<![CDATA[Dr Ben Walmsley - Blog & tweet feed ]]>Wed, 27 Sep 2017 01:42:45 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Fact check: has arts funding been decimated or protected?]]>Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:57:33 GMThttp://benwalmsley.net/blog--tweet-feed/fact-check-has-arts-funding-been-decimated-orprotected"Although we’ve had to make cuts in grant-in-aid, we’ve increased the amount of money going into the arts through the National Lottery. Take those two sums of money together, and you’ll see that roughly the same amount of money has gone into the arts as went into the arts at the peak of the last Labour government."
Ed Vaizey, Conservative culture minister, in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row

Grant-in-aid, the annual budget that Arts Council England receives from Department of Culture Media and Sport, has decreased from £453m in 2009-10 to £350m in 2014-15, according to the Culture Select Committee. The Arts Council quantifies this as a real terms reduction of 36%.

In his radio interview on BBC 4’s Front Row last week, Ed Vaizey claimed all of these cuts have been offset by increases in National Lottery funding to the arts. In fact, as the graph below shows, the peak of the former Labour government’s arts funding in 2009-10 was £625m, and by 2014-15 this had fallen to £617m, representing an overall cut of £8m (not accounting for inflation, so a real terms cut of over £9m).

The politics of arts funding

From 2015, even more Lottery funding will be used to support the arts in England. The use of Lottery funding to compensate for cuts in core funding is highly controversial as it appears to contravene the so-called “additionality principle”, which holds that government funding decisions shouldn’t be influenced by lottery contributions. Section 12 of the Lottery Act (2006) states that: "Proceeds of the National Lottery should be used to fund projects … for which funds would be unlikely to made available by a government department [or its equivalent]."

Lottery funding of the arts has also been accused of acting as a regressive form of taxation, whereby working class northerners subsidise the cultural hobbies of middle-class southerners.

When the coalition government came into power, there were 854 regularly funded arts organisations. There are now only 664, which represents a decrease of 22% over the past five years. However, any voters placing their hope in Labour to reverse the coalition’s cuts spending are likely to be disappointed, following the party’s denial in January of Conservative claims that Labour would spend an additional £83m cancelling previous cuts to culture.

On top of DCMS’s cuts to funding, what Vaizey failed to mention is the increasingly negative and disproportionate impact of local government cuts to culture. Shadow Minister for Culture, Helen Goodman, pointed out last May that the most deprived of England’s local authority areas have faced an average funding cut of 18%, which has translated to a cut to arts, libraries and heritage of 22%.

So, it is important to remember, as highlighted in the recent Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report, that arts funding is not distributed proportionately around the country. Indeed claims of regional imbalances in funding led to a recent parliamentary inquiry, which ultimately determined that London receives a share of arts funding which is “out of all proportion to its population” and that this “clear funding imbalance … must be urgently rectified”.

ACE reports that in 2009-10, local authorities invested £102m in their regularly funded arts organisations and that central government funding to local authorities has been cut by 28% over the four years between 2011-15. In the course of this parliament, some councils (like Somerset) have imposed 100% cuts on their arts budgets, which means that 13 local authorities, including Gloucestershire, Selby, Wigan, Westminster and Wandsworth, now allocate no funding whatsoever to culture and heritage.


The veracity of Ed Vaizey’s claim hinges on his qualifier “roughly”: the figures show that more than £9m less is now being spent on the arts than at the peak of the last Labour government, and £103m less government or public money.

Recent history teaches us that Labour governments fund the arts more generously than their Conservative counterparts – under the last Labour government, grant-in-aid almost trebled from £179m to £453m. Regardless of who wins on May 7, the figures illustrate that the future of arts funding seems increasingly reliant on the spin of a national wheel of fortune.

<![CDATA[The Creative North: A cultural powerhouse or an empty bribe?]]>Sat, 21 Feb 2015 15:20:47 GMThttp://benwalmsley.net/blog--tweet-feed/february-21st-2015PictureThe refurbished Whitworth Gallery by David Levene
The reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery this week is the latest good news story in what might be perceived as a cultural coup for the North of England. Or at least for Manchester, which George Osborne has been convinced to place at the artistic heart of his so-called Northern Powerhouse plan. Osborne’s plan is designed to support a call from five key northern cities (namely Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool) for a £15bn investment over five years in science, transport and infrastructure. Cynics might note that both culture and the Conservatives have come late to the regional investment party sparked not only by the looming General Election but also by the game-changing Scottish Independence election, which put the spotlight firmly on the benefits of devolution.

