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
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
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
lack of a coherent and responsive
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
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:
a stronger voice for the arts regionally
improved support for artists and
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
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
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
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
18. Strong and imaginative mechanisms need
to be put in place to maintain effective communication:
within the new organisation;
between the organisation and the
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