Grab yourself a cuppa and buckle up, it’s a long one. Who comes up with these catchy titles? This time it was Create Gloucestershire, with a free workshop
to help people build their strategic case for support, in a friendly and creative way, before bid-writing begins in earnest. The workshop is an opportunity to crystalize thinking about the unique contribution of your organisation/project/event and how it adds value to the wider art and cultural ecology in Gloucestershire and beyond.
Although the workshop was Gloucestershire-specific, the thinking behind it applies to the overall national strategy that the Arts Council are putting in place until 2020. Or until they change their minds, I suppose. So here we go:
2 key questions:
- What inspires you?
- Why should you get public funds?
Whether you’re an individual artist, an arts organization or charity/community body, the first question to ask yourself is what inspires you. What is your aim, your passion, your motivation? Only then can you move onto the issue of why you should get funding.
The Arts Council are pointing out that we talk about investment in schools, hospitals etc, but talk about subsidizing the arts. The very language involved provokes an immediate question of why and whether the arts should receive public money. Instead, we need to talk about investment in the arts and create a clear picture of how society benefits from such cultural investment. It might seem like an obvious point, but it’s a crucial one.
The whole picture of why public funds are needed has been lost - Peter Bazalgette
In general terms there has been standard public investment into arts and culture since 1945, a situation which the sector has maybe taken for granted. And while this public investment is a lovely thing for the sector, it means that the cultural sector has lost the ability to argue its own value. Whereas Maria Miller might be arguing that the sector needs to demonstrate its value in purely economic terms, the Arts Council is now building a holistic case for the arts and culture.
The aim is to put culture at the heart of everything. Scroll through the slideshow to find the blobby diagram with culture at the middle, you’ll need it. As they themselves explain:
Culture allows us to understand ourselves; and the arts illuminate our inner lives, enrich our emotional world and teach us compassion. They engage us in a dialogue about values, they define our national identity and our concept of citizenship. They hand down tradition, the ideas and the language that makes us confident innovators.
Arts and culture are also essential at all levels of education, bringing imagination and self-expression to the primary school and the lecture hall. From first contact to lifelong learning, the arts have a symbiotic relationship with other subjects. We need to describe this, and make sure that the arts become integral to the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths.
The arts and cultural sector also makes a major contribution to social wellbeing – in engagement with children and young people, old people and the sick and marginalised. We encourage the individuality of local communities and through our commitment to diversity we strive to bring out the positive, creative potential of the nation.
There is also a wide contribution the creative and cultural sectors make to economic strength. The arts attract income to other areas of the economy, shape the environment for economic regeneration, drive exports and fly the flag for England abroad.
- See more at: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/advocacy/holistic-case/#sthash.bbljsSn8.dpuf
So we’re now trying to put culture at the heart of society and places, rather than just creating economic justification for the arts. Within the sector we’ve long understood the need for the arts as a core part of the educational curriculum, not just as individual subjects such as drama and music but as a way of teaching/learning across all subjects as well as a means of engaging students, whether those students marked out as gifted and talented, those labelled as having special educational needs or those at risk at exclusion. Hello Michael Gove, it’s maybe time you started listening. We also know that the arts can be at the heart of regional regeneration, with ground-breaking museums and galleries acting as a focus and attracting visitors and investment. The worth of the arts stretches from our internal well-being to how we are perceived on a global scale. We know this. We now have to show it. The sector needs to convince other government departments as to how/why culture needs to be at the heart of their thinking. And then get money from them, basically. I may be under-thinking this.
The 5 goals:
- Excellence. The feeling is that previously this wasn’t high enough on the agenda. Everything now needs to be excellent, and -
- For everyone. Not just any one particular demographic.
- Resilience and sustainability. Organizations need to have the resilience to survive if/when Arts Council funding is withdrawn, by creating partnerships and embedding themselves into communities.
- Diversity and skills. Both for the people making art and the people enjoying art. Diverse leadership also.
- Children and young people. The artists/audiences of tomorrow – and also of today.
You don’t necessarily have to meet all of these goals (although I got the feeling that excellence was now compulsory, no pressure there,) but you can demonstrate how you’re supporting the other goals even though you’re focusing on one of them. It’s been pointed out that THE ENVIRONMENT hasn’t been mentioned in any of this so far. Oops. It remains an aim, allegedly, but the fact that it got missed off the diagram probably speaks volumes. They might try and pretend they were talking about environmental sustainability in #2 rather than mere economics. I’m thinking that’s really rather a big Oops, actually.