Perhaps cognisant of appearing opportunist, and no doubt articulately lobbied about the potential of the Creative Economy, Osborne recently pledged £78m for The Factory, a brand new cultural centre on the old Granada Studios site that will provide a permanent home for the biannual Manchester International Festival. So much for austerity. Eyebrows were raised, to say the least, in the cultural sector, and not least in other large northern cities which questioned yet further investment in Manchester and in bricks-and-mortar, particularly considering the long-awaited launch of the £25m new multi-arts centre Home in April, which will undoubtedly confirm Manchester as the most significant artistic hub outside of London.

It is a well known fact in arts fundraising circles that people give money to people, not necessarily to organisations. The same truism is not so widely nor openly acknowledged in cultural policy circles. But politicians and civil servants notoriously fund their pet projects, and this applies as much to the arts and culture as it does to other areas of public funding. So let’s be clear: cultural investment in Manchester from central Government is not about creating a “cultural powerhouse” in the North; it is about being perceived to take the North seriously and perhaps a small attempt to right the wrongs so openly exposed in the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Arts Council England’s geographical distribution of funding.

Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth Gallery, argues that Manchester has two great strengths: strong and stable leadership and a culture of collaboration. I would add a third: a powerful council that recognises the intrinsic and instrumental benefits of the arts and culture and places them at the heart of its strategy for growth. Manchester City Council certainly plays on its size and location to prize investment from Central Government, but it puts its money where its mouth is in terms of investing itself in the arts, even in the most difficult of times. However, as critics of the Creative Industries (and now Creative Economy) agenda point out, investment in the arts is just one tool in the urban regeneration toolkit and it often comes at the expense of rural and working class communities who choose or are forced to live outside these sparkling new gentrified cities.

The overwhelming success of new national touring arts organisations such as National Theatre of Scotland and National Theatre Wales demonstrates that healthy national infrastructures require creative modes of investment, new business models that prioritise the making of and engagement with art rather than the buildings that merely house it. While exciting and laudable on one level, the problem with large urban development capital projects like the Whitworth and The Factory is that they suck up a significant amount of public funding that might otherwise be spent on art itself. This is partly a structural problem, as certain pockets of funding are often ring-fenced for capital projects: I was recently dismayed to read in Arts Professional that due to DCMS restrictions, Arts Council England had been forced to allocate a £6.5M underspend in its Capital Funding Budget to clearly non-urgent capital projects (albeit largely in the North).

On the back of the now infamous and ubiquitous Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report, which pointed out that 11 times more per capita is spent on the arts in London than in the rest of England, there is finally a sense that some long overdue rebalancing might indeed take place. But the last thing the North of England needs at the moment is more white elephants. With companies like Red Ladder recently losing their regular funding, a more sustainable and creative rebalancing would focus on increasing funding levels for producing arts organisations based in the regions, so that they are less reliant on the paucity of touring work from London. Live streaming is all well and good, but it is no substitute for home-grown work, produced and performed live for local people.

So the key question is perhaps what a northern cultural powerhouse might actually look like. In Leeds, we are lucky enough to benefit from a critical mass of top class producing arts organisations, including Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Northern Ballet. The city has also been named as a national centre of excellence for dance, partly thanks to the legacy of well established producing companies like Phoenix Dance Theatre, the ground-breaking outreach and education work of Community Interest Companies like Dance United Yorkshire and the strategic support and infrastructure provided by Yorkshire Dance. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, there is a growing critical mass of innovative, high profile companies such as Slung Low, Unlimited Theatre, The Paper Birds and RashDash as well as a healthy emerging and underground arts scene. This all makes for a healthy (if of course sometimes fractious) creative ecology. In order to build upon this ecology and replicate it across the North of England let’s hope that these five powerful cities can collaborate to make the collective case for increased subsidy of artistic and cultural production. After all, it is artists, audiences and communities that generate culture and creativity, not flagship (and often empty) buildings.

<![CDATA[Reflections on the spiritual consumption of culture]]>Wed, 24 Oct 2012 19:02:28 GMThttp://benwalmsley.net/blog--tweet-feed/reflections-on-the-spiritual-consumption-of-cultureThere is nothing new about the spiritual quality of cultural engagement and consumption. While Plato warned about the potentially destructive ability of art to arouse the ‘spirited element of the soul’, Nietzsche contended that the ultimate purpose of tragedy was spiritual and Schopenhauer regarded the arts as a spiritual refuge from anguish, which can enrich our understanding of human nature and the world around us. In recent times, this has translated in the field of arts marketing into an exploration of hedonic consumption, which has evidenced the pleasure, emotional arousal, aesthetic fulfilment and sensory stimulation experienced by consumers of the arts. Recent benefits models, in turn, have highlighted benefits such as social capital and communal meaning.

