Can we do something to change the Arts Council, or should we ignore it?

Convener: Gerard Bell

Participants: Alex Parsonage, Penny Dimond, Richard Kingdom (+ Rob Hales)


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

…. The conversation is put down meanderingly fairly much as it happened. Some of what may pass as recommendations have been given the benefit of a different font size….

‘They follow (behind) govt. edicts’.

And there is a suspicion that they know the institutions (or people) they are going to give funds to.

Qu: is there the political will in GB to support the arts?

    Should public money be used? ‘ …the arts aren’t a necessity…’.  Arts have to be combined with sports to be categorized and for funding purposes. [ as to necessity it was generally agreed that the arts were a necessity -  and though it is good for us to ask this question we should make the case.] The necessity of the arts is not so obvious (or quantifiable) as health provision, food – it is ‘spiritual’, to do with ‘soul’ or those other words. (But it was asked that Faith for example is also to do with these and should that be supported by funding  { Because of the words used there was a distinction here we perhaps needed to but didn’t get to make – Convener’s note}

Qu: What was Keynes’s original argument for setting up Arts funding?

We always have to justify the arts in terms of something else. (But) in an integrated society the arts would be integrated.

(With regard to the initial question) ‘We should ignore them – or bomb them’ . Tho’ we decided there were certain ethical considerations for not enacting the latter suggestion.

Their (the Arts Councils’) bureaucracy is very hard to penetrate.

Qu: Why is the approach to them so daunting (for artists)? 

It was noted, too, anecdotally how many clerical and administrative errors they make in dealing with applications, raising the question as to how they were operating? It was also noted that it is not even money from people’s taxes now (much of it is lottery money).

To ignore them is good because it gets rid of a lot of hassle and angst.

Things could be improved if they were more open as to who makes each decision and how they are made. ACE should be much more transparent (because they would become more intelligible and more accountable – to practitioners that is, rather than to govt.)

‘There was no-one from theatre on a theatre decision panel’. And ‘you feel that they’re not really interested or informed’.

‘No-one who believed in art for art’s sake would go to work for the Arts Council’. 

The more people (applicants etc) who give them feedback (on how their process is working) the better: ie we should write to them; inform them. 

When you apply you’re up against a monthly expenditure budget and if you apply in a busy month, by chance, you are more likely to be unlucky. Is there a better way for ACE to organize this then –  the relationship of availability of funds to decision-making. It should be said that the objection is not to being turned down in funding applications – that has to be expected – but the hoops you have to go through to make them, the way they are made, and the arts Council’s understanding of art in general.

At a meeting recently a representative from ACE said that in 3 yrs time there will be no money for the Arts because it will go to the Olympics. WATCH OUT FOR the OLYMPICS-EFFECT. ( In Greece, after the Athens Olympics, arts projects were cancelled, reportedly, to pay for the Olympic overspend).

We should write now to MPs, London Assembly Members, Ken to ask what they are doing to safeguard against this? Get avowals.

Qu: Is what is popular precisely what is uninteresting in art? Not necessarily – look at The Sultan’s Elephant. This, of course, was not made in England – it was made in France. Welfare State have finally called it a day because of the tedium of meeting Arts Council criteria – the social-worker justification of the arts etc.

More trust should be put into artists and makers; fund them and interesting work will be made. Funding is very much for projects which is short term, unsupprtive and means constant re-applications and justification.

Moving to another country is the solution .

The amount of well-funded theatre in several other European countries were instanced. And that, as artists and performers, you were treated naturally with some respect.

It is not the Arts Council’s fault: it is the political will and background culture of the country { it could be said the Arts Council is pusillanimous – Convener’s comment }. There is no Arts Minister in the Government any more. It is included under sport. Sport is not the same as the arts.

We all want to move to Europe!

Qu: what do we think of the American model of funding? And is it likely here?

We have no voice as a body. ACE represents government to us rather than us to the government. They self-censor out of fear of the government over their shoulder. In this way the arms-length principle is over-ridden.

Either: someone (not one of us three) sets up a powerful lobby group or we ignore the lot and move to Europe. ( It is part of our cultural heritage that we’ve always been marginal low-lifes – that is actors and performers who, naturally don’t have much brain between them. They apart, anti-intellectualism is respected here).

The time, effort and energy spent in applying to ACE could be better spent on fund-raising events with a greater likelihood of some success

A great deal of time is spent chasing funds. Would we be better not doing this and give the time back to ourselves.

A comparison with how musicians/bands establish themselves was suggested. This may not be so possible in theatre but the idea of independence is valuable. 

A question was also put that either because funding made it possible to present some work very cheaply ( the cost of seats being subsidised) or necessitated that it was presented cheaply it might be valued cheaply both by the audience and by the makers – if people were paying £30, or £60, to see our work it would have to be good. This effect might quickly adjust itself were we used to having plenty of money to spend.


PROVISO: The conversation continued with ……  …. (name withheld, in case I’ve misrepresented him),  beginning in the gent’s toilets. His experience of dealing with the Arts Council had been pretty positive. It is worth saying that if you are thinking of applying the more time you give yourself in advance the better. There is then time for them to appraise your application and make all the additions that will help it meet with approval, and they do help to do this. It is a matter of listening, of understanding their process, and being pragmatic. They, actually, don’t mind if you don’t fulfil the criteria (they don’t bind you in that way) but it should look like you do. This is, of course, admitting an unofficially endorsed practice of ‘bullshit’. There is a lot of money, and for new people, though this may all be at the lower end of the award scale.