I have Matthew Taylor of the RSA and a recent blog to thank for a new phrase – ‘producer capture’. Not sure I’m going to be able to slip it into conversation very easily, but it is, I think, a useful concept: ‘the process whereby the goals of an organisation reflect the interests and prejudices of its employees (the producers) rather than those it is supposed to serve (the consumers, customers or citizens)’. (His posting is inspired by a dispute at the charity Shelter, and Ken Loach’s intervention in it.)
Minimising ‘producer capture’ has apparently driven much New Labour reform, especially in the public sector. Matthew Taylor relates it to the voluntary sector, but it might be a useful check for arts organisations – including, of course the Arts Council. Why are we doing what we do, and who for – and what shapes our work most? When we argue for funding – either to government in the Arts Council's case or to the Arts Council or local authorities for many organisations - are we really sure we’re doing it for those we serve rather than for our own protection? These are good questions for any cultural organisation to ask periodically.
In the arts sector itself - as opposed to the arts funding and development systems - the idea is of course complicated by the central importance of artists and other kinds of ‘producers’ – they are far, far more than ‘employees’. Their individual artistic vision drives things. My sense though is that organisations that avoid ‘producer capture’, no matter how strong and individual the artistic vision, have more impact than those that don’t. They are also – as I would argue our recent case to government in the Comprehensive Spending Review result shows – more likely to put forward persuasive cases to funders.