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“Targets are here to stay” – A report on Sir Professor Christopher Frayling’s Exeter speech by Zoe Bulaitis

It is a pleasure to introduce a new voice to this blog with this latest post: cultural policy scholar in training and a member of the University of Exeter’s Arts and Culture team, Zoe Bulaitis reports for The #culturalvalue Initiative project on a recent event on regional arts funding entitled Funding not Drowning: the crisis in regional arts funding which featured Professor Christopher Frayling as the main speaker. The event took place at Exeter Northcott Theatre on the12th June 2013, in the context of the anxiety over the level of cuts that cultural sector would have to endure, and which – as transpired just a couple of days later when news of the settlement between DCMS and the Treasury were broke out – now sit at a further 8% (resulting in arts and museums in England being expected to receive a cut of around 5%). Frayling used this opportunity to sing the praise of the UK’s mixed funding approach to financing the arts and culture; but with public funding consistently decreasing in these times of economic duress, and a recent Art & Business report suggesting that about 90% of all English individual donations to the arts and 67.8% of all business investment goes to London, the reality of nurturing the cultural ecosystem in the regions and in rural areas of the country remains a live issue.

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Frayling 1

 

 

Sir Professor Christopher Frayling was Chairman of the Arts Council England from 2005 to 2009. However, he is not only a purse-keeper, he began his long career as a lecturer in History at the University of Exeter, before being the Rector of the Royal College of Art for more than 15 years. Personally, he was a warm and articulate man, and I found his talk a refreshing break from the depressive lamentation of the death of the arts. In Frayling’s own words “you ain’t seen the worst of it yet” in terms of funding cuts. Nonetheless, Frayling’s assessment of the Regional Arts at least allows the potential for opportunistic (optimistic would be too strong at this moment in time!) progress, as I shall detail in this post.

I work for the Arts and Culture team at the University of Exeter, and had the pleasure of helping organize Frayling’s “Funding not Drowning: the crisis in Regional Arts funding”. The talk came out of a desire within my team to deliver a timely debate to the people of Exeter that would tackle some difficult questions facing arts organizations in a year when austerity measures continue into the foreseeable future. Exeter is a regional centre for art in the South West of England and has also suffered greatly in the past spate of cuts.  Frayling discussed how “the South West is probably the most diverse region in the national portfolio” for the Arts Council and therefore proves “a devil of a region to get a handle on” in terms of management of funds. The discussion was held in the Exeter Northcott Theatre that was (to the shock of many) not included in the Arts Council England’s National Portfolio for 2012 – 2015. Whilst the theatre was awarded £125,000 for three years from the Arts Council England South West and is supported by the University of Exeter, the topic of funding continues to hold high importance on the agenda within the Northcott walls.

On the night, the theatre was packed with Exeter’s creatively concerned and the array of questions after Frayling’s discussion revealed theatre directors, local councilors alongside scholars in cultural policy such as myself. Some difficult questions were raised, a few people left the auditorium in despair (or anger) and all in all the discussion was an honest and productive overview of the situation facing the regional arts in the future. I was lucky to have the opportunity to briefly interview Frayling before the event, and have included comments from both our conversation and his formal talk in the discussion below.

 

Frayling 3

 

In a style that you might expect of someone who has worked in funding for years, Sir Frayling was full of statistics. Speaking about the differences between London and the regions, he challenged the out-in-the-sticks out-of-mind perception that people sometimes associate with regional arts funding. For example, while London enjoys funding for 118 touring companies based in the capital, 72% of the performances that these companies put on are in fact outside London. Similarly, whilst the Arts Council continues to offer London around 49% of its funding, local councils are equally responsible for the cuts to culture across the country. I was shocked to find out that the Arts Council has 359 million pounds annually to invest, while cumulatively the local governments have access to a non-statutory pot of 1.8 billion. Whilst these billions of pounds are shared across the counties and include the statutory provision of museums and libraries, it is nonetheless a lot of money potentially available for arts organizations. In reference to these facts Frayling urged the audience to “stop thinking about homegrown versus central” as the geography is not black and white and rather a more composite picture.

Frayling 2

Frayling’s argument for funding of the arts is the “mixed economy approach” meaning funding coming from Arts Council, local government, earned income and private investment. He argues it is important to have an element of competition to “keep you on your toes”. Certainly, we can all agree that complacency is something that should be avoided, however continual economic checks and assessment can take a toll on a creative organization that is also trying to engage in artistic and social debates. In reference to the decisions Frayling made during his time as Chairman of the Arts Council, he was proud to say that arts institutions were judged and supported or cut appropriate to individual circumstances and attainment “it’s competitive, there are winners and losers”. This is a situation that he compared to the current financing of research councils in Higher Education Institutions. He commented that you wouldn’t automatically assume an AHRC or an ESPRC grant at a university: these are prestigious awards. Frayling argued “there is never going to be a situation where there is enough” but the future is not without hope for the innovative creative. Speaking from his experience of the RCA he celebrated how “in Art Schools people think that tomorrow has the potential to be better than today […] Universities are gloomy”. Whilst I take slight offense to the label of melancholia within my own institution, I can see how those who are seeking a career in creative arts must believe in their own talent as catalytic. Actors, artists, producers and dancers on the whole are driven by the love of their art and not money. Within these creative people is the potential for commercial success, but money is a means-to-an-end and not an end in itself. Frayling used a (albeit easy) successful metaphor for creativity needing to be nurtured like a plant. Admitting to the excessive examination of of economic viability Frayling observed “you pull a plant out of the pot every ten minutes to track its progress then you wonder why it wilts”.

Whilst the situation facing arts organizations in the South West doesn’t look to be getting any easier, finding private investment is no easy thing either. It’s all very well to accept that to get money from the Arts Council and the local government “targets are here to stay” but in the “mixed economy approach” that Frayling supports, there needs to be interest from private investment.  Throughout history art has not survived on the art – from Florentine bankers in the Renaissance to philanthropy in the Victorian era, art have “needed some sort of angel”. The only question left unanswered was who this was and “why isn’t it hip to fund the arts in Exeter?”

 

Note: All photos by Zoe Bulaitis.

 

BIO

Zoe Bulaitis is a MA Student at the University of Exeter, close to completing a project on the influences of Victorian liberalist ideals on Higher Education today. She is about to commence a PhD at the University of Exeter, which will assess the role of the humanities scholar, and address questions left out in cultural policy in terms of a valuation of the humanities disciplines. The focus of the project is about public imaginings of academia and academic life, and therefore will be using pop-cultural sources as its raw material. Zoe also works part time in the University of Exeter’s Arts and Culture team, which delivers a public programme of creative events for students, staff and members of the public from within an institution with no formal teaching of art, music or dance. This work includes an immersion in the cultural debates and politics of the city of Exeter, and adds practical inspiration to Zoe’s academic work. Zoe also loves to blog, and her personal writing can be found in collation at http://zoebulaitis.blogspot.co.uk

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