Funding of the arts and heritage - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Horse + Bamboo Theatre (arts 10)

1.   Summary

  (a)  If cuts are to be made, they need to be phased.

  (b)  Core funding: local/national government funding is frequently the organisation's only core funding, although not usually 100% of its overhead needs. But it is the bedrock which pays for the time to create more and diverse income streams.

  (c)  The impact of cuts on small-medium sized organisations is disproportionately large.

  (d)  The impact of arts organisations locally and nationally extends far beyond the work itself into a raft of socio-cultural-economic fields.

  (e)  Arts organisations exist on a jigsaw puzzle of funding arrangements, which are inter-dependent and reliant upon complex match funding. However, funding from central and/or local government is a crucial element because it indicates a certain quality standing and that the organisation is aware of and performing to outcomes and outputs.

  (f)  Funding decisions need to be transparent.

  (g)  There is not yet a widespread culture of giving to the arts by business and philanthropists in this country. Where it does exist it most usually accompanies government investment and is generally aimed at large arts organisations with very well known names. If this is to change it will take a considerable time.

  (h)  If government is not setting an example of investment, why should businesses invest in the arts when this is not part of their raison d' tre.

  (i)  Giving financial incentives to the private sector and to philanthropists to invest in the arts may lead to further bureaucracy and "red tape".

2.   Background to this submission

  (a)  Horse + Bamboo is a small/medium sized touring theatre company with a unique visual theatre programme, started over 30 years ago. The company tours nationally and internationally from its Lancashire base (which it owns). This Lancashire home—The Boo—is an internationally recognised centre for visual theatre techniques (mask, puppetry, music, film, animation). Hence the Company runs masterclasses and mentors other artists and arts organisations. The Boo also operates as a rural-based arts centre with a regular programme of events, mostly but not exclusively for families. It is also used by a diverse range of groups (both arts and non arts). It is a centre for community life.

  (b)  Horse + Bamboo typifies many small/medium sized arts organisations. It is currently regularly funded by ACE and also receives regular funding from Lancashire County Council and, lately, from Rossendale Borough Council. In 2009-10 this funding contributed 55% of our total income. An entrepreneurial philosophy underpins us as a subsidised arts organisation: over the last two financial years we have increased our proportion of earned income from 13% to 20% and this will increase again in 2010-11 following a major restructure. We currently have no private sponsorship but are planning a campaign.

  (c)  We are characteristic of the many small-medium sized organisations which are a significant part of this country's cultural spectrum. This submission does not claim a unique perspective but is founded on a wide-ranging view of this country's arts sector, embracing our local arts centre concurrent with the expertise which brings international artists to the Boo, alongside our touring programme. A local family dropping into a puppet show here may only be dimly aware of our national touring programme or of our attraction for international puppeteers. From another perspective we work collaboratively with Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, and are regular visitors to venues such as the Egg in Bath and the Dome in Brighton. People on international placements spend time with us and are frequent visitors to our website. Additional national and wide-ranging insights are gained by the Chief Executive as a Board member of the Independent Theatre Council.

  (d)  This submission deals with arts matters. We regularly work in partnership with heritage organisations but are basing this paper on our own area.

3.   Impact on us of recent and future spending cuts to the Arts by Central and Local Government

  Almost 90% of our core funding is supplied by ACE and by Lancashire County Council. This is the bedrock which supports our infrastructure and enables us to develop projects and obtain funding for them. In the current financial year have absorbed the 0.5% cut from ACE. Removal or serious reduction in this core funding curtails our ability to run projects which earn income and because of likely redundancies, means loss of key staff, which further imperils our situation.

  (a)  Ending or a massive reduction in already programmed activities means a huge loss of earned income. For example, our new show—Red Riding Hood—which we are creating for a Christmas 2010 run at The Boo will then tour in winter of 2011. It already has a three week run for December 2011 pencilled in with one of England's major venues at the start of a national tour. This is a new show which is not grant funded (apart from core time of the joint artistic directors) and will earn money for the Company.

  (b)  Likely redundancies or, at best, stand-still salaries for a team which is already lean could result in loss of key staff, for instance,

    (i) Horse + Bamboo has "grown its own" producer who now has very good experience and a huge range of contacts and would be a very attractive employee for another company where it is likely she would earn more. For now she's happy to stay with us to gain further experience; she loves our work and how we work, and relishes the challenge. Her loss would be a big dent in our ability to produce and sell our work. We would have to restart with a trainee and rebuild, threatening the success of our touring work.

    (ii) Loss of other senior staff who cannot afford to work part-time—loss of skills and expertise.

  (c)  A significant amount of The Boo's range of activities would be abandoned or significantly reduced. This would mean:

    (i) Without support infrastructure we could not run masterclasses or programmes of courses in visual theatre for which we are internationally renowned. These skills would be lost, and we would also lose the income which we derive from this popular activity.

