Wednesday, 20 January 2010

More on achieving great art for everyone

Here's what I wrote for Arts Council England's consultation microsite, as mentioned previously. It's the first of a series of think pieces they are commissioning from various opinionated people to keep the debate lively.

I've been privileged to spend much of the last year debating how to achieve great art for everyone, so this consultation period is very exciting, and not a little nerve-wracking. I feel very attached to it, even though I am one of the people leaving the Arts Council in March and my colleagues will take our work forward. I want to highlight two areas where responses might be especially useful to them, although there are many more ideas in the consultation worthy of deep consideration.

Firstly, the need for shared purpose around a set of clear goals, delivered by collaborative effort with the whole sector and beyond, is powerfully articulated. If funders and arts organisation and partners can get behind the things that unify them and focus on making the sector more productive and resilient, we will all benefit. I welcome the goals - but they will undoubtedly be improved further with input.

By focusing on our collective impact as a sector, having a shared 'big picture' to refer to when things get fraught, we can, perhaps paradoxically, give each other more 'space', worry less about irritating detail, and generally be more forgiving and less adversarial. (Does that sound like a truism about a marriage? Perhaps that's not coincidental.)

Secondly, there are important ideas here about how funding is invested. Proposals are made such as fixed term funding for organisations and greater use of 'strategic commissioning'. This opens up an urgent conversation, which the experiences and views of 'the funded' will shape. The model of either regular or project funding, plus the fabled and rather obscure 'managed funds' is now neither flexible nor strategic enough.

I would urge colleagues to expand the suite of investment mechanisms to include loans for organisations, tools such as Own Art and Take it away that encourage individuals to spend their own money on art at full cost, and much more funding than at present invested in building arts businesses to a point where they have a range of reliable income sources. It is vital that new talent is supported, but it is equally important they do not become as dependent and over-focused on Arts Council funding as some of their elders. The sector, however, will need to grapple with a deeply ingrained instinct to look for 'support' rather than 'income' or 'investment', and the implications of changing the paradigm.

Shared purpose does not, then, mean there will be no challenges and differences. It's our diversity that makes shared purpose so productive, not adopting a single way of doing things, I believe. So share your thoughts. I hope the team who've toiled so painstakingly so far, are given an equally big task reading your consultation responses.

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