn’t be on the streets, begging, any time soon.

Well, that’s my plan, anyway – anyone else out there who’s actively involved in the “arts world” got any ideas?

Pagar – thanks for going on the short digital voyage of discovery. And you’re right, I’m not labouring under no delusions of Robbie Williams-hood. Mind you, just 80 downloads, and I could afford a new microwave…so any “filthy lucre” I can recoup from music would be very welcome 🙂

Question, why should we put public money towards ‘intellectual’ masturbation?

@40

The state was running a constant deficit for years before the banking crisis. Regardless of anything else, the public sector needs to be more efficient because it currently wastes too much money. This, in turn, is putting the private sector under excessive stress.

It is not a question of funding either, a) public sector services, or b) banks. The point is that the public sector has to accept that the fantasy years are over, and so do the banks.

@42 you must be with the London Tourist Board!

I have been visiting NYC once every 1 – 2 months for the past 20 years.
Perhaps you know the place better than I do, but for theatre, opera/classical music and the visual arts it is certainly on a par with London in terms of quality and quantity.

The trouble with pagar’s plan is that you cannot get there from here.
For example the major institutions – Met Opera, Met Museum, MOMA etc – have scores of generous private donors as well as accumulated endowments which provide additional income. This would take decades to replicate in London.

Hello, What’s Next,

What do you mean by ‘efficiency,’ out of interest? – more outsourcing of public services to a private sector that has patently failed to deliver, a la Barnet?

Gershon had a few reasonable ideas – efficiencies around purchasing, for example – but other than that, efficiency tends to be a term bandied about to justify further privatisation of public services. You say the private sector has been put under strain because of the enormity of the task that is propping up the public sector – I say that many in the private sector – Deloittes, BT, Agilysys, Fremantle, CareUK, to name but a few – have in fact done extremely well out of the public sector, channeling funds meant for public service provision into the pockets of shareholders. One might argue the public sector has been and is suffering the strain of propping up the private sector.
And Praguetory, my good man – you say

‘Kate Belgrave’s argument = as long as public money is spent on more worthwhile causes than Fred Goodwin’s pension it passes the test.

Certain bankruptcy follows.’

I think the line is ‘Fred Goodwin’s pension + unregulated banking industry = certain bankruptcy.’ Certainly, certain bankruptcy nearly came to pass at the end of last year and beginning of this year – not because the public sector continued to be funded, but because a greedy banking industry overstretched.

Do you think you could do us a real life Fred Goodwin in cowshit?

50. the a&e charge nurse

How about a scantily clad Jan Moir wearing a ‘Valdemar Tomasevsk’ T-shirt?

@52 now that really is an offensive image. A scantily clad Jan Moir? Such things are the stuff nightmares.

@ 49

Very simply Kate, the public sector is inefficient and over-funded in comparison to the private sector. I’m not talking about those at the very top (on either side), I’m talking about the millions of employees involved.

The public sector generally appears to be interested in the producer interest, and this cannot be right.

Can’t agree with you there, WN. If there’s fat anywhere in the public sector, it’s at the top – overpaid management, shareholders at outsourcing companies, etc. The employees are the necessary ones – the social workers, teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, doctors…can’t have too many of them in my view.

54. Just Visiting

most people chipping in (not all) seem to agree that the Arts should be tax payer funded.

But no one has suggested any grounds as to why the curret level – £570Mpa – is the right level..

Would double that still leave people saying ‘… is a fair tax sum given the cultural importance of creative activity in this country’.

?

I am probably some sort of philistine but I find just about anything that has to call itself “art” these days, not to be especially artful. The most aesthetically pleasing, dramatic, and eye opening thing I have experienced this year was The Wire, which was entirely privately financed. Hardly populist but pays for itself.

Preserving past works is a slightly different matter, but I think when it comes to new artistic developments, you are barely ever going to find that happening in any state funded workshop. It is being dreamed up elsewhere away from committees. I also think micro-patronage will solve many of the current problems in getting funding out in a truly decentralised way. In these currently straightened times, I can’t think of any better policy than scrapping those grants and turning it into a tax cut for the poor, or at least using it to offset a potential tax rise.

