Friday, 23 May 2008

The beginning of the peer show?

Last week we held two sessions at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, discussing emerging priorities for Arts Council England with arts organisations and partners. This follows what I believe is technically known as a shedload of work we’ve been doing on this, drawing together influences including the Arts Debate, the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the McMaster Review, the ‘cultural offer’, 2012, and the need to save 15% on our current admin budget within the next three years. I’m not going to run through it all here right now. We had lots of interesting, challenging but overall positive discussion and I got some really good insights into how the Arts Council can better collaborate with others to achieve what I think is the mutual goal of people engaging with fantastic art.

There was a lot of talk about peer review, involvement and learning, but also a lot of disagreement about what it might be, and how best to organise it. One flip chart contained the immortal phrase ‘*ollo**s to peer review (local authorities)’, so you can tell it was a frank discussion! There was clearly a lot of nervousness that peers would be ‘the usual suspects’. (Though equal nervousness when I suggested including members of the public in peer reviews.)

Which made me think of a couple of pieces in The Guardian last week. One the somewhat premature announcement of the ACE inspectorate (Ofarts?) – we’re far from sorted on that yet. The other was Mark Ravenhill’s typically pithy suggestion for a parliament of artists. An interesting idea, (though not as interesting as artists getting involved in actual politics, as I’ve said before.) Only difficulty being that the names mentioned were very much the House of Lords end of the peer market – though yes, I would like to see Thom Yorke, Lesley Garret and Tracy Emin debating. But perhaps what we really need are more contrary ‘commoners’ whose names might not be recognised in the national papers, or dare I say it, London Village’s Bustling West End, but play key roles in the arts across Britain. Mix them up and who knows what insights and ideas we’d get? It's only a real diversity of voices that will help the Arts Council and the sector.


Robin Simpson said...

I completely agree with you about the need for a diversity of voices. In order to stand for a place in his 'parliament' Mark Ravenhill said: “all candidates would need is proof that a significant part of their income came from work in the arts”. Why? The vast majority of the artists creating and performing in this country are not paid to do so. One of the areas Arts Council England really needs to tackle is its lack of connection with the overwhelming majority of arts organisations. Why not be truly revolutionary and include equal representation for the amateur arts?

Mark Robinson said...

Thanks Robin. I think there are two main thoughts I have from this. Absolutely agree with your challenge to the 'income qualification' - would that rule out artists and writers whose main income is actually the monthly payment from their employing university, for instance? It would certainly have ruled out plenty of great artists of the past. And whilst I agree the place of amateur arts needs to be better recognised, on a practical level I'm not sure its Arts Council England's role to connect with all those groups, and even if it were, I think we'd struggle to do it practically - isn't it a more appropriate and practicalrole for, say, local authority arts teams? Not to mention the CVS etc.