CLARE MAHON ANALYZE THE PRESSURES AFFECTING THE MANAGEMENT OF THE SOCIAL PROVISION OF THE ARTS In this essay I will investigate the pressures concerned with subsidised arts organisations, using the Art Studio in Sunderland as an example. These pressures can be internal and external, and with many members of the population unsupportive of spending taxpayer's money on the arts, it is an area of many conflicting interests. The social provision of the arts refers to the management of activities funded by the state and it is the subsidised arts organisations, which rely heavily on social provision. Of course 'the arts' covers a wide spectrum of activities and in the case of the Art Studio it not only encourages the development of the arts it also plays an important role as a charity and as a form of daycare. The individuals responsible for managing the social provision are the arts managers.
We can define arts managers as agents of connection. They are responsible for connecting the arts with the people; arts management is a complex subject dealing with a clash of the practical and the spiritual. Their job is further more complicated by a working environment of continual change, for example the reorganisation of the Arts Councils.
A main concern of subsidised arts organisations is the negative attitude of members of the public to spending public money on the arts. Many people believe that this money should be given to what they see as more worthwhile causes such as education and health. It seems the importance of culture is an issue, which raises many conflicting viewpoints. On the one hand, the attitude of some members of the public is that the arts are something only a certain type of person is concerned with. The arts are seen as elitist and it is this opinion, which at times hinders the use of public money for many worthwhile projects. The social importance and success of the arts lies in its ability to provide a connection with the community. The people who work in the cultural sector also create vital links between society and the arts. Culture is a process enabling desirable effects.
'Ã¢ÂÂ¦..museums and libraries began to be founded as a distraction and a refreshment for the working population. They were to raise the moral and educational tone of cities- and counteract drunkenness and fornication.' Hewison argues the notion that culture is transforming, that it can improve the quality of life. The arts are seen as a vital form of education and this is perhaps the greatest factor influencing cultural participation. A low level of participation can be linked to socio-economic status, although this is only an assumption.
The funding of the arts in the UK comes from a variety of sources including local councils, central and devolved government and the lottery. A recent move by the Arts Council of England (ACE) was to merge the regional art boards onto one organisation. A document produced by the New Arts Council of England states that: 'The Arts Council in its new form will be the leadership body for the arts in England, leadership delivered regionally and nationally. It will have a small powerful, strategic centre working with and through powerful regional offices. The overall aim is to give the regions more presence nationally, and the nations Arts Council more presence in the regions, within one organisation with added strength regionally, nationally and internationally.
This idea of incorporating everything under one new organisation is thought to benefit those seeking funding. However, it is also thought that perhaps the smaller regional councils were able to develop a closer and more direct relationship with organisations. This enabled a greater understanding of individual needs; it is a concern that the formation of one large council will mean that some smaller projects will be overlooked.
Another measure taken by the government to try to improve the arts has been the scrapping of entry fees to many museums. Overall this was a success with the V&A seeing an increase in visitor numbers of 111%, David Barrie, director of the Art Fund charity, which led the campaign for free museums commented that: 'Free admission in itself is not enough, if the museums' grant aid is inadequate for them to fulfil their core functions. One result of under funding is that most museums have little or no funds to acquire objects to add to their collections- and we at the Art Fund feel the impact of that, in appeals for help everyday from museums and galleries.' It seems that although these measures are beneficial, the government needs to address the wider picture and work more closely with organisations in order to understand their needs. Again this highlights the problems faced by subsidised arts organisations.
Public funding from the government is very often a political decision. Charlotte Higgins argues that the current climate of funding is preoccupied with political justification. Artistic excellence is no longer sufficient; instead the arts must have a particular social or educational purpose. The government's view of the role of the arts is that they are another type of business, with success measured by how they benefit the economy. This has meant that funds tend to be awarded to projects which show an increase in earnings and get sponsorship from business or money from other sources, also favoured are those projects which show 'public benefit' such as education. However, things have improved as initially under the previous government, the arts had been undergoing funding standstills and arts for a number of years, incorporating the ACE standstill on arts spending, local government cutbacks and a reduction in the share of lottery funding. Funding the arts under the conservative government was not a plausible topic for discussion. In 1997 the new Labour government said this would all change, Blair stated that ' the arts will be put at the core of the government's thinking', it seems that the changes have been slow moving. The Arts were given an increase of 16% creating an 'avalanche of art' and encouraging an initiative- 'Creative Partnerships', to try to disperse the apartheid between those who enjoy the benefits of the arts and those who feel disenfranchised from them. The UK lags behind other European countries when it comes to public spending on the arts, in a report by ACE the UK came 7th out of 11 countries surveyed. There is currently no mandatory obligation on local authorities to achieve any particular minimum level of arts and cultural funding as a percentage of their overall budgets, this means that the amount of funding available varies greatly and this in turn effects the amount given to those in great need.