Finally, something I agree with on LC. I’ve been saying we should shut down hte Arts Council for ages.

pagar @35:

Art is defined as the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. By granting money to a string quartet and not to Andy Gilmour, the AC are either saying that Andy’s work is not art, or that it is not good art or that it has less value as art than the music of the quartet. I don’t believe that is a judgement that they, or anyone else for that matter, are entitiled to to make.

This only makes sense if you genuinely think art shouldn’t be subsidised by the state and therefore ‘the market’ (which can be ‘gamed’ by those with more money) will somehow decide. Clearly if we cannot judge between Andy Gilmour and a string quartet (or between any other kinds of artistic activity) when it comes to funding, we’re going to have a problem judging in the first place, let alone with artistic criticism. Presumably if Andy gets a record deal/sponsor, and the string quartet have to go busking, ‘the market’ has decided what is the better art, even other judge otherwise (mind you Gilmour v string quartet has a touch of apples v oranges as a workable example). Second, the funding may also be to enable some forms of art to be seen, heard, commissioned or curated: Andy writes his own stuff; a string quartet may want to commission a composer. Moreover, it means no set of workable criteria can be drawn up (other than ‘let the market decide’) in order to decide whether to fund, what to fund, who gets the money and how much they’ll get – all of which have been the subject of changing policy and debate ever since the original Arts Council was set up. (btw pagar, have you looked at the criteria for funding applications I linked to earlier?)

Nick: I can’t think of any better policy than scrapping those grants and turning it into a tax cut for the poor, or at least using it to offset a potential tax rise. – how much can you reduce income tax by that costs the £570m a year to run the arts council? And how much art could the poor buy or access with it in an arts world run on free market principles?

PS: If subsidising opera ticket prices mean someone other and less well-off than than George Osborne can afford to go (even if it’s in a much cheaper seat), then that helps. We can’t all starve ourselves to pay for Glyndbourne.

I think Andy Gilmour has the best idea here. Public funding for infrastructure and education is a good thing, providing creative people with the space and the skills to develop and perform their art, but without trying to favour one piece of art over another. In paying for specific works or organisation, the Arts Council becomes just another patron, with all the problems of patronage that have been discussed in this thread.

I am a little puzzled by Jo Anglezarke’s remark that “Some of my published writer friends also rely heavily on the Arts Council for ’self-development’ grants enabling them to continue in what is an extremely low paid and sometimes depressing career path.” Most published writers, including most of the living writers that grace the shelves of Borders, have day jobs.

…but without trying to favour one piece of art over another. In paying for specific works or organisation, the Arts Council becomes just another patron, with all the problems of patronage that have been discussed in this thread.

…but with (ideally) the addition of a measure of accountability you don’t get with, say, a Russian oligarch or globalised investment bank.

redpesto @60:

The word “ideally” is doing quite a lot of work in that sentence.

@58 Glyndebourne costs about the same as the ROH.

@61 – quite so!
Of course the state funded arts bodies are rife with conflicts of interest. The Tate buys work from artists who sit on its board.

“Nick: I can’t think of any better policy than scrapping those grants and turning it into a tax cut for the poor, or at least using it to offset a potential tax rise. – how much can you reduce income tax by that costs the £570m a year to run the arts council? And how much art could the poor buy or access with it in an arts world run on free market principles?”

What do you mean, we are surrounded by it! Books are cheaper than they have ever been. Images are available for purchase or free on almost any media imaginable and films can be imported from all over the world (subject to the BBFCs discretion 🙂 ) on DVD or on the Internet at diminishing cost. Not that things are ideal, of course. Live music is still sometimes prohibitively costly to put on because of licensing issues, but we know how to solve that: de-regulate.

The only things that are actually expensive in the art world (with the possible exception of live opera) are those things which only have value precisely because they are expensive, those that have status attached to them. And whether market or state planned, those things will (by definition) never be made available to all.

red pesto @58

Thanks for engaging with the argument about the nature and value of art because I think it is more interesting than the funding debate that it informs.

if we cannot judge between Andy Gilmour and a string quartet (or between any other kinds of artistic activity) when it comes to funding, we’re going to have a problem judging in the first place, let alone with artistic criticism.