In her blog on cultural value, Ele Belfiore talks about “the value challenge”, and it seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing artists, arts marketers, policymakers and academics (and indeed anyone interested in the true value of culture) is to decode, unpick and articulate the value of spiritual engagement in the arts. Mystical phenomena such as spirituality can arguably be qualified, but they certainly cannot be quantified, and politicians’ attempts, embraced by many cultural economists, to squeeze arts evaluation into reductive and instrumentalist toolkits designed for policy areas such as transport continue to prove fruitless. A good example of this is the recent Culture and Sport Evidence (CASE) programme, which attempted to calculate the wellbeing induced by participation in sport and culture through the contested ‘income generation approach’ and deduced that going to a concert at least once a week generates ‘Subjective Wellbeing’equivalent to a £9,000 increase in annual household income. I rest my case.

Belfiore rightly argues that we need to reclaim the cultural value debate from the ‘econocrats’ and champions an inter-disciplinary approach which bridges insights from the humanities and social sciences. One relevant insight from the latter is perhaps the Uneconomics movement, which is founded on the premise that economists have lost the respect and authority to describe truth and reality. Movements like this clearly reflect the loss of public trust in capitalism and economics, which is now so marked that economics and cultural value almost seem oxymoronic. It strikes me that as the humanist march continues apace, emboldened by the gradual abandonment of formalized religion and the growing realization of the dangerous limitations of capitalism, people will increasingly seek spiritual meaning and refuge elsewhere. And the arts are uniquely placed to provide the purpose and shelter people desire: as Bill Sharp argues in his book Economies of Life- Patterns of Health and Wealth, in this new economy of meaning, art is becoming an increasingly powerful currency.
In their study of drivers behind arts attendance, consultants Morris Hargreaves McIntyre found that 3% of museum visitors and 15% of gallery visitors were motivated by spiritual goals such as escapism, contemplation, awe and wonder, and they identified spirituality as the deepest form of engagement. This evidence of spiritual motivation supports previous work by Slater on ‘reverential motivation’[1], which found that museum and gallery visitors seek an escape from their everyday lives in places of fantasy and peace. It also, of course, echoes Victor Turner’s description of sacred space and time and his liminal concept of ‘communitas’.

Despite the dearth of literature on the role of spirituality in the performing arts, spiritual engagement is certainly not limited to museums and art galleries. Much of my own research is based on depth interviews with theatre audiences, exploring what motivates them to see plays and what immediate and cumulative impact this engagement has on them.[2] These conversations have revealed the significant role that ritual can play in theatre-going; and for the most deeply engaged audiences, theatre can clearly be a profoundly spiritual experience. As one of my participants expressed it: “There is something beautiful about being in the room with other people, on stage and all around you, a communion. An audience goes in as individuals and goes out as a group… I love undergoing the communion thing – it’s more of a religious experience, it’s sacred to me.”

Like many forms of organized religion, theatre has its established rites and rituals, from ticket-tearing and red curtains to interval drinks and applause. It also has its own canon of mysterious terminology: where Catholicism can offer grace and forgiveness, theatre provides catharsis and resolution; where religion thrives on prayer and contemplation, theatre functions through flow and captivation; and where religions have their priests, theatres come alive through their actors. And the similarities don’t end there: both offer a means of communal meaning-making and both claim to be transformative. 

