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The Arts After the Election: What Next?

Chris Marr is an alumnus of Spektrix.

What will the next five years of government mean for the UK arts sector?

There will be much guess-work in the following days about what a new Conservative government will mean for the UK arts sector until 2020. What can we expect, and what can our sector do next?

At Spektrix, we’re reluctant to weigh in on the debate about arts funding. We can’t predict exactly how the incoming government will set aside money to the UK’s arts councils – although based on the previous government we can probably assume that this funding will continue to be reduced.

Against this likely backdrop there are several things we need to remember. The arts sector in the UK is a special kind of business, but it’s a business all the same. It’s a sector, like any other, that needs investment in R&D in order to succeed. But of course we don’t simply measure success in the arts by financial returns. Equally important are the immeasurable social and personal benefits that we all enjoy, in a country with an active and vibrant artistic community.

Whatever side of the political divide(s) you find yourself on, it’s indisputable that the arts has an incredibly important role to play in our society and economy. In order to safeguard the future of this vital sector, we all need to take responsibility for what we do next. Here are our suggestions, both for the UK arts sector and our incoming government:

The arts sector needs to:

1. Adopt a more commercial mind-set

I’ll get the slightly uncomfortable one out of the way first. Subsidy isn’t likely to be increasing in the next five years, so we need to plug that gap with sustainable revenue. Let’s look at our email ROI. Let’s get better at up-selling and cross-selling. And let’s move more sales online, where the average cost per ticket sold is significantly lower than at the box office.

2. Be proud of our contribution to the economy

It’s not all about War Horse. The Warwick Commission's study Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity, Growth looked at the economic impact of the theatre industry in the UK and found some impressive statistics that we should be shouting about. The creative and cultural industries were worth £76.9bn to the UK economy in 2013. That’s 5% of the entire economy. And in terms of growth, this sector is growing at three times the rate of the national economy as a whole.

3. Use data as proof

This one’s pretty close to home for us. Data – in the form of sales, marketing or fundraising data – can give us indisputable proof of our successes or failures. A data-led way of thinking will make for a more resilient sector; see Michael’s Art By Numbers columns for International Arts Manager on more practical ways to achieve this.

The new government needs to:

1. Extend Gift Aid

The extra boost that Gift Aid can give to arts organisations is incredibly valuable, in the form of 25p on every £1 donated to charities. But, as UK Theatre have argued in their pre-election Theatre Matters advocacy document, consider the benefit to our arts sector if this was extended beyond just donations. What if tickets to events at charitable arts organisations were eligible for Gift Aid too? A minor amendment would make a significant impact here, particularly for smaller arts charities.

2. Recognise the social benefits of the arts, not just the economic ones

The next government should recognise these benefits and act on them. In 2014, the Cultural Learning Alliance found that students from low income families who take part in arts activities at a young age are three times more likely to get a university degree – of any kind – than those who don’t. It’s difficult not to be compelled by so-called ‘soft’ benefits at this.

3. Address how they award funding

There needs to be greater consistency in the way that funding application outcomes are measured by Arts Council England and others. There is no clear framework for measuring the social, personal and cultural impact of the arts, so our overstretched funding bodies rely on oversimplified models of measuring ROI and successes against failures. The model needs to recognise the value of London and the West End to our creative economy, but address the imbalance that leaves much of the rest of the country languishing in the little funding it receives.

What advice do you have for the next government when it comes to the arts? Let us know below or on Twitter @Spektrix.