Arts and culture – time to get (even more) serious - RSA

Arts and culture – time to get (even more) serious

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  • Arts and society

For many years – going right back to my time running IPPR – I have tried to encourage a more grown up and rigorous conversation about arts and cultural policy. It’s not that there hasn’t been good work in this area, valuable research, important policy initiatives, passionate debates but yet, added together, it hasn’t added up to a discourse worthy of the importance of arts and creativity to our nation and our lives. 

Large and powerful swathes of Whitehall have continued to treat the sector as peripheral, confusing and slightly flaky while the sector itself has been slow in developing a case that would stand up next to arguments for other, more obviously essential, forms of public investment.   

But in recent years, especially as austerity has bitten, there has been a tangible change. A number of bodies – for example, NESTA, Arts Council England, The Creative Industries Council, What Next? – have contributed to a more thoughtful, evidence-based and realistic debate. 

Building on this it was great to see the positive response to the excellent Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value which was published on Tuesday. The Commission report is comprehensive, authoritative and forthright.  It has clearly benefitted from the chairing of the RSA’s own Vikki Heywood. The Warwick team have also crafted a balanced document which makes the case for arts and culture to be taken more seriously as a strategic resource but also challenges the sector itself in key areas like impact and diversity. 

All of which fits very well with an initiative we have been developing with support from Arts Council England. The ‘arts and culture contract’ echoes the Warwick Commission in urging a more ambitious approach to arts and culture and also in laying an equal responsibility on Government and the cultural and creative sector to reach for this ambition. Seriousness, ambition and reciprocity are the themes framing  a number of broad ‘asks’ and ‘offers’ (although some offers are part ask and some asks part offer). 

In terms of content we claim little or no originality. Our task has been to gather together existing ideas, especially what we knew was likely to emerge from the Warwick Commission, and start to talk to some of the key bodies working in the sector about lending their support to the initiative. 

Today, through this blog post, we are putting out a first iteration of the compact to get some initial response. Then on March 11th, here at the RSA, we will be holding an event in collaboration with Arts Council England, The Creative Industries Federation, The British Council and What Next? to discuss a fuller version. 

If the response is good we will then encourage campaigners – especially local What Next groups – to use and adapt the contract as the basis for making sure arts and culture features in national and local debates leading up to the general election. 

The bigger goal – which lies many steps ahead - is for an incoming Government and key art and cultural agencies to sign the contract in the summer thus providing a basis for a more ambitious relationship and strategy to run across the term of the next administration. 

So, here in its first draft headline form, is the contract. Please do tell us what you think. 

A draft ‘contract’ between government and the arts & cultural sector

 The ‘ask’ 

  • Government to produce a comprehensive national strategy for the creative and cultural industries
  • A cross Whitehall review of the contribution arts and culture makes to broader public services goals
  • A new expectation placed on schools to guarantee arts and cultural engagement by all pupils
  • A comprehensive approach to skills and talent in the creative and cultural industries
  • A push to place arts and culture at the heart of local place making and regeneration strategies
  • As part of a broad commitment to digital enterprise, backing for a new digital cultural offer bringing together all publicly subsidised cultural assets and mapping local arts and cultural resources
  • Commitment to a new national and city-level global cultural diplomacy strategy
  • A commitment to sustain and expand the role of tax breaks in fostering the production of world-class content, IP and export revenues

The ‘offer’

  • A commitment to work with Government to apply a comprehensive and robust evidence and reporting framework for all arts and cultural activities supported by public investment
  • Recipients of public funding to commit to a step change in the work produced for diverse audiences and to create more opportunities for diverse talent across the publicly funded sector
  • A commitment to a measurable increase in the alternative income generation by arts and cultural organisations
  • A commitment to develop a unified, coherent and more equitable approach to recruitment and training in the arts and cultural sector
  • With  a particular focus on the use of pupil premium, NPOs, major partner museums, music education hubs and bridge organisations to combine forces to offer high-quality, relevant and affordable arts and cultural experiences to schools
  • A renewed commitment from publicly funded arts and cultural organisations to explore new forms of partnership and collaboration including with the commercial and community sector.>
  • What Next? to work with partners across the cultural and creative industries to frame a public contract exploring how the cultural and creative ecosystem can enhance the arts and cultural offer, and encourage new forms of cultural and civic expression across the whole country

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  • My 16 year old son has no shortage of opportunities to be involved in extra curricular "Arts" activities at his school.  Recently his team won a regional design contest and he was in the school production of Grease.  All good stuff and actively encouraged by the school.  However doing these things distracts some of the kids from their core subjects and effects grades.   Universities and employers focus on the grades.  So parent tell their kids to learn law and not how to draw. This is a deep cultural issue whereby our society values maths, chemistry and correct spelling above creative pursuits.  We need to remind policy makers that innovation drives new jobs and the economy, and innovation requires both sides of the brain to be developed.   This is not a new debate,  its a fact of life perhaps better understood by the private sector that politicians will never grasp?

  • Ref
     - A renewed commitment from publicly funded arts and cultural organisations to explore new forms of partnership and collaboration including with the commercial and community sector.

    From where I'm sitting this has to also be willingly and wholeheartedly extended to the creators or art - the artists, writers, poets, musicians, storytellers, makers and applied artists - without whom there will be in the years to come no *good* art for the aforesaid institutions to put on and earn additional grants and income from.

    This is a recognition of the fullness and complexity of the cultural ecology that the Warwick commission's report as well as John Holden'srefer to in detail.

    The nature of engagement in the arts and culture by people has changed and is changing. Insititutions as they currently operate - glued into funding cycles and arts policy compliances - are just not well-placed to deal with this difference in pace whereas the small-scale and what Holden and Hewison describe as the 'homemade' and which I'd call the activist, micro-scale self-generated arts can.


  • Interesting idea Matthew and a debate worth having. There are a lot of challenges to good policy making here though. 

    There are an awful lot of studies commissioned by the sector with very ambitious assessments of the effect of cultural spending which make it hard to discern concrete and attributable benefits to cultural spending. 

    The increasing concentration of museums funding and ACE funding around large London institutions affects the ability to meaningfully reach into the community or have extensive collaboration. 

    And in terms of the 'asks', some difficult conversations would need to be had at DCMS to carve out budget/staff capacity away from delivery to undertake systematic reviews, they've become a much leaner department during austerity. 

  • Matthew. 

    Great ideas here and in the Warwick Commission report. However, I have some initial observations.

    Most of what you describe in the 'offer' is already in place and often part of public funding agreements, where these (still) exist, with relevant local or national authorities. What we are facing right now is the erosion of that public support, which should match this. 

    New forms and praetorships are constantly explored, as is alternative income. I would state arts in particular have been very successful in this and increased earned income, raised support through applications to a wide variety of charitable trusts and foundations, alternative funding streams, crowdfunding, friends associations and sponsorship and donations.

    What Next? is a national debate (or movement, if you like) and is framed by whatever is seen as most pressing and relevant by each chapter. What Next? does not take a collective position, but partners across the cultural and creative industries are actively involved. What Next? chapters have organised events and debates across the UK next week as part of the launch of the BBC's Get Creative. Much of this will no doubt be discussed.

    Finally, how do we place this in a UK context and recognise that the Nations of the UK are formulating their own policies around this (Dai Smith's report on Creative Education, for instance, with a Welsh Government pledge of substantial support for its implementation), which may well have relevance for the others. Some cross referencing may be helpful here.



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