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Here’s what a wise arts policy might look like


Arts Council England has just a tiny pot of money to distribute among arts organisations. The state needs to get a sense of perspective.

Yet again Arts Council England (ACE), which will this morning announce the new settlement for the organisations it backs, has struggled gamely to distribute a diminished pot of government funding in ways that are fair, wise and likely to help the arts world to flourish.

There will be (small) winners and (big) losers. Even the wisdom of Solomon could not satisfy everyone in the arts, not even those who truly deserve public funding.

The public political charade of behaving as if the size of the arts budget is a determinant of national prosperity has to stop. It is a lie; it is a diversion; it does more harm than good. A sensible arts policy is available and would benefit the nation and the economy rather than harm it. Its elements would go as follows …

A wise government, starting with a wise secretary of state for culture, would stop calling for the « arts to show evidence that they are value for money » and instead read any one of the dozen reports in recent years that prove that they are.

This is well-trodden ground. They could start with the letter to the Guardian in June 2013 from 20 economists from John Maynard Keynes’ Political Economy Club. They grossed up the sums attributable to the creative economy and tourism at 16% of the national economy and concluded: « These are the most obvious multiplier benefits of the arts to the economy. »

A wise government would not worry about a minimal part of the national budget. Total spending on the arts accounts for just 0.5% of government spending. Why does it attract such excessive scrutiny? The usual response is that the arts, « known » to be inefficient, self-indulgent and profligate, require intense questioning and supervision. Yet the evidence is that arts organisations run themselves and use their resources efficiently, effectively and for the wider benefit of society. They deliver the widely lauded « instrumental » benefits while never forgetting that only excellent art can do this. Cutting the tiniest parts of the national budget in ways guaranteed to do most damage across the nation is at best a displacement activity, at worst a diversion from the real issues of government.

Governments and ministers must widen their horizons and understanding of what the arts are. Too much focus is concentrated on a handful of prejudices around the major London institutions – the Royal Opera, British Museum, National Gallery and others – routinely castigated for being too rich, too expensive, too elite, too exclusive in their audiences. A priority for ministers must be to cast their understanding of the arts far more widely across the nation while giving up indulgence in cheap hits at the organisations on their Westminster doorstep.

These changes of approach and attitude aren’t costly and should be easy. The notion of « trust » in the arts underpins them and would benefit everyone. On this foundation, two policy changes can follow. First, ministers should admit and welcome that the « English » funding model based on the tripod of funding from box office, donors and the public purse is accountable, efficient and democratic. They must stop flirting with the myth that the « American » model of funding is in any way superior for the arts or society.

Second, ministers should ringfence the arts budget. If it is right for overseas aid, it is surely right for the arts at home. This is not just being « nice » to the « luvvies ». It would be to recognise and understand that the arts at their widest benefit people, places, ideas, curiosity and wellbeing. Nitpicking around the edges of a tiny budget is not an arts policy. It is bad politics too.

John Tusa, for The Guardian.

Filed under: Analyses, Financement de projet, Gouvernances, Politiques culturelles, , ,

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