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Last week I attended the launch of the UK Arts Index at the House of Commons hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP, Don Foster.   Brought to life by the actor Samuel West, a Trustee of the National Campaign for the Arts, who are one of the authors of the Index along with Audiences UK, it was introduced as a new annual health check for the arts. 

The Index uses robust, publicly available information which has been gathered from 2007/08.  And there is a range of 20 indicators from ‘financial inputs’ (including lottery, Treasury, business contributions) to ‘cultural and community outputs’ (like attendance, participation and satisfaction indicators) which enable a final index figure to be arrived at, along with a series of headlines that outline any marked changes in the indicators over the years. Mark Brown’s Culture Cuts blog illustrates these headlines rather neatly. "...As the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed."

The Index has been designed as a way of comparing between the English regions and much was made of the comparative levels of Treasury investment in the arts. From the 2009/10 figures investment in London was £22.43 per head and in the East region the same calculation gave a figure of at £1.89. There is a danger here in simple statistics as you do need an explanation alongside to help unpick the meaning and bring the story to life. East-based Matthew Linley helpfully looks at the findings here and what it means in terms of satisfaction of arts provision. Matthew also outlines that it is next year’s Index that will prove interesting in terms of telling the story of the economic impact on the arts as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed.

The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, and his counterpart the Shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis were both in attendance and welcomed the inaugural Arts Index. Mr Vaizey stated ‘the Arts Index will be the first time that this information has been brought together in this way and I’m sure it will be a helpful tool for the sector’. I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government to as part of the evidence base to make the case for investment in the arts and so start looking for the gaps (that could be filled) in their being able to do this effectively.  

I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government

In a constructive and collaborative spirit, the NCA and Audiences UK indicated that they are looking to build on this data and add other useful metrics to the Index so it will continue to develop into a more comprehensive, statistically robust picture. The fact that the Index uses data in this way makes the case for the long view on collecting statistics.  Over time as further metrics emerge around cultural entitlement, social and wellbeing impacts these so-called ‘softer’ measurements will hopefully also form a key part of the picture.

The full Index is available here (if you are a member) and if not then the Executive Summary is available for everyone else.

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