Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Unknown Unknowns - Arts Funding and In Year Cuts

…because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know. – D Rumsfeld (Feb 2002)

Amid the illuminations of the Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure in the TV interview last week with the ex-Chair of the Lyric, the presenter Mark Carruthers, about the cuts that the sector is about to experience, ironically it’s becoming increasingly confusing to know what is actually going on. 
£870,000 was cut, because of the Tories. 
But the minister’s press statement said it was because of unfunded departmental pressures. 
And in the interview, it seemed it wasn’t a cut at all, it was a re-prioritisation of funding to other demands.

Hot on the heels of that rather confusing exchange, comes the news that the Arts Council are not jettisoning their Sustainability Programme. That must surely be a relief to so many that toiled over making decisions to affect “permanent and significant change” for their organisations. But the problem is, the programme isn’t actually being rolled out either, instead the Arts Council is asking to run it parallel to the 2016/17 annual funding process. 

In the BBC NI The View interview, the Culture Minister couldn’t rule out seeing more cuts, while at the same time she advocated for the arts and stressed “wanting to be a champion for the arts”. And we are all the more reassured about how all of this will add up when the minister tells us that “up to 80% of people have enjoyed or participated in the arts, however there are many more that haven’t".

The minister added it was “an easy decision to make”; to cut the orchestra (as the example suggested) in order to fund other priorities, expressly "looked-after children in care". Undoubtedly those children deserve every additional support to increase limited life chances but there are organisations, indeed arts organisations that do indeed support this activity. Some of them may ironically be cut too.

The fact that 32 organisations will see a significant loss of revenue this year, will have a range of consequences. A great many of those organisations will have little choice it seems but to cut the very thing that the minister wants to promote, namely outreach into communities. Not to spite her, but because this work is largely offered free of charge and is supported by funding alone. Now, not all organisations will resort to this and I would urge all those affected not to make matters any worse for the most marginalised here and instead to redouble their collective efforts to support the widest engagement in the arts. Others will not be able to deliver any additional aspects to tours, or events. 

Options become more limited. 

Planning, when faced with uncertainty, more problematic. 

Risk grows, not participation.

In seeking to stabilise the bigger organisations, there will in all likelihood be less monies for the rest of the sector and less certainty. The ripples of this cut/re-prioritisation/whatever will be felt by more organisations than just those immediately affected.

And in seeking to represent an integrated policy to support the arts (like that in sport) whilst making these funding decisions where it is difficult to see the policy direction, it all feels counter-intuitive to supporting any integrated strategy.  

This scenario seems to be playing out across all areas, affecting the vulnerable most. The Third Sector, those working in all charitable institutions wishing to do good and provide significant civic benefit through public funding, are having an increasingly worrying time of it. All Third Sector organisations are governed by volunteers: It is their personal reputation and indeed, liability that is at stake. When any charitable organisation is plunged into such uncertainty, and policy and funding decisions are made in an increasingly ad hoc way, it makes the work and position of ordinary people very vulnerable. The personal liability of a great swathe of the sector is increasingly under threat. As are jobs, access and indeed participation, in all facets of life.

As some ministers operate their semi-detached postures, “the hokey-cokey arrangements” as some newspapers rather flippantly refer to it, or as other ministers are indeed at their desks making "good and bad decisions", it is very easy to get lost in the confusion of it all. 

The constant stream of mixed messages makes everything so garbled. There seems to be no respite. 

But really, what can we expect? We have been public funding dependent for decades because of the huge, almost intractable problems we had during our conflict and now as an aftermath of that tumult, when we require support to continue into prosperity and peace, we find we are being denied the resources. Our understandable yet undeniable dependency cannot be managed by simply turning off the money supply. If we do not constructively offer greater mitigating support to all agencies and services, things will not simply wither away – they will fall apart. 

There can be little confusion about that.

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