Funding of the Arts and Heritage: the ongoing debate

15 February 2011


Select Committee on Arts and Heritage Funding recently met to take their last piece of oral evidence from Arts Council England. Alan Davey and Dame Liz Forgan were invited to answer a range of questions relating to the work of Arts Council England. A number of these were relevant to the cultural learning sector and to children and young people. This was followed by a debate in the House of Lords on the same subject.In this blog post we give you a round-up of the questions, answers, comments and speeches and their implications for children and young people.Select Committee on the Arts and HeritageYou can read a full transcript of the session here.The Select Committee asked whether the cuts that have been made to the organisation ‘Culture and Creativity in Education (CCE)’ were at odds with Arts Council England’s publicised priority for young people.Alan Davey stressed that the budget for Creative Partnerships (which formed the largest part of Arts Council England’s grant to CCE) was removed directly by the Treasury as part of the spending review settlement, and not by Arts Council England. He went on to say that, in the current climate, Arts Council England had to prioritise those organisations which were actually producing art.He said that it was important for young people to have contact with culture and particularly drew the Committee’s attention to Arts Council England’s Artsmark and the Arts award schemes. He stated that all new funding agreements with arts organisations would be structured to ensure that high-quality education work continues.Alan Davey went on to say that Arts Council England strategy would follow the lead of the Henley Review of Music Education (now published - see elsewhere on this blog), and that Arts Council England would look to make arrangements to link schools and cultural organisations together, especially in the regions. He stated that Creative Partnerships as a programme had many fine outcomes, however, he felt that the programme delivered ‘creativity in the curriculum’ rather than opportunities for cultural activity. He said that Arts Council England’s role should be only to fund cultural activity.Under further questioning Alan Davey said that it was Arts Council England’s job to make sure that headteachers know the value of culture and spend their money on high quality activity for their pupils. He was specifically asked how he would do this and talked about brokerage, the linking of cultural organisations with schools, and the facilitation of a conversation between the two sectors.Dame Liz Forgan was asked whether she thought that the cutting of Creative Partnerships sent a mixed message out to the cultural sector. She replied that she was personally sorry about the Treasury cut to Creative Partnerships. She went on to say that she felt, however, that the direct benefit of the programme was educational and not artistic, although it did demonstrate clearly that the arts can have spectacular instrumental benefits, such as making a contribution to young people’s learning.She stated that Arts Council England has not given up on the idea of developing work in partnership with the education sector, but that cross-departmental work was always difficult. She finished by saying that ‘children and young people are right at the top of our list’.A Committee member (Tom Watson MP) then referred to the PricewaterhouseCoopers statistic on social return on investment in the Creative Partnerships programme (every £1 invested in the programme delivers £15.30 worth of benefits in social outcome) and asked if Dame Liz agreed with the statistic. She said that no statistic could be entirely accurate, but that the programme had obviously been very beneficial. She agreed that 15-1 is not a return seen by other cultural programmes for young people.Using the New Vic at Newcastle-under-Lyme as an example of good practice, Committee member Paul Farrelly MP asked whether it was the role of the arts to deliver educational and social outcomes to young people, to work with those at risk, or to broach and explore difficult subjects.Dame Liz stated that she believes passionately that the arts inspire, educate and have all manner of benefits for young people, and that building arts experiences into education enriches their lives. She said that ‘the eyes of serious arts organisations and artists light up when they see that children are seizing what they do and using it to their benefit’. She went on to say that the debate of 'arts vs education' was not a live argument, because it had been won – with an equal place for both.Alan Davey added that art has to be at the heart of the activity for it to be successful . He said that ‘education projects really do work where there is no slipping of standards or talking down to young people’. He said that good organisations are working with young people to develop the audiences and talent of tomorrow.As has widely been reported, 1,340 organisations have applied to the National Portfolio funding pot and around 600 will be refused.There was a small amount of questioning on the transfer of functions from MLA. Alan Davey acknowledged that Arts Council England do not currently have the capacity to take on all the functions of the MLA, and that they will have to manage expectations about what they can really do, especially as the Renaissance in the Regions funding is protected (though reduced). Dame Liz stated that the Arts Council England pot for libraries and museums will be about £3 million, and that Arts Council England will try to enhance the value and activity that happens inside libraries, though she was clear that the statutory duty for libraries remained with the Department and with local authorities. She said that Arts Council England would explore whether cultural organisations and libraries could share buildings. Alan Davey concluded by saying that Arts Council England will have a very different remit to that of MLA, not least because the core administration budget for museums and libraries has been reduced by approximately £10 million. He said that, on the plus side, relationships with local authorities would be enhanced by a ‘single conversation’ around culture.Overall, the content of this discussion was fairly positive, and the CLA really welcomes Arts Council England’s intention to develop the education work of their arts organisations through their funding agreements, and to develop a regional infrastructure which meets the needs of schools. We look forward to finding out more of the details of both of these schemes. We are, however, a little concerned about the suggestion that cultural learning specialists may not be as highly prioritised as those organisations ‘producing art’. Many organisations across the country use their limited resources to support the delivery of cultural learning and to broker partnerships, share information, train and develop the skills of others. These are all functions which absolutely must be preserved within the spending review.There was no mention in this debate of the proportion of young people’s organisations which are to be cut/preserved/added to the portfolio. We would therefore urge Arts Council England to undertake an assessment of the impact on children and young people before the final decisions about portfolio funding are made, and to ensure that the relative proportion of spending which benefits children and young people is maintained.House of Lords debate on the Arts and Heritage FundingThis debate was moved by the Earl of Clancarty to call attention to public funding for the arts. More than 24 members of the House of Lords spoke in the debate and put forward arguments for the benefits of investing in the arts and mechanisms to do so.You can read the full transcript of the debate here. Mark Brown gives a good overview in the Guardian. You can also read our edited highlights of the debate by following this link: House of Lords Arts Funding Debate.A good number of the speakers talked about the value of the arts to children and young people. However, the chief spokesperson for cultural learning in the debate was Baroness Benjamin, patron of Action for Children’s Arts (ACA), who spoke passionately on behalf of children and young people and called for a review of arts for children. We will be working closely with ACA over the coming months to make our joint case as strong as possibleThis debate was wide-ranging and interesting, but the next steps will be critical to ensure that these thoughts, strategies and ideas are taken forward.