    (ii) With fewer activities, particularly of national and international significance, the Boo (our building) would no longer be a unique meeting place and forum for national and international artists specialising in visual theatre techniques.

    (iii) Our family programme at The Boo is largely funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation (until 2013). But our core funding supplies programming and management. This programme (just starting to have an impact) is targeted at families in Rossendale's three most deprived areas—all in the most deprived 15% of all wards nationally. It would be unable to continue if there were significant cuts in core funding. The latest Taking Part survey shows that participation rates in the arts amongst people from socio-economically deprived areas are significantly lower than regional and national norms: closing or significantly reducing our family programme would reduce this participation still further immediately but also reduce participation in the longer term since most successful participation starts early and develops.

  (d)  We own our own building—a great (and unusual) resource for an arts organisation. Ultimately, significant cuts in overheads could mean having to sell the building. This would mean:

    (i) End of all building-based activities (see comments at c) above).

    (ii) Loss of space to create work leading therefore to loss of income.

    (iii) The negation of a large investment from ACE, Heritage Lottery, and the Foundation for Sports and the Arts.

    (iv) The closure of an active and increasingly more active community centre which provides accommodation (either regularly or occasionally) for:

    — Local community groups.

    — A community choir being facilitated by professional artists.

    — Local authority public meetings.

    — Arts organisations.

    — Various local meetings for entrepreneurs.

    — A youth video and film unit.

  e)  An end or significant reduction in our activity would also have a big impact on the local economy in Rossendale, an area of significant deprivation, low wages, and low expectations in which we are the only professional arts centre.

    (i) In 2009-10 we brought £139,934 into Rossendale. Wherever possible we spend this money locally—so that all materials for sets are bought here, vans for touring are hired from local firms, office supplies are sourced locally.

    (ii) We provide a wealth of opportunities for volunteers and placements, all of which are carefully structured to match the needs of those involved whilst also meeting our needs. Our volunteers include students keen to enhance their experience, and people who have been made redundant but who wish to "keep active". We are also developing volunteering programmes for people who are long term unemployed, and have worked with volunteers with mental health disabilities.

    (iii) We provide placements for people at varying points in their careers. Last year, for instance, an assistant professor from College of St Benedict and St John's University in the US spent three months with us, whilst we also provided placements for local year 10 students, for undergraduates, and for postgraduates.

    (iv) Apart from the useful experience for students of being on placement, we also offer inspiration and aspirational ideas not only about work, but also as role models for successful artists. This broadens the vision for work experience students; for instance, it is not unusual for local drama students to perceive live theatre solely as musicals and for their aspirations to be bounded by a wish to appear in a soap.

4.   General impact of recent and future spending cuts from Central and Local Government on the Arts

  (a)  Cuts which are too drastic, not phased, and which wipe out a raft of small-medium sized arts organisations ignore the centrality of the arts in everyone's life. They will reflect lack of understanding of something which is at the heart of communities and of individuals' lives. ACE:NE's film "Life Without Art" sets this out simplistically but effectively. http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/north-east-family-learns-value-art. The most recent Taking Part survey has tighter definitions for the arts and shows that, according to its own definitions, almost 74% of people in the NW had a link with the arts.

  (b)  If small-medium sized arts organisations either cease to exist or have drastically curtailed programmes this, in turn, impacts on national artistic life; we are regular visitors to many universally acclaimed theatres, for example, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, the Theatre Royal in Bath, the Dome in Brighton, the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. We enrich their programme. And bring a unique performance.

  (c)  Dilution of expertise: if we no longer exist as a centre of excellence for visual theatre techniques this whole area of practice is diluted. Mask and puppetry, film/animation and music all play critical roles in theatre, although not usually combined as in Horse + Bamboo's work; dilution of this expertise makes it harder to retain and further develop skills nationally.

  (d) A major reduction in the number of small-medium sized arts organisations means massive reduction in access to the arts—fewer people having access to the creative, thinking, imaginative space—the "what if" scenario which the arts—and particularly theatre—puts forward. It is the space where things can be seen differently.

5.   What can arts organisations do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale?

  (a)  This already happens: most organisations have a core management/administrative team which is augmented by contract workers as necessary. Hence the pool of artists is self employed and contracted for a particular piece of work. When not contracted to us they will be working with other arts organisations on a similar basis. Not only is this a financially sensible system, it also enriches each arts organisation's practice by having a network of links across the sector.

  (b)  Most arts organisations will contract out their accounting, IT support, and building maintenance. It would be worth examining the potential for economies of scale here with larger contracts covering several organisations.

  (c)  Our membership of the Independent Theatre Council (ITC) means for a modest annual subscription we access legal, personnel, managerial advice. ITC also run training and provide a highly valuable sector network.

