Introduction to Arts Council England and UK national funding bodies

Introduction to Arts Council England and UK national funding bodies

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In Art Council England’s latest annual review, Chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette states, in response to the oft-asked question “can we afford to fund the arts?”,  that we simply can’t afford not to.  Given the Arts Council’s key role in allocating funding for the arts, distributing 80% of total arts funding in England, it is imperative to understand why the Arts Council was established, its objectives and the value that Peter Bazalgette and the Arts Council places on arts funding.

It was with this agenda in mind that Fellows from the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme and entrepreneurs from the Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs Scheme gathered to discuss the Arts Council and its’ funding policy. The timing proved particularly apt to assess our understanding of the Arts Council with “Great Arts and Culture Everyone”, the Arts Council’s revised strategic plan, published the previous afternoon.

Discussion began with examination of why and when government support for the arts was established. Our trainer Amanda Rigali, Head of the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme at Cause4, first posed the question “Why does the government support the arts?”  Whilst answers detailing the economic, social, and private value of the arts were appreciated, Amanda stressed the importance of examining the role of the Arts Council more fundamentally.

In particular we examined the role of government intervention in the case of market failure. Amanda stressed that the market for art is subject to market failure, with the business case for the arts limited as value and benefit created by the arts often fails to be passed on to arts providers.

Consider for example national pride generated by a thriving arts and culture sector - this will hold value in attracting tourism and business to England, but it may not hold direct monetary benefits to private art service providers. It is this lack of business case which results in a limited market for private arts provision, and in turn government intervention in, and support for, the arts.

Great art and culture for everyone
This line of reasoning naturally led to explanation and analysis of the aims of the Arts Council through assessment of both the Royal Charter of 1946, establishing the right of the Arts Council to distribute funds, and the Arts Council’s current agreement with the DCMS. This exercise highlighted a degree of continuity between the present day aims of the Arts Council and aims established in 1946, particularly in their emphasis upon increased access to the arts. However, it is equally clear that the Arts Council is a dynamic organisation, extremely sensitive of and responsive to external events. This is illustrated through the Arts Council’s current priority to contribute to the government’s growth agenda, a response to economic downturn, and a focus upon Music and Cultural Education, a response to the Darren Henley’s Reviews.

Reflecting upon the training session, it is clear that the value of the training wasn’t to simply understand the strategic priorities of the Arts Council, but to assess why these priorities have been set. We must ask ourselves what motivates the Arts Council, who influences the Arts Council, and how these factors influence their strategic priorities. Whilst informative videos such as the recently released, “An Animation: Arts Council England’s missions and goals explained” are useful, the training session facilitated understanding of the Arts Council as a much more complex body.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts about the Arts Council and its strategic positioning.