Absolutely my point. What right has anyone to judge the value of Andy’s music. If the listener finds the music appealing to their senses or emotions it has fulfilled its function as art (for that listener).

Presumably if Andy gets a record deal/sponsor, and the string quartet have to go busking, ‘the market’ has decided what is the better art

Not at all. The market has second guessed the potential commercial value of what is or is going to be produced. That has nothing to to with the quality of the art which has no financial relationship. Many people think Damien Hirst is a charlatan (including me) but his art sells for millions.

The problem is that the arts establishment comprises a bunch of people without creative ability who have convinced themselves that they have more finely honed sensibilities and better taste than the general public and who are therefore sufficiently arrogant to be prepared to “judge” art.

It is these people who decide where our money is spent by the Arts Council hence the charges of cronyism etc detailed elsewhere on this thread.

I didn’t actually realise this article was serious – I just thought it was making a point re: the CofE stuff. My position would be that the Church isn’t going to go under if we remove the ring-fence on a small proportion of the maintenance subsidy it gets, so that decisions on funding are made more equitably. The Royal Opera House might, though.

Iain Coleman: The word “ideally” is doing quite a lot of work in that sentence.

Whereas it is unemployed in the case of the oligarch and the investment bank.

Nick – if you didn’t bother with the tax cut you could invest in public libraries where the books are free to borrow and read. I’d also quibble with your suggestion: “Live music is still sometimes prohibitively costly to put on because of licensing issues, but we know how to solve that: de-regulate.” – I’m aware of the negative impact of, for example, the end of the ‘two in a bar’ regulation and the use of form 696, but the costs of putting on a concert (especially if you want to put on a bit of a show) are more than ones simply incurred through regulation, and that’s before the likelihood that any lower costs from deregulation simply end up as profit rather than cheaper costs for the consumer (it could be either, neither or both). Live theatre (or music) costs because you have to pay lots the participants to be there and do it, as well as the production costs, and you can’t churn out a zillion copies as you can with books or DVDs. There might be some room for doing Shakespeare with a smaller cast, but you can’t performing a string quartet with 3 people to save on the budget.

cjcjc: you mean they’re still doing this, or should that sentence read ‘bought’ instead?

Came in late on this and obviously, I work in the arts so have a lot of experience of dealing with the Arts Council, securing funding from them or not as they case may be and seeing what they fund and how they fund it.

I’ve read most the comments, some seem to come from an angle of utter ignorance, not only of the arts but of funding for it and the full range of work that the Arts Council does. Many just come from an idiotic loathing of public funding for anything at all.

The Arts Council isn’t perfect but the idea that art should be ruled by the bottom line is limited at best and destructive at worst. The Arts Council enables arts or all sorts (and some of you really need to get out more) to be seen by people that would never have the chance.

Whether it is keeping open venues in smaller communities so that those communities to not have to travel long distances to see art and engage with art and in turn make art themselves; it funds so much rural and comunity touring, taking art to the people across the UK; it realises the key role art can play in the education and inspriation of our young people and elderly people for that matter and all in between.

It keeps theatres open so that it is not about putting on old work all the time but creating new work and engaing new audiences.

Of course, many times it will fund art that you may not agree with but that is the joy of art, utterly subjective but absolutely essential as a cornerstone of humanity.

I also forgot to add that most art is costly to make, it is labour intensive and requires a whole bunch of people to work together very hard over a long period of time.

pagar: Thanks for engaging with the argument about the nature and value of art because I think it is more interesting than the funding debate that it informs.

Not at all – though to be honest, the moment one starts bandying about one’s personal definitions of ‘Art’ you can make whatever argument you like as a consequence. In addition, a definition that operates on the basis of what appeals or stimulates emotionally pretty much kills off any debate about aesthetics, let alone the political matter of whether/how the arts should be supported. In any case, your starting point was about the role of the arts council, not ‘What is Art?’

The problem is that the arts establishment comprises a bunch of people without creative ability who have convinced themselves that they have more finely honed sensibilities and better taste than the general public and who are therefore sufficiently arrogant to be prepared to “judge” art.