Since the middle of the 19th century and the birth of the 'art for arts sake' movement, social criticism has been an established part of the creative arts community. Such 'opposition' is not viewed kindly by the typical government of the day. Why should government fund its critics? The sculptor Anish Kapoor has openly criticised the government's attitude towards the arts, he says: 'I don't think they get it- that in the deepest, deepest depths of human history, the culture has always been a motivator of people' Kapoor believes that the government do not understand the importance the arts could have to society and could be used as an important factor to educate and 'improve' society.
The Art Studio, Sunderland is an example of a subsidized arts organisation. It provides studio space and support for artists who have or are suffering from mental illness. As an organisation, which seeks funds from many different sources, the Art Studio is constantly facing new challenges. As a public funded organisation the studio has to meet certain statutory requirements- health and safety. This is increasingly difficult for the organisation because as the council provides the premises this means there is no lease and therefore can't fundraise for improvements. The studio can't fundraise from grants for heating or hot water and so is insecure in its premises and capacity. This type of hindrance means it is difficult for the studio to function efficiently. Other pressures come from the funders of the studio, many of the grants are allocated on the basis that the studio has to acquire a certain number of attendances, this is very difficult as most users are actually referred to the studio by the health authority, social services etc. With the core money coming from the statutory sector it puts the studio in a vulnerable position. Social services fund by contract and pay a fee for each referral to the studio however; an annual grant received from Priority Healthcare is a set amount and is not influenced by the number of referrals. The Health sector is under constant change, Priority Healthcare (PHCW) underwent organisational and geographical changes in 2002. This has meant the organisation now has new objectives, management structures and new budgeting and funding strategies. These changes have a knock on affect and could mean less money is available. Another threat is the possibility of Health and Social Services may become one organisation, the studio receives grants from both these sources and this reorganisation may result in only one grant being allocated. There is also the possibility that Social Services may want to renegotiate their contribution and so again less money will be awarded. As a voluntary organisation there are added pressures particularly as people may not be committed. Recently the studio has had difficulty in getting a reliable Treasurer to sit on the board, this is quite an important issue as it crosses over into legal requirements of the studio and could create a very difficult situation. Another problem faced by the studio is that as it receives funding from several different sources, each of the grants received can only be used on certain things. This means that all the money has to be carefully shared out depending on what it is to be used for and that close attention has to be made to check that the right money is doing the right job.
The pressures experienced by the studio are not all negative, although grant allocation demands certain requirements and changes to be made within the studio; some of these demands mean the organisation is continually improving. An example of this is that Social Services wanted the studio to offer an enhanced service and this led to the introduction of tutored workshops within the studio. These workshops included ceramics, printmaking, watercolours, stained glass, framing and stretching canvasses, and a digital art workshop. As a result of the introduction of these workshops the studio has seen an increase in regular attendance from some studio users and of course it has allowed the users to develop new and valuable skills. The workshops have been a great success and there is interest in introducing different activities. The funding received has been able to pay for tutors and materials for the workshops and the attendance figures show that this is a very popular development within the studio. The current political climate very much favours mental health issues, partly due to the closure of Mental hospitals and day care facilities, these people need support. The studio offers support for these vulnerable members of society protecting them from themselves and each other, it is very evident from the atmosphere within the studio that this is a place, which is extremely worthwhile, and many of the users would have nowhere to go if this facility was not provided.
Rules and regulations which are imposed on organisation such as the Art Studio, by the government creates serious limitations on the extent to which they can function efficiently and to their full potential. It has been suggested that the government should look to other countries and how they support the arts. In the USA all cultural donations can be written off against tax, the government is foregoing tax revenue to allow it to be distributed to the arts, also a significant amount of money comes from private patrons this is something, which is not developed in the UK. The government needs to address the particular requirements of subsidized arts organisations and deal with them on a more individual basis. The current climate does not look set to change because of certain political agendas in which the arts are not a priority.