There remains much work to be done on understanding and articulating the role of spirituality in arts consumption and engagement, and I for one believe that this avenue could provide an exit from the current impasse on articulating cultural value. It seems to me that ritual and spirituality offer a more authentic and fruitful avenue of enquiry into cultural value than economics ever can. Like religion, the arts resist, challenge and transcend financial values. No one tries to analyze the cost benefits of religion, so why do people persist in the futile attempt to quantify other forms of spiritual engagement?
[1] Slater, A. (2007). ‘Escaping to the Gallery’:Understanding the Motivations of Visitors to Galleries. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 12, pp.149-162.
[2] Walmsley, B. (2011) Why people go to the theatre: A qualitative study of audience motivation. Journal of Customer Behaviour. 10 (4), pp.335-351.]]>
<![CDATA[How funders can best support change]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2012 10:35:23 GMThttp://benwalmsley.net/blog--tweet-feed/how-funders-can-best-support-changeHaving interviewed staff from ACE, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Third Angel in the past month, I have had the opportunity to tap into the wisdom of a diverse range of professionals currently engaged in organizational change. When researching the literature on organizational change, I was amazed to find that hardly anything has been written about the role that cultural policy can play in supporting change. I certainly came across some insightful case studies, like Robert Hewison and John Holden's analysis of structural change at the RSC, but these tended to focus (quite legitimately) on what arts leaders can learn from change initiatives rather than on the change process itself. Mission Models Money's Capital Matters report was also really useful, but this understandably focussed more on the need for arts organizations to capitalise and use their reserves to pursue more agile and balanced business models. What the report did highlight, however, building on the work of John Knell, was the dangerous levels of inertia evident in some arts organizations - as Knell puts it, organizations who are happy to survive in the current climate rather than 'live well' in a different environment. Hewison, Holden and Knell also agree that the structure and even the terminology of 'not-for-profit' can almost set arts organizations up to fail, and there are increasing murmurings in the arts world about the potential advantages of social enterprises, which seem to be thriving in other sectors.
From talking to organizations small and large who are currently embarked on major change initiatives, I have realised that there is a pressing need for new research in this area, which might inform both policymakers and arts organizations alike. The original aim of ACE's Transform funding was to provide a national pilot to explore how organizational development funding could help a small number of identified organizations become more 'resilient' through a process of change-related action research. But with ACE currently engaged in its own internal change initative (aka downsizing), it seems that the opportunities for knowledge exchange that could have come from Transform have been vastly diminished. So this is a plea for the four other organizations currently funded through Transform along with West Yorkshire Playhouse to  share the results of their learning.
West Yorkshire Playhouse is currently halfway through its change initative and it has clearly already been a challenging but exciting and positive process. Working alongside the change agents at the Playhouse, we are trying to tell the story of the process of change, rather than evaluate its outputs. This has provided a refreshing approach to evaluation, and in my opinion is one of the key advantages of taking an action research approach to change. But it has also created challenges for the funders regarding grant release, raising a legitimate question about how to evaluate and fund a process rather than a tangible output.
I have also been struck by the role that stories and metaphors can play in the change process, and was interested to read about an approach called Appreciative Inquiry, which aims to create a momentum for and celebrate change by generating positive knowledge about the organization, therefore representing a possibility-based model as opposed to the all-too-common deficit-based model of change. So the lesson to take away here is to generate positive stories about your organization and create some strong, positive metaphors to describe and understand it. This will help staff to rally around the artistic vision and increase their sense of pride and motivation.
The academic literature on change management argues that change should be evolutionary and incremental, and that in post-modern organizations, it should be internally driven and shared across the organization (reflecting Hewison and Holden's call for distributed leadership). But it seems to me that in the arts sector, change generally seems to be externally driven and revolutionary, often generated by a crisis such as a loss of core funding, which forces organizations to change. This is hardly surprising when arts organizations are dangerously under-capitalized, funded on short-term funding agreements and subject to sweeping changes of direction in cultural policy. But all this does highlight the need for a more grown-up and joined-up dialogue between funders, academics and arts organizations, so that the organizational change that is increasingly vital is understood by all key stakeholders and empowered to work as effectively as possible. ]]>
<![CDATA[Organizational change in the arts]]>Sun, 29 Apr 2012 00:37:56 GMThttp://benwalmsley.net/blog--tweet-feed/first-postAt the moment, I'm evaluating a major project of organizational change at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, so I'm thinking about drivers and barriers to change in arts organizations and also about what role cultural policy can and should play in encouraging/facilitating/forcing change. I'm interested in the different challenges faced by small and large organizations - for example, while the former may lack the time and other resources to invest in a sustained period of change, the latter may be held back by the sheer size of its staff base: it's certainly easier to change two people's practice than the entrenched habits of hundreds!
I've also been considering the role that buildings and internal architecture can play in facilitating or hindering change. I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the most innovative companies at the moment are touring organizations with no fixed arts venue of their own. I'm thinking in particular about National Theatre Wales and National Theatre Scotland here, who are almost forced into constantly inventing their business model and defining it as they go along.
Having just read Nina Simon's refreshingly honest self-appraisal of her first year in the job of Executive Director at Sata Cruz's Museum of Art & History, I am conscious of the key role and responsibility of leadership in managing a process of organizational change. Nina discusses the importance of language, admitting, for example, that she was wrong in hindsight to have used the term 'failing' (the F-word) instead of the more positive 'transformation', which is less likely to alienate staff and which presents change more as a gradual and organic process than a Manichean turnaround from bad to good. She also admits to failing to recognize the stress that change can cause in staff: "While I think I did a decent job communicating my vision for the turnaround and changes with staff, I did a poor job responding to the spoken—and mostly unspoken—stress that came with it. While effective as a tool for rapid change,'embrace the chaos' is not a comfortable management strategy."
Change isn't easy even on an individual level; at organizational level it presents major challenges, both strategic and psychological, which leaders are often not trained to deal with. It is also a topic that is often swept under the carpet, almost conspicuous in the academic literature by its absence, at least in the field of arts management. So my aim in the next few weeks is to identify some of the key business theories on organizational change and critically apply them to the arts. I will also be talking to a range of arts practitioners to see how their views and experiences compare with the theory, and reviewing some of the rare case studies on organizational change in the arts. ]]>