To be frank, artists themselves have felt the arts council ought to comprise of actual practitoners – i.e. people who might actually know about the art forms in question and hence perhaps know about it a bit more than others (oh, such arrogance!). The alternative might be a ‘citizen’s jury’ to inform Arts Council decisions – but then we’d doubtless have complaints of why should a randomly selected group of people get to decide what gets funded rather than me,me,me.

Historically monarchs, aristocrats, and Church( mainly Roman Catholic) acted as patrons of the arts such as ballet, opera, classical music, painting and sculpture. Art was not considered a business but a mark of civilisation and that through their actions the patrons were cultured. Governments have taken the place of monarchs and Roman Catholic Church as rulers of peoples and nations. Consequently, the people via the taxes paid to governments are the patrons of the arts. To achieve excellence in ballet, opera and classical requires the artists to undergo years of hard training. To stage ballet, opera and symphonic works requires large numbers of artists and skilled personnel in large buildings which costs significant amounts of money. If we wish to continue to stimulated by greats works of art which embody the finest aspects of civilisation, then taxpayers will have to continue to pay for it.

The decline of industry and the merger of regional business concerns means that ther are far fewer wealthier patrons of regional arts. The days when the wealthy endowed local institutions suchas the Walker Art Gallerys appear to be long gone.
Another aspect of the increase in wealth of those involved in finance is that they appear unwilling to financially support education and the arts to same extent as in the past. Many Oxbridge colleges, grammar schools, libraries, red brick universities, art galleries, the Cavendish Lab at Cambridge were all philanthropic endowments by people who wished those less fortunate than themselves to benefit from education and the arts. Today so much new money appears so completely vulgar, phillistine and lacks the civic virtue of previous generations.

Hear hear Charlie2!

@ 69

The definition of art was not mine- it was from a dictionary.

But I agree with you that art is not an easy thing to define, far less to attribute value to.

For example, both Leonna Lewis and Kiri Te Kanawa sing a song.

Is one art and the other not?

Why?

Does it matter?

It only matters if I want to listen to Kiri and somebody in the Arts Council decides that, because they have decided to give Kiri’s singing the “art” label, it is a good idea to take some money from you and give it to me to help buy the concert ticket.

But pagar you still seem to have missed the point that the Arts Council does so much more than that.

Today so much new money appears so completely vulgar, phillistine and lacks the civic virtue of previous generations.

Unfortunately true – in the UK.

Yet in the US the arts thrive through private giving.

Still, we can’t get there from here so we are stuck with the Arts Council.

Iain Coleman – at last! someone who agrees with my re-structuring plans. And you’re exactly right, the changes would remove 98% (it’ll never go away completely) of the issues over what ‘qualifies’ as “art”, and what seemingly ‘deserves’ subsidy (or not).

And could I just say, for t’record, I have nothing whatsoever against string quartets, I rather like string quartets (depends what they’re playing, mind), and will only engage in a brutal cage fight against a string quartet (of my choosing, obviously, I’m not entirely daft), if the money’s right. Half up front, half on completion of the contract – oh, and I want a slice of any broadcast revenues as well – gross, not net. I think that’s only fair since I’ll be at a 4 to 1 disadvantage.

🙂

I’m not actually after a recording contract (or an arts council handout) either. A distribution deal, possibly, and future live bookings, certainly, but otherwise it’s just a matter of sticking the hat out and asking for a mere 50p a track…

Can’t say fairer than that, now can you?

I think Bastiat said it best really: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15962/15962-h/15962-h.htm#e2-c4

In contemporary terms, the argument for art funding just doesn’t acknowledge the opportunity costs involved in government expenditure. We just can’t know for sure what would happen if you just put more money back in the hands of individuals (including the art funding that would take place anyway through different means), only that usually it ends up better spent.

Nick, aside from the interesting (and simplistic?) assumption you make here:

“including the art funding that would take place anyway through different means”,

you are aware that Bastiat’s argument (which employs sooo many strawmen throughout it’s almost funny) actually boils down to an ultimate appeal to divine authority?

