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“There is a risk that the arts are going the same way as the supermarkets”

BLOG – responding to a question from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation about how to refresh its strategy

Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) is a significant investor in arts, education and social justice programmes. Their Director, Martin Brookes, has been asking everyone a question: what should PHF do? It’s a great way to engage lots of people and explore fresh ideas for the Foundation; and do it in a transparent way in which we can all participate. Check out their website for everyone’s contributions – here’s mine.

My thoughts are inevitably born from an arts & culture perspective – though my personal take is that the barriers between arts, social justice, education & learning, are artificial. The creative thinkers I admire move between these ways of thinking with ease, so should organisations and funders.

1. Commission a creativity impact study on a generation
Invite a number of grassroots organisations, who are passionate about using creativity, to be part of a longitudinal impact study. Include professional and amateur organisations. Include different parts of the UK. Assemble expertise that has previously worked on measuring the impact of culture. Partner with programme makers at BBC to create a measurement framework for creativity that can be broadcast each year. Commit to an impact study over a twenty-five year period with an annual research milestone and public broadcast opportunities. The aim of the study would be to inform public debate about the impact of creativity and inform policy.

2. Invest in creativity in schools and measure the impact
Invite applications from primary/secondary schools to work with arts organisations over a seven year period: to put creativity at the heart of school life. Perhaps there would be approx. ten winning schools across the UK. Each would participate in a measurement study about the impact of creativity on the school and the people in it: measuring a range of indicators from academic achievement to well-being to equality and fairness. Again, engage a broadcast partner so that the research is consumable by the public. Begin the measurement of each school one year before the seven year partnership with the arts organisation begins. (The idea of a seven year partnership is in order to witness children moving through the whole of primary or secondary education.)


Invest in a television programme in partnership with BBC. For example… Ken Robinson has the most viewed TED talk of all time; he has been on Desert Island Discs; he has sold millions of books; he’s a natural entertainer; he’s ready to become a more widely known figure. Is there a TV programme which sets out to explore the impact of creativity in education: the impact of Ken’s ideas on a small number of schools? Schools could be asked to volunteer themselves to work with Ken and an arts organisation (that is local to the school) over a school year. A mix of schools would be selected: primary, secondary, rural, urban. Perhaps two or three schools in total. Ken would work with the Headteacher & staff team, supported by the arts organisation, in advance of the school year, and at key points throughout the year. A TV series would trace the successes and challenges of each school becoming a more creative environment. There’s a natural series of episodes, pre-term, each term, assessing impact.

So more broadly, my question is, as well as initiating measurement projects, should PHF be catalysing advocacy and public-campaigns around key issues for the foundation?

3. Stop investing in organisations in cities of more than 300,000 people
I think someone needs to take a strong lead in this area, otherwise our cities will continue to absorb resource and ideas: we have to create our own methods of re-distribution. How about turning investment away from organisations inside cities of more than 300,000 people, unless those organisations have active and genuine partnerships with towns or locations with less than 300,000 people: to encourage greater partnership between different parts of the country.

4. Radicalise the arts
There is a risk that the arts are going the same way as the supermarkets with more and more resource being focussed around a few super-art-markets. I think we need to look to the periphery and grassroots to develop new ideas as described here.

a. Provide grassroots or peripheral cultural organisations with increased commissioning funds for fixed periods

Provide commissioning resources to a series of grassroots cultural organisations, for a fixed period of time, say three years, in which the money can only be passed on to artists & creative thinkers. The organisations simply distribute the money. No other restrictions. As part of the package, offer those organisations a core-fixed-fund for the same period to ensure they have time to think about how to most effectively distribute the PHF resource to the best creative thinkers / ideas. Pick the right commissioning organisations and a flood of grassroots creativity will follow across the UK.

b. Provide a model of support for grassroots or peripheral artists and creative thinkers

As the next version of Breakthrough, provide 100 artists or creative thinkers, per year, who currently have no regularly funding, with £10,000 per year for 2 years. Get the Breakthrough recipients to select the individuals to build on the success of what you have grown. A torrent of ideas and innovation will follow.

5. Balance change with consistency
I think we need radical change. But I would balance this with consistency to maintain stability. For example, some organisations funded by PHF are consistent innovators and your regular support for them will be a crucial part of enabling them to continue to innovate. So whilst 1-4 are about trying to break the mould, there are parts of the mould that need sustaining by PHF. [It’s probably worth noting, in case it makes this a stronger point, that this is not a self-interested point: Battersea Arts Centre has not been funded by a regular PHF programme for five years and for three years by a special fund.

18 Dec 2013

Categories: Culture FUNDING

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