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Spektrix Joins ACE’s Conversation about the next 10 Years

Spektrix works with over 300 UK cultural organisations, 88 of which are part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, and many more of whom receive grant funding from ACE through other streams. We believe that public subsidy serves as an important investment in the field as a whole, contributing to the health of our non-funded clients and the creative economy as a whole.

So with that in mind, when Arts Council England launched a conversation platform to help inform the next ten-year strategy for ACE using BritainThinks to collect and collate data from anyone through an online portal, we wanted to share our view on what we believe should be key priorities for ACE. In our response, we’ve focused on what we believe is important based on our experience in the sector and what our clients are telling us around some key themes.

Digital & data

We have more and easier access to data on our own audiences, and the rest of the public than ever before. Taking advantage of this to better understand, and better serve audiences and the community is vital. The challenge here is cultural - we have a tendency to use anecdotal evidence and our personal preferences to inform programming and marketing strategies. Data can also help artistic decision makers better understand the potential audiences for and potential risks and rewards of their programming decisions before they are made allowing a better picture of what is possible with limited resources.

Skills & capacity development

The pace of change and complexity (digitisation, data-driven decision making, increasingly advanced and greater numbers of competitive free-time activities, more and more reliance on philanthropy) has increased exponentially. Without support and training as well as recruiting from more and different pools of people, the arts will fall further and further behind.

There is a lack of awareness of the career possibilities in arts administration and artistic support and enablement within the cultural sector. We’d welcome more guidance, support and training for management and administration professionals within the cultural sector. The work on the creative case for diversity in our workforce must also continue without question, and this should include developing digital and tech skill sets.

Public funding for the arts

Spektrix strongly supports the need for arts organisations to build successful business models but this is not in place of public funding. Public subsidy provides part of the stability of a three-legged stool: subsidy, private investment, and commercial understanding. This stability will support sustainability for arts organisations, helping to secure their future. It also allows for the artistic risk-taking which is so critical for the health of the cultural sector and the long-term health of the creative economy as a whole.

Decreasing local funding for local arts organisations puts the regional arts ecology at risk. Our local arts ecology is what feeds the national scene, and our international exports. Without this being nurtured we risk damaging the local communities, and the national economy. Local Government must be enabled to support local arts and culture whether this is through direct funding or support to generate income from elsewhere - they should be given a clear mandate to take responsibility for a thriving arts scene in their authority area, so we don’t end up with an arts and cultural postcode lottery. ACE can help drive this agenda.

We believe public funding is necessary to ensure that everyone has access to the arts, not only should this be a right , but it also encourages a diverse and representative workforce in the arts which will in turn help fuller engagement, and we don’t think we need to list the volume and myriad of benefits already evidenced for higher levels of engagements with arts and cultural activity.

A culture of giving to the arts

Building the capacity to fundraise in organisations is only half the work. The sector needs help to communicate the value of the arts and the need for support to the public. This should happen on the largest scale possible, rather than relying only on each individual company to sell the idea that culture deserves philanthropic support on its own. Many are already doing this, and they shouldn’t be working out on a limb.

In the sector we all know that there is intrinsic value to arts and culture and we need to be better at exploring, and demonstrating this to help make the case for public subsidy and private investment. ACE can help to cultivate an environment where organisations have a wider range of streams to derive income from. Private investment is limited in England, particularly outside of London (by comparison to the US for instance). Bodies like ACE should help to drive up society’s appetite to give to these organisations through lobbying government to provide further tax incentives or collaborating on national awareness-raising campaigns to encourage philanthropic giving to the arts and more.

The role of Arts Council England

When asked what we believe the role of ACE should be, this is our response:

Funding

We’d really like to see ACE taking on a role in securing government funding for the arts in the most efficient way possible. Once they have secured the funding we’d welcome a clear strategy for spending that has demonstrable impact. It would be great to see ACE demanding that central Government be better informed and/or to take advice of experts like ACE and other knowledgeable sector bodies instead of dictating success measures that demonstrate little in terms of real value or impact.

We encourage ACE to work towards being able to utilise the public funding they receive to attract additional investment at a high level. For instance, asking commercial sectors to invest in ACE’s portfolio alongside the government. Tourism and hospitality businesses are seen investing in the cultural offer of local areas (such as Leeds Business Improvement District and many others) as they know it has a positive impact on their business. Could this be replicated on a regional, national or international scale?

As well as asking recipients of grants to find match funding, ACE could run their own investment or match funding schemes, using the government funding as seed money. It’s our opinion that ACE should be developing a fundraising strategy that includes major giving. Through this they will not only earn valuable income to feed into the arts, they will also develop skills and lead by example to organisations who also need to develop a longer term more strategic approach to fundraising.

Collaboration

Partnering beyond the Sector Support Organisation pool of organisations to see where ACE goals and other companies’ goals align, would enable ACE to get greater value from the commercial sector that is already serving a lot of the organisations they subsidise. This will enable ACE to support organisations through expertise, guidance and lobbying. After all, it’s no good telling organisations (National Portfolio Organisations particularly) to be more business-minded and then leaving them to it when they have built their whole working model around gaining and maintaining their NPO support. ACE should be offering business management consultancy to enable NPOs to build sustainable mixed business models, and fundraising capacity.

You can see our full responses to the different questions and provocations posed on the ACE conversation platform. We’d love to hear your thoughts below. ACE will be sharing the findings from the conversation later this year, then drafting a strategic framework which will then also be subject to a full sector consultation. Finally, taking feedback from the consultation, the full strategy and framework will be published in 2019, to take effect from 2020.

Contributors to Spektrix's response to ACE’s public consultation were Liv Nilssen, Kate Mroczkowski, Ben Park and Anna Wiseman.