National and local arts funding hardly share a bill of health, says Lynn Simmonds
Last week, George Osborne announced a funding increase in cash terms for Arts Council England and only a 5 per cent cut to the Department for Culture Media and Sport's budget. The arts sector, which had braced itself for considerable cuts, found itself pleasantly surprised at the Spending Review. Compared to other sectors, the arts appears to have escaped the worst.
From one point of view, the arts have done it. If we take the Chancellor at his word, he recognised that 'deep cuts' to the department would be a 'false economy'. The Treasury's estimate is that ’1bn a year in grants could bring ’250bn to the economy (although it's not clear how they worked out such extraordinary-sounding returns). The hard work of organisations such as Arts Council England to evidence the value of the arts — beyond just our own personal enjoyment — has paid off. By investing in the arts, you achieve real economic impact.
One does wonder, though, whether this good news on the top-line numbers masks the hardship and challenges that face many arts organisations working in the heart of our local communities. Looking beyond the Arts Council's national portfolio, should the arts celebrate or at least breathe a sigh of relief?
One major area of arts investment is the North of England. There were some exciting new investments announced last week, including ’78m to build the new Factory arts venue in Manchester and ’20m for a Great Exhibition of the North and a Great Exhibition Legacy Fund. As the Chancellor said, this will 'pave the way for the future cultural investment in the Northern Powerhouse'. This is great news for rebalancing the sector in areas outside of London (something NPC flagged-up in our arts philanthropy paper in October). It gives these cities a real opportunity to create the foundations for future economic investment through the arts on a scale previously hardly seen outside London and the South East.
Still, is there another false economy to consider here? Setting the foundations for future economic investment by building arts venues and putting on major events does not necessarily create the audiences they need in order to be an economic success. That comes mainly from investment in the arts at a community level, in support for the artists and inspiration for the audiences which will one day fill these venues.
These are the organisations at risk of big cuts to come. With deep cuts to local government, we will witness a change to the arts landscape. The provision of arts in our schools, youth clubs, museums, libraries and health centres will reduce as local authorities take tough decisions to fund other services. Arts organisation at the heart of our local communities will struggle as a result.
This will hit organisations with unique qualities. Arts charities at a community-level are well placed to tackle some of the most pressing issues affecting the sector, promoting access to artistic experiences for those who would not necessarily have the opportunity. They can identify and nurture the future talent in the arts and showcase their work, and they provide the education for a workforce that will contribute towards our thriving creative industries.
Philanthropy can make a difference. There exist many opportunities to invest in the foundations of our thriving arts sector, creating the audiences and the artists of the future. It is this smaller-scale, local work which was not protected in the recent spending review. And if the imbalance between community-level arts and national projects are allowed to grow, the foundations of future economic success of the arts will be in peril.
Lynn Simmonds is a consultant for NPC