Just one little example: “God has implanted in mankind, also, all that is necessary to enable it to accomplish its destinies. There is a providential social physiology, as well as a providential human physiology. The social organs are constituted so as to enable them to develop harmoniously in the grand air of liberty.Away, then, with quacks and organisers! Away with their rings, and their chains, and their hooks, and their pincers! Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social workshops, their governmental whims, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities, their State religions, their gratuitous or monopolising banks, their limitations, their restrictions, their moralisations, and their equalisation by taxation! And now, after having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun–reject all systems, and make trial of liberty–of liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.”

ah, is that the lovely smell of pangloss drying…? 🙂

Just a thought…

Indeed. It does take some level of faith to believe that people are better off making their own choices and pursuing their own ends without the coercive interference of their social superiors. But it takes rather a lot more faith in leaders, statesman and democratic mechanisms to believe in any alternative.

“I am not a philistine.

At its best, literary, visual or dramatic art is uplifting to the human spirit and challenging to the intellect. But if it is of high quality it will stand on its own merits- people will want to read the book, own the painting or experience the performance and there will be no need for public subsidy. So, by definition, the Arts Council is funding art that is not good enough to pay for itself. ”

I love the way you undermine the first statement with the following paragraph. Of course, those who can afford to own an Old Master or buy two or three books a week have little need for subsidy – but those who can’t require access to galleries and libraries which do require subsidy. Few symphony orchestras or opera companies could provide concerts available to (almost) all without subsidy. Many arts ventures provide an experience that goes beyond the simple market value of the exercise. Few from low income areas could experience the arts without subsidy.

If you feel that the only art that is of value is that which pays for itself, or that access to art should be solely determined by bank balance, then you are indeed a philistine!

If you feel that the only art that is of value is that which pays for itself, or that access to art should be solely determined by bank balance, then you are indeed a philistine!

I think you have been living on Mars because you clearly haven’t read much of the thread. The value of art is not measured in financial terms. When you say Many arts ventures provide an experience that goes beyond the simple market value of the exercise. it would seem you agree.

But please explain why it is that it is so pressing that classical music concerts are subsidised when West End musicals, rock concerts etc survive in the market place.

Why is Don Giovanni considered “art” but Les Miserables is not?

Who decides and on what rationale?

Nick,

Oh for goodness sake, the world doesn’t ping between two absolutistic extreme opposites, and to present it as such is simplistic nonsense. And I strongly suspect you know that.

That was precisely the problem with the piece you linked to, too. And I’ll wager you knew that, too, even as you were posting it… (ah, the eminently reasonable Monsieur Bastiat, with such irrational foes to swat aside like gnats…oh, dearie me…)

Why are so many people (on this thread, alas) so damn fixated with a sterile, dogmatic “all or nothing” debate?

Ok, so you guys get the best snappy rhetoric, fine – now please, can we have some more *practical*, positive, contributions? I know mine wasn’t a thing of radiant brilliance, so surely someone else could take the baton up..hmm?

This is rather more important an issue than, say, the latest off-the-cuff oddities from Boris Johnson…isn’t it?

Ho hum.

Les Mis – started out as an RSC production. Just for info.

Andy – I don’t think of myself as an absolutist. I just see art (in the general sense) all over the place, and I think it tends to be better (and more legitimate and accountable) when it isn’t funded coercively. Not always, but usually. Which is enough to determine a fairly robust anti-government funding policy.

Les Mis – started out as an RSC production. Just for info.

Good spot!!!!

So does the fact that it’s had public money mean it is art?

OK Swan Lake and 42nd Street!!!!!

Do you understand my point?

Nick:

Your later comments reek of a real lack of understandng as to what the Arts Council does, I mean phrases such as:

“It does take some level of faith to believe that people are better off making their own choices and pursuing their own ends without the coercive interference of their social superiors.”

I mean, what planet is this on? This isn’t happening and the Arts Council do not behave like social superiors and actually, in the last raft of funding cuts they were forced to enact, they chose to pull money from art that was able, abeit on a tight margin, to survive based on people’s choices; much to the anger (not me) or many.

You see, I think that you just don’t know enough of what the AC fund and the wide variety of projects that back and how they work, for example your use of the term “funded coercively” which is utter tosh, even for you.

Again, all I see here is yet more bloody unworkable knee jerk libertarian nonsense, from an ideology that only has one answer to everything.


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