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Culture Forum - Arts leaders help drive government policy

  • Date: 11 November 2010
  • Area: National, South East

In June a Culture Forum was set up to advise Government on its future investment for the arts during the Treasury's Spending Review.

Of the 26 representatives elected, two work with south east regularly funded organisations: Matthew Rowe, Director of Towner Contemporary Art Museum in Eastbourne, and Andrew Higgins, Head of Development and Membership at Glyndebourne.

Following three meetings held over the summer and autumn, the Forum produced a report of policy ideas and recommendations. The report was then delivered to senior Government officials, including the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Secretary of State for Culture, and Minister for Culture.

Matthew Rowe says: 'We had three two-hour meetings with a lot to cover! We discussed the crisis around public funding for culture in England, earned income, and at our last meeting on 21 September, we looked at the private sector.

'The spirit of the meetings was refreshing - people said "look, we're not going to stop these cuts - this is where we are so what do we need to focus on?" It was very mature.'

Andrew Higgins agrees: 'What we did through the three meetings was recognise that cuts to the arts were inevitable. We pooled our collective experience and advice on building mixed funding models.

'We recognised that the arts sector all needed to be doing our homework, by looking more at individual giving and partnerships with businesses.'

Andrew continues: 'For example we had discussions about the Big Give, the brainchild of Alex Reed - the founder of Reed Recruitment. Alex has been using his own philanthropic giving to lever in match funding and is appealing to venture capitalists to do the same.

'We also looked at how arts organisations might work together more closely and pool resources. We looked at tax and gift aid and how government can think more about this.' 

Matthew, who was the only visual arts representative in the Culture Forum, says:
'There was general consensus that arts organisations' income should consist of a third public investment, a third earned income, and a third private and corporate giving. That ratio dominated the debate. 

'The performing arts have a fantastic head start in that they use a charging model. Contemporary visual arts are generally not used to charging - and for certain products, it goes against the grain of inclusion agendas.'

The group addressed this imbalance and examined how arts organisations could begin to develop their own mixed economy model, by working with the private sector for example.

Matthew explains: 'We looked at how visual arts might utilise their capital assets, their collections, or the intellectual capital of commissioned work by artists and recouping the work or merchandising that work.

'We have a great opportunity to maximise earned opportunities. For example at Towner - we have produced a t-shirt that is going to sell as a fashion item, through our relationship with the Mapplethorpe Foundation.'

Another aspect of the mixed economy model was developing fundraising strategies, including private giving and legacies.

Andrew says: 'With cuts a reality, we have been focusing on growing our individual funding base and legacies. How we build our individual giving base is important. At Glyndebourne we look at working in partnership, not just getting a cheque from a company. The days of ATM giving are over.

'Legacies could be a long term solution. At Glyndebourne, we try to identify supporters while they're alive and get them involved in projects in areas that they're interested in. It's all about engagement. Just seven per cent of arts organisations have a legacy programme - one of our recommendations is to encourage more to develop one.'

Although the Forum advocated the mixed economy model, they were mindful that the wholesale adoption of this would take time and that there is still a crucial need for government support for the arts.

Matthew says: 'Even the performing arts organisations with a successful track record in earned income and fundraising were very clear that it took a long time for these models to come on stream and that the cuts had to be phased in.

'Yes, there was talk about legacy and endowment - but these are five to 10 year time scales.'

Both Matthew and Andrew said they'll be taking back important lessons to their respective organisations.

Andrew says: 'What I came away with is the feeling that there's a good opportunity to build new and exciting partnerships with philanthropists.  While commercial business and broadcasting present new opportunities and revenues for funding.

'We also looked at how the arts can make a good case for themselves in the Big Society. We need to gather clear evidence and statistics because soft outcomes are just not as compelling when you're sitting there with George Osbourne or Ed Vaizey and don't have clear hard facts.'

Matthew agrees: 'Arts organisations need to measure and demonstrate their value in terms of social and cultural benefits. One of the things we discussed is how arts organisations are different from the private sector. Private sector is focused around economic outputs, whereas arts deliver a whole range of cultural and social benefits. We have to be more comfortable with saying this'.

The Culture Forum was set up by Arts & Business, an Arts Council England regularly funded organisation, and National Campaign for the Arts (NCA), an arts lobbying organisation to encourage a dialogue between the Government and the arts sector about future investment for the arts, heritage and culture.