David Marlow. Image: Third Life Economics

Capital, capital: the arts council and the art of economic rebalancing

David Marlow, 15.05.2012
The way the arts council distributes its funding shows a real bias in favour of London and big organisations
Does the arts and culture community, and indeed even this network, need to be saying anything to Arts Council England (ACE) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) before the second round of capital funding applications due this summer?

When the council announced the results of its first round in March – just over £114m to 26 projects – Max Stafford-Clark was moved to describe the council (in The Guardian) as "absolute vermin", focusing on the dominance of London's "big-hitters" as the largest recipients of this pot of the council's largesse.

Its chief executive Alan Davey responded with a defence of the council's geographical reach.

To recap, the council's capital programme for the current four years amounts to £214.6m – just over half of this was allocated in March with a further £50m available in 2012-13 and £50m in 2013-14.

At one level, the March announcement highlights a rich array of projects, but at another it provides a worryingly narrow picture, both of future artistic excellence in England and of the spatial contribution arts and culture investment might make to economic growth and development.

Of the £114m provisionally allocated, 47% goes to eight London projects, and the next two highest regional allocations are to the south-east (14%) and south-west (13%). These three southern regions take 74% of awards, which certainly gives a particular perspective on the government's avowed economic "rebalancing" priority.

The Midlands has virtually become an ACE investment-free area, with just one £600,000 (ie, 0.5%) award to the University of Leicester Arts Centre, while, of the eight "core cities", only Newcastle (through Gateshead), Manchester and Bristol receive awards.

Large awards have gone to organisations already among the best-funded ACE National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs). So, the three London projects with awards over £10m (Southbank Centre, National Theatre and the Royal Opera House) receive £20m per annum, £18m and £26m NPO core revenue funding respectively in addition to their capital sums.

This pattern is repeated regionally – one might suspect that submitting a credible capital submission is greatly aided when one has the capacity afforded by significant ACE revenue core funding.

There is also an interesting pattern of art form distribution, with theatre and combined arts accounting for more than two-thirds of the total awards, while visual arts have a greater number of projects but much smaller amounts per award.

Without further analysis, it is difficult to determine whether the council's stage one announcements are "right" – but they are certainly very London-south-east and large institution dominated. There must be concerns over the flagship investments that might be required in our other major cities – the Midlands and the north – and over prospects for new emerging institutions.

I genuinely believe the Arts Council makes an important and distinctive contribution to the arts, culture and indeed the economic profile and reputation of many places across England.

But I believe we must all be concerned when two London projects on the Southbank – within, literally, 100 yards of each other – receive more in this major round of Arts Council investments than the three northern regions, the two Midlands regions, and the East of England put together.

So, if the sector were to make demands for rounds two and three of the awards, my starter (for £100m!) would be for a genuine geographical rebalancing to important regional and local economies that most need, and have the potential for, arts investment to be a driver of cultural, economic and social growth.

The emphasis might shift to emerging institutions and art forms – especially combined contemporary and challenging parts of the sector and creative industries.

I would wish to see assistance for emerging institutions to mobilise the capacity and capability to make credible proposals. And I would want major investments to be part of a wider place-based approach, which probably means complementing the 15 "people and places" projects already announced, and extending this into other "coldspots".

If that's my starter, what does the network think?

David Marlow is founder and managing director of Third Life Economics, strategic advisor to UK Centre for Carnival Arts, and trustee of Plymouth Arts Centre. Follow him on Twitter @DavidJMarlow

By David Marlow for Guardian Culture Professionals Network


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Geraldine, Museums Association
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
16.05.2012, 13:00
This article mainly refers to capital grant programme, but just to add - ACE announced last week the successful applicants to its £8m fund for museum development in the regions.

More details here: http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/10052012-ace-announces-8m-museum-development-fund-partners