Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Plus ça change?

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation have done an interesting thing and republished a seminal report from 1959, Help for the Arts. The aim is to stimulate debate about how we meet today’s questions of how best to support the arts. It’s a fascinating read. Many things are different – and not just the ‘surface’ signs such as language. (I’m pretty sure I don’t want to bring ‘patronage’ and ‘provinces’ back into regular usage for instance, let alone phrases such as ‘men of means’.) The post-Austerity landscape does look free of agency ‘clutter’, and the text has a refreshing directness – though that may simply by style of the report, unafraid to be patrician where necessary.

There are also many things that are oddly similar through the differences –sometimes in an ‘eternal question’ way. What’s the best balance between support for individuals and institutions? Is it simplistic to say that ‘artists not institutions create art’ – where do ‘producers’ fit in, let alone commissioning ‘bodies’ public and private? If institutions endure, in a way individuals (as opposed to their artwork, of course) may not, is that a good or a bad thing?

Funding interventions are the key theme of the report – which led to the Gulbenkian’s crucial work in developing arts in the regions, and some key 'arts spaces'. I’ve been involved in some discussions in the North East about ‘intelligent funding’ (as opposed to stupid funding, you might say!) and was struck by this paragraph:

The reluctance of the State to help new needs in the arts has been emphasised by the tendency for State grants to take the form of meeting deficits (and to some extent the same criticism applies to local authority grants). No doubt grants on this basis are more easily justified where public money is concerned. Nevertheless the deficit basis of finance has a crippling effect on creative work. Moreover, since bodies which receive deficit grants cannot build up reserves, they are prevented from putting their finances on a sound basis: in the long run this system is therefore uneconomical. This criticism is not, however, valid where guarantees of fixed amounts are made to new and adventurous enterprises.

This is something Arts Councils and both local and national politicians grapple with today, further complicated at times by lottery regulations - well, either grapple with or studiously ignore. (It applies across the voluntary sector as a whole.)

The report posits four key things that need to be addressed, and again, whilst acknowledging how much progress has been made, it’s startling to see how unchanged they are from the list many would draw up today. I’ll end simply by quoting them:

The first is that far greater support is needed for the arts than in the past. Nor is this a temporary need. Once high standards of artistic creation and performance have been established, an increasing sum is required to maintain these new standards. This means
that over the years public authorities will have to find more money for the arts.

The second is that far more needs to be done today to render the arts accessible, particularly in the provinces.

The third point is that there should be more scope for experiment in order to invigorate the arts.

The fourth point is that we think that more should be done to foster appreciation of the arts among the young. The introduction of music and drawing into primary schools has been of the highest importance. But in grammar and secondary modern schools, the practice and appreciation of the arts is apt to be crowded out after the age of 14; while little incentive or encouragement is given to boys and girls after leaving school to develop whatever interest in the arts they have acquired. The best means of doing this is something which would well repay enquiry.

1 comment:

Joe said...

On the fourth point, just take a quick glance at what post-14 education is really going to mean for thousands of teenagers in the future here:

Stultifying isn't it.