Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Visual Arts and Galleries Association

  1.  The Visual Arts and Galleries Association, VAGA, welcomes the opportunity to make a submission concerning the re-organisation of the Arts Funding and Development System.

  2.  The following points provide the general context of our response:

    —  The sector is complex. Support and investment is historically fragmented. The split between support for contemporary visual arts activity and investment in modern and contemporary art within collection based organisations is problematic. These collections are a rich public resource.

    —  The artistic product is diverse, ranging from world class museum exhibitions, high profile public art, international exhibitions of new work, to the "potting sheds" of innovative work, artist led projects, and community focussed projects.

    —  Public provision is uneven in quality and quantity. The dynamics, outcomes and demands of the new Lottery funded projects are unknown. The clustering of practising artists is also uneven. London retains a critical mass of public provision, the commercial market place and concentration of artists.

    —  Artists working practices are largely individual, often isolated and non-regularised. Networks are often supra regional, based on ideas and ways of working rather than on location.

    —  The art form is constantly evolving. Old boundaries between fine art, popular culture, design, crafts etc are being eroded. New forms of production and distribution, eg digital media, are constantly emerging. This is reflected in the current remit of Arts Council's Visual Arts Department. Cross art form and hybrid work is increasingly common and often does not fit readily within the current structures.

    —  In many instances the range of artistic practice and the potential mix of partnerships beyond the immediate sector is not well nurtured.

  3.  The sector suffers from:

    —  long term under-investment in its national infrastructure;

    —  lack of a coherent and responsive national strategy.

  4.  Opportunities for broader integrated cultural development, such as working closely with the museum and heritage or higher education sectors, have not always been maximised. A new single organisation should be better placed to address such opportunities.

  5.  Robust policies, supportive, visionary and well-informed art form officers have led to impressive achievements. However this has been piecemeal, with anomalies from region to region and supra regional/cross sector initiatives often being stifled.

  6.  The proliferation of funding schemes nationally and from region to region has been confusing, time consuming and inequitable. The sharing of good practice, professional development, workable touring schemes, co-ordination and evaluation of art form and audience development policies, have often sprung from individual regional interest and capacity rather than need.

  7.  Meaningful statistics, effective information dissemination and shared advocacy are lacking. Regional competitiveness has not always been productive.

  8.  The Association has supported the overall aims of the restructuring with the proviso that it leads to:

    —  less bureaucracy;

    —  a stronger voice for the arts regionally and nationally;

    —  improved support for artists and arts organisation;

    —  respect for regional distinctiveness;

    —  effective regional representation;

    —  strategic change at national as well as regional level.

  9.  The process and length of time taken so far has generated wide scale loss of confidence and momentum, confusion and cynicism. There is genuine concern amongst the visual arts community, particularly from smaller organisations, that policies and funding decisions will be over centralised and that valuable working methods and relationships with stakeholders and funders jeopardised.

  10.  Given this lack of confidence the system will need to work hard to attract and retain the quality of leadership, staffing and art form expertise that the new organisation requires.

  11.  It is difficult, given the lack of detail available and the extent of the changes, to answer the questions posed by the Clerk to the Committee with any degree of authority or certainty.

  12.  Reduction in the number of funding schemes is hugely welcome, although the need to accommodate specialism must be retained. Sign posting and access to funding schemes needs to be improved and monitoring streamlined.

  13.  There is as yet no further evidence that the system will be less bureaucratic.

  14.  There is concern that savings, if at the expense of art form expertise, networks and national and regional staffing levels, will be counter productive. The current quality of support and professionalism must not only be maintained but improved.

  15.  Levels of staffing within the National Office need to be sufficient to work with and respond to regional initiatives whilst retaining a national strategic overview. Regional input at national level will be ineffective without adequate staff and a strong national policy. The ability to act with vision, take risks and create effective partnerships across public sector and commercial areas of creative and cultural activity is essential.

  16.  The new organisation must be radical enough to meet the needs of the non-hierarchical and fluid networks that increasingly reflect the working practices of the sector.

  17.  The level and quality of staffing within the regions needs to be sufficient to assume greater delegated responsibilities.

  18.  Strong and imaginative mechanisms need to be put in place to maintain effective communication:

    —  within the new organisation;

    —  between the organisation and the sector.

  19.  The Chairs and Chief Executives of the Regional Arts Councils need to be adept at juggling regional and national demands. One or two predominant regions must not drive national policy. A national strategic network/focus must provide a buffering effect against the dominance of London whilst recognising the importance of critical mass.

  20.  A single organisation should prevent anomalies in financial accountability.

  21.  Proper management of statistics and distribution of research is essential.

  22.  We believe, following sector consultation last autumn, that further opportunity for the profession to contribute to the detailed design of the new organisation would be beneficial.

8 February 2002

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