Tom and Jerry, Angie and Den, Renee and Renato… and now you and whoever has money. Bearing in mind that this was a workshop aimed more at organizations than individuals, but the strategy is linking things together to make things happen. Funding is starting to shift away from individuals and organizations, and towards particular outcomes. If a social need has been identified – improved wellbeing for elderly people, for example – then generally funding will be channelled towards that need, and so the arts sector needs to communicate with the organizations that have expertise in that area, or have funding but no strategy. Again, it might seem obvious, but there’s a shift in thinking; outcome-based funding. Not organization- or artist-based.
Within an area, we need to co-ordinate assets and strategies and then evaluate together. Yeah, you can probably tell that’s not one of my sentences. But people, we’re thinking holistically, and creating links with other artists/arts organizations/businesses and community/charitable organizations to create projects based around specific outcomes in areas of identifiable need.
Next buzzword: Place.
This one is really really important. Massively important. If you want to stop reading at this point, then bear in mind these three things: Art-at-the-heart, Partnerships and Place. And now fly, my pretties.
Still here? Right then:
Where you are matters.
Your contribution is in a specific place at a specific time. Understand the place you are in and your role in it, rather than you/your organization within the wider Arts ecology. How are you rooted in your community?
At this point we looked at statistics and maps gleaned from the Gloucestershire County Council website, for example the county is relatively affluent and has above average educational attainment and good health, but there are areas of true deprivation, mainly within Gloucester and Cheltenham. Every County Council has a website with this kind of information and statistics. You need this information. Armed with this, you can create a funding bid or identify where to form partnerships to deliver creative solutions – or even use it to inform the kind of projects you initiate.
At this point you might be screaming But I’m an artist! I’m a playwright! I just want to write plays and have theatres put them on!
Well, that’s great, and I hear you, I really do. Deep down, I’m kinda with you. But why should we get public funding for that? We could get into a debate about art for art’s sake at this point, and I’m not going to deny the value of that – but historically artists have survived through patronage, or creating a commercial product, generally both. Shakespeare had patrons and put a lot of bums on seats. He didn’t get an Arts Council grant. Given the current state of the economy etc etc, I’m not sure how long we’re going to manage to get G4A awards as individual artists, or even as theatre companies. Granted, I’m a Capricorn and Saturn is heavily over-represented in my birthchart, but to all you Pollyannas out there – the shit is really hitting the fan right now, and the future is looking 50 Shades of Excrement. And no matter how passionately we believe in our Art, our rights as an Artist, the role our Art has to play in the world, it doesn’t mean we’re going to get funding in the future. Even if we’re really good at it. Perhaps we need to be shaking down the Commercial sector a little harder, and letting them know they’re going to run out of good new work/talented artists if they don’t invest in the sector-formerly-known-as-subsidized, but in the meantime, if we want to get paid for what we do then we might need to shift our thinking towards the holistic, partnerships and place
direction. Or fuck it, let’s shrug our shoulders and de-monetize the work,
like the producer once said.
So: understand your place, your community in your corner of the world and what your issues are. And apply this to your funding bid, using facts and figures, and preferably partnerships. Someone pointed out that the G4A form has recently changed, and now gives you a box the size of a postage stamp to put all of this information into. I can’t help you with this one, other than perhaps if enough people complain to the Arts Council, they might change the form again.
Who you need to know
We got a helpful diagram at this point, a recreation of the Arts Council blobbing strategy, but with the blobs changed to list the local organizations working in those areas. Seriously, we really did use the words blobs and blobbing. Blobbing is the new black. This is where your local strategic knowledge comes into play. Culturally, Gloucestershire draws a bit of a blank in that centre blob, whereas Bristol would have a longer list of organizations and individuals who work to support the Arts. It’s worth doing this yourself.
Culture: ACE SW, Borough Councils, some County Councils, which bodies are supporting/funding Arts/culture in your area.
Education: schools, Further education, early years, universities, Adult education, county council
Society: Health/wellbeing board (not sure if this is Glos-specific, but look for similar organizations,) District councils, VCS (Voluntary and Community Services), something called GSSJC (Glos Safer, Stronger, Justice Committee? again, look for similar bodies,) County Councils
Economy: LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships, possibly Local Economy Partnerships – the replacement for Regional Development Agencies,) County Councils, Creative Industries, District Councils.
There was mention and comparison with Bristol (the eyes of Gloucestershire creatives look jealously upon you, Brizzle) as there’s a dearth of visionary leadership and political will in Glos compared to Bristol. If local politicians understand and value culture it creates an ecology where much more is possible even when there’s no specific funding, for example the idea of rates relief for creative organizations. Stokes Croft is seen as an area that has been reinvigorated by artists, without the use of public funding.