  (d)  We have considered the possibilities of sharing our building with another arts organisation; we already provide regular accommodation one day a week for a youth film/video group. Our own activities would be curtailed if we were to expand this arrangement to any extent.

6.   What level of public subsidy for the Arts and Heritage is necessary and sustainable?

  The arts budget costs the government 17p a week per person. This relatively small public investment enables arts organisations to raise a phenomenal amount of money against this sum from other sources, including earned income. Any more than a shaving off this amount (in acknowledgement of current difficult times) would radically reduce the amount of money which it enables arts organisations to generate. Furthermore, the amount raised either stays in the country or generates further income from abroad either by attracting tourists to this country because of the quality of the arts or by directly exporting work abroad.

7.   The current system and structure of funding distribution

  There are anomalies in the current system of funding from ACE:

    (a) Historical precedence means that similar organisations doing similar levels of work receive different subsidies. In our own case we are funded by ACE as a touring theatre company but it is impossible for us to create, produce, and tour work without additional funds: not the case for other touring companies. Furthermore, we need the approval of ACE to apply for a Grant for the Arts award which is by no means automatic.

    (b) Combined with a) there is a lack of transparency about funding decisions.

8.   Changes to the distribution of National Lottery Funds

  It will clearly be beneficial for the arts if a greater proportion of national lottery funding is ring-fenced for arts and heritage. This will, presumably, always be aimed at particular projects and would not compensate for ending or radically reducing core funding arrangements between ACE and arts organisations.

    (a) Lottery income will always depend on public "choice" to some extent whereas government subsidy for the arts is a government policy decision.

    (b) It is reasonable to argue that those contributing most to the lottery should receive the most; hence lottery funding should not support arts forms which attract fewer lottery players and which are able to attract private sponsorship and high box office income.

    (c) Currently it seems impossible to persuade Awards for All funding panels that arts projects achieve social change. There seems to be a default acceptance by Awards for All that arts projects should be funded only as arts projects.

9.   Impact of recent changes to ACE

  (a)  The recent restructure within ACE augurs well for developing relationships between ACE and RFOs and gives scope for ACE to act as a broker in funding and other relationships, particularly with local authorities.

  (b)  The restructure also connects an arts organisation with a broader mix of people within ACE; this is particularly relevant in our case as we now have links to theatre, visual arts, and combined arts (mask and puppetry) in addition to our relationship manager.

  (c)  Negatively, it is now even more difficult to receive authorisation to apply for Grants for the Arts funding if an organisation is already Regularly Funded. Before the restructure, a conversation with the organisation's ACE Officer was where the decision was made. Now, the Relationship Manager needs to authorise a request to submit a written application for permission to apply for a Grants for the Arts. This request goes to a regional panel—and the approval rate is currently about 20%. If approval is received, then an application to Grants for the Arts can be submitted—current approval rate is at the most about 30%. Given the inconsistencies in funding of RFO's, it should be recognised that some RFO's will need automatically to apply for Grants for the Arts funding.

10.   Can businesses and philanthropists play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level?

  (a)  It is conceivable that businesses and philanthropists could play a larger role in funding the arts. This is not widespread in the UK and will take a long time to develop. It will also take considerable work on the part of arts organisations to develop these new relationships. It cannot, therefore, be a quick solution to replace rapid and dire cuts to arts organisations' core funds. For arts organisations outside the metropolitan centres (with one or two obvious exceptions) it is likely that this will be an even longer process. In deprived areas, it may not be possible.

  (b)  In the UK most private donations are part of a jigsaw puzzle of funding for an arts organisation. The private donation is not in lieu of public funding but is part of an overall fund which will include public funding. Hence if government is choosing not to fund the arts as a policy decision, why should the private sector?

  (c)  Businesses have to make a profit and there are clear examples of sound business investment in the arts which contribute to profit-making, for example, some of the "big names" in the major cities but it is likely that only a very few businesses, although possibly more philanthropists, will be willing for their investment to fund risky projects. The result of this is could be an arts sector which is staid, unchallenging, and which ultimately does not sparkle and provide the creative leaven in society.

  (d)  At a time of economic uncertainty, it is reasonable to assume that businesses will be unable and/or unwilling to establish long term sponsorship relationships with arts organisations. What's more, many businesses will be unable to afford to invest in the arts, or will be wary of investing when other areas of their business are contracting.

  (e)  In areas of deprivation the private sector is a relatively small part of the local economy. It probably exists on very low margins. It is unlikely that these businesses will be able to invest.

11.   Should there be Government incentives to encourage private donation?

  (a)  The Gift Aid system should continue. It is concrete government recognition of the good that private donations do.

  (b)  As far as government encouragement for private businesses to donate to the arts is concerned, it may be that tax incentives could play some part but, to repeat, business investment decisions will—or should—be based on an investment strategy towards business success. It could also increase bureaucracy and "red tape".

August 2010



 
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