Artistic Excellence – What’s the Point?

By Amanda Rigali on

Jess Boyes Profile 2

Jess Boyes was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Mind the Gap until September 2016, and has remained with the organisation as Development Officer.

I studied Drama and English Literature, so I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare. Some of it was brilliant. Some was terrible. More interestingly, some of it showed real artistic excellence but wasn’t telling me anything new, and I left feeling the same as I had three hours earlier.

If I’m in the audience of a traditional Shakespearean Tragedy, I’m likely to be surrounded by people who have seen ten traditional Shakespearean Tragedies. It’s also likely that they are retired, white, middle class people who have seen ten traditional Shakespearean Tragedies. Entertainment is fundamental, and the many private funders who keep the UK’s cultural heritage thriving clearly agree.

However, if you’re not pushing some boundaries, what’s the point? When the amount of elderly and disabled people receiving council help has fallen by 28% and half of those affected by the archaic bedroom tax go without food, are audiences for Shakespeare the ones who deserve the biggest slice of the ACE pie? When the fight for funding is so fierce, does work that is simply artistically excellent deserve public funding?

By this stage, you’ll probably have heard of the Glasgow Effect, and the backlash it’s caused. On Facebook, over 7000 people agreed it was “pretentious s**** and a waste of money” and 527 suggested the £15,000 should be given to food banks. The truth is Creative Scotland funds will only ever support arts projects, so we must ask: how can we ensure that, as Ruth Jarratt says, the money “provides the most bang for its charitable buck”?

the glasgow effect

“Do some work in the East End … so that people will see the money going back into good things for the community, and they won’t begrudge you it.” [Taken from the Glasgow Effect Facebook page]

Realistically £15,000 isn’t a large grant in the grand scheme of arts funding, particularly considering the Royal Opera House, National Theatre, Southbank Centre and Royal Shakespeare Company receive £77m between them in NPO funding – as much as the smallest 500 NPOs combined. Are the repercussions from this relatively modest grant a sign that the public are more concerned where the money goes? In Clare’s blogs, she talks about the need for greater transparency. I would argue that this needs to extend further: that arts organisations – particularly large NPOs – should share where all of their funding is directed and more importantly, the reach of their social impact.

Reflecting on the public’s opinion of the Glasgow Effect, I’m convinced that this is an indication of the direction of public interest. We don’t want similar criticisms of the validity of our own projects.

So what can we learn?

  • Case for support: it’s more important than ever to have a strong, compelling case for support. If you’re not excited about your project, find a way to get excited: think about the impact your project will have on individuals. If impact is minimal, why are you doing it?
  • Outcomes: be clear and open about what you want to achieve from the offset. And then…
  • Deliver: you don’t need me to tell you that charities are under a huge amount of scrutiny about their practice. Reputation is everything, particularly in the arts. Identify realistic outcomes and deliver them well.
  • Why you? This blog by Jen Graves is an interesting read; an American trust dedicated to “supporting artists to meet their basic needs in life” announced the recipient of their largest award was writer, David Shields. He happens to earn $200,000 a year. Most importantly, she argues “excellence and need are not mutually exclusive”. In practice this asks: why your organisation? Your product might be great, but so what? Why do we need it?

There’s a place for traditional Shakespeare, even if I’m not its target audience – people love it and it’s a significant part of our cultural history. A lot of the time it leaves me thinking, “so your art is great… and…?”

What do you think? We’d love to hear.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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