LEPs are key. They have money. Real, actual money. And in many areas, they’re not exactly sure how to spend it. So organizations such as Cinderford Arts Space are redefining themselves as “Enterprise Centres” rather than “Arts Centres.” They’re doing exactly the same work as they were before, but they’re showing how local young people would far rather go on a 10 week Circus Skills course than a 10 week course on How to Get A Job. And those young people then go on to set up their own organization teaching Circus Skills to younger children. The Bristol Old Vic initiative Made in Bristol supports a group of young people to create their own theatre company for a year, giving them the skills they need to build a career in the industry – not just performance skills but learning how to collaborate, how to market a show etc. You can register with your LEP’s website, free of charge.
Health and Wellbeing is another key area. Here there are recognisable targets – in Glos these are:
- reduce obesity
- reduce alcohol-related harm
- mental health
- health and wellbeing in old age
- health inequalities
Additionally there are 4 strands to their strategy in terms of health, or rather poor-health-prevention:
- starting well: pregnancy and early years
- develop well: childhood
- live well: adult years
- age well: old age
If your work taps into any of these themes, or you have the idea for a project around these targets then forming a partnership with your local Health and Wellbeing body could mean accessing funding.
We were told there’s a genuine crisis in a lot of government departments, they’re not working well. In many areas they have specific targets to deliver, and no ideas of how to do it. Again, Michael Gove, pay attention. The creative sector can come in with ideas for how to engage with the public and deliver outcomes for these targets. Many departments now outsource delivery, which frees up funding. Show the linkages and synergies with other organizations trying to tackle those issues. No, that wasn’t one of my sentences either. Your starting point is what inspires you. Then show why that should be publicly funded, using this model of holistic thinking. See, we’ve come full circle.
I found it exciting that the Arts Council is pushing forward with this holistic model of the Arts, rather than diminishing creativity to something that has only financial value. It’s depressing to have a Minister for Culture who seems to believe that Culture stops at the bottom line, a Ministry whose tagline is We help to give the UK a unique advantage in the global race for economic success. Personally, I don’t want anything to do with a global race for economic success, I’d sooner shag Satan and all his minions in the fiery depths of hell. I believe that a healthy artistic culture is vital at local, regional and national levels, that creativity is crucial to all aspects of our thinking and doing. So Ya Boo, sucks to you, Miller, and bring on the holistics.
People who’ve been filling out funding applications for years will no doubt groan that it’s nothing new and they’ve been ticking off these boxes for decades. People will also complain that Art should be funded for Art’s sake, that it’s the sign of a healthy society. I don’t disagree. But when libraries are closing, Meals on Wheels scrapped, and the Young Carer’s Group my daughter used to go to can no longer afford to hold meetings, I’m not sure that I can make a case for why I should get public funding to go and write a play, just because I want to. But if I can partner with the Young Carers Association, and a theatre company, and the local health and wellbeing board to create a project working with those young carers, which might include me writing a piece for performance that reflects their lives, and attract funding because we’ve identified an unmet need… well that all feels worthwhile.
Something I scribbled down in my notes during today’s workshop, a vague thought I wanted to recall and explore: engage with culture/arts/creativity as an act of rebellion. There are times when I look at the state of the world and wonder what the hell I’m doing, how the hell I can have any kind of real cultural agency when I’m piddling around in theatres, desperately trying to convince someone to put on my play. But when we have a government dedicated to stripping away the rights of the poor and vulnerable while granting tax breaks to the wealthy, a government dedicated to eroding any last strand of creativity within the educational curriculum, a government that’s frack-happy and badger-hating, a government determined to gag its own citizens and outlaw protest: then being an artist becomes a protest in itself. The notion of creating cultural and political agency through the arts, of engaging with the dispossessed, of fighting back through outreach, working with causes we believe in – that’s got to be attractive, hasn’t it? And if I can do that via funding from my state-endorsed LEP, convincing some bureaucrat that I’m equipping my Young Carers with improved mental health, general wellbeing and a unique advantage in the global race for economic success, all of which is true, but has the end result of getting financial support to keep the group going then I’m pretty much going to feel like Robin Hood. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I got a real sense today that we can learn to play the system and use their rules to fight them back. And yeah, that inspires me. That inspires me plenty. So engage, fellow artists. Go build your case for funding support. Root yourself into your communities, learn the rules of your local ecology, build those partnerships and use your creativity in any way you can to beat the bastards.