Teaching an Old Dog New tricks

My day has been lost to The State of the Arts (#SOTA11) Debate a conference hosted by ACE National and the RSA. Like many people actually working in the arts (a huge,  eclectic and diverse sector) I couldn’t afford to attend and the actual conference is largely full of the heavy weight art organisations and sector *players* or dinosaurs of the industry as they are rapidly becoming not least ACE, for its slowness in embracing openess and digital communications and held back by it’s over awareness of ‘brand’ and ‘message’ and ‘City Centric’ culture. I can say this because they do not fund me, and it is my own opinion, which I can have because they do not fund me. I have worked with them, been to their conferences and events and some of their staff have inspired me with their dedication, understanding and knowledge of the sector but not many. My finest example being an Ace officer who would send out emails as if they were a primary school teacher and we were their class… “Hello lovely people, I’m here on the beach, in the hot sun (Clearly being overpaid whilst we are slaving in grimy dark spaces, doing overtime to get a project finished, with little hope of holiday…..)  or “How are you all doing with the changes in the world of Child Protection? anyway onto more important matters…. (Who let this child into the Arts Council Office’s email system, find their parent and get them out of there!!!). It’s not that inexperienced people shouldn’t work for ACE it’s just that I shouldn’t be expected to respect them just because they do. For me, ACE has become ‘the elephant in the room’ and dislocated from the people it purports to represent: that’s audiences, the public and artists and arts organisations and arts bodies. It is kept propped up by organisations who are too reliant on their funding support and approval to step back and take a good look at themselves.

#SOTA11 is an example of the distance, ACE are hosting this important, unequivicable event but it is geared for, chaired by and aimed at ‘the old arts establishment’ building bound, funding led, old established organisations and arts figures who once may have been challenging, provocative, innovative, demanding, progressive but got comfortable along the way and underneath all the posturing really don’t want change if it involves any form of ‘prickly discomfort’ or embarrassment. There has been a valiant attempt to re-dress this via, a somewhat underwhelming livestream and @SOTAflash  http://j.mp/hi6JtZ there has been talk about cultural bush fires, that the young are not the saviours of tomorrow but the audiences of the now, capitalism v. consumerism. We have heard people saying things like “We must build better relationships with our Local Authorities” Hello! Name me one arts organisation worth their salt who hasn’t been doing exactly this ever since God created the apple and the snake! They’ve been doing nothing but. Why did no-one say we’ve done that, it isn’t working not even NALGAO has managed to crack this one, what else should we be trying, doing to change this? We’ve heard Culture Minister Ed Vaizey proclaim his unchartered thoughts, it wasn’t inspiring. Andy Field did his bit, I like what he says http://lookingforastronauts.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/state-of-the-arts-11/ and the twitterati have tweeted thoughts, questions and responses and their utter disgust/anger at panelists views, statements and ideas but where’s the connection between what is felt, what is known and what is learnt? Distance, white noise, worm holes of parallel universe’s this is SOTA11

That’s not to say important discourse has not occurred but whilst apparently Local Authorities still don’t know how important the arts are (as they sit watching their TV’s and listening to the radio, reading the papers….planning the new look for their City/Town/Village centres…) and we all have to go away and grow our own Philanthropist and collaborate (because we haven’t been doing any of that over the past ten years either, have we!!?) I can’t help but wonder where some of the people at the conference have been these past few years? Thank goodness for twitter and the #SOTAflash team and those in the room who made it worthwhile. We’re artists, we’re communicators, we’re expressive, we bleed when cut and we shine when you hold us up to the light.


Published by


Artsmonkey... Culture Active... Firestarter Arts active in the promotion, delivery and development of cultural projects and ideas, with a specialism in youth arts and theatre arts also a bit of a social media diva and photog

4 thoughts on “Teaching an Old Dog New tricks”

  1. Excellent post! I am funded by ACE right now to run East Kent Live Lit http://www.livelit.co.uk – but our funding will not be renewed. The rest of my funding comes from local arts development offices. So there are “many masters” for our pot of money! I can’t point out the elephant in the room just yet, nor can I take aim at it, but I can see it lumbering across the landscape. I have been grateful for ACE’s support, but I can also see that it is changing and losing much of its expertise. ACE isn’t a perfect beast, but I do think the terrain would be rougher without them. I still believe there is hope – but also, yes, that artists must not wait for them – we all must create our own opportunities.

  2. Yes you’re right, we do have many masters in the Arts sector and it does depend on which region you are in as to how well you are served by the Arts Council, it has limited reach, its reach only being as effective as the vision and expertise of its staff and as we bleed good artists and managers to other sectors, especially education (as they hit the inevitable glass ceiling of poor pay, long hours and no guarantee of long term work, pensions etc., etc.) Would the terrain really be rougher without them? That was my point. If you shift the elephant out of the room, you’re left with space – give a creative space and who knows what they might come up with! Another elephant? The thing I was teasing at the edges of, is the efficacy of the body and it’s limited awareness of what is actually happening on the ground. Despite the Arts Council being in existence since 1945 and originally as CEMA, the Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts established in 1928 http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/wid/ead/acgb/acgb-el2.html here we are STILL being asked to prove our worth and the value of the Arts – I’d say they’ve had their chance, many chances. To say the council is ‘re-invigourated’ is a bold claim indeed and to say they are making expert judgements on funding grants is equally bold. It is all relative and any artist will know it’s all down to perspective. Likewise, any estate agent will tell you that the ‘pitch’ is key to wining over the client and getting the agency contract, delivering on your promises, however is entirely another matter.

    The bell began to toll, in my opinion, when the Arts Council was merged with the ten regional arts boards in April 2002 without consultation and with indecent haste. Yes we need a representative body but do we really need the Arts Council? Maybe we do but it feels like they’ve been running to catch up for sometime now, like a job at ACE has become ‘nice work if you can get it’, Its full of zoo-keepers, people who purport to know and understand the nature of the beast and care about their welfare but don’t have the courage to release them back into their natural habitat and are set on preserving a selection of the more exotic ones for prosperity. It’s stale, it’s yesterday, it’s ineffective, unrepresentative.

  3. Another fair point. To balance your balance, I would just say that I grew up without an Arts Council. There was some city money for community arts events that promoted diversity and inclusion, and there were “genius grants” given in faraway Washington D.C. Not only were there no gate-keepers or zoo-keepers, there wasn’t even a door to knock on. I am grateful to live in a culture that says the arts are worth funding. Between trying to work with the Arts Council or trying to work at Tesco, I know which I prefer. Maybe my glass is simply half full – but I’m grateful to have it in my hand. How can we all help the Arts Council not be “stale, yesterday, ineffective, unrepresentative”? It’s our money they’re spending. How can we help them work more effectively? How can we provide them with feedback and guidance that is helpful? I use their listings services, I read their reports, to try to understand where their priorities lie to see if there are any opportunities for myself or for the network I run, and I have benefitted from a variety of their funding schemes. It’s easy for all of us to complain – but how can our criticisms be more constructive? I’d like to find a way to try.

  4. We’re starting to just pick at the edges of the debate now : One size will never fit all, there’s always good in even the most damaged organisations, a public funded organisation will always struggle to be effective when its masters have (ultimately) political agenda’s : all of that is no excuse, despite the positive position of people like yourself it isn’t enough. The oness has been on the artist and the organisations for too long and is partly why there is so much admin heavy, over branded, over frame-worked, prescriptive art out there. We should continue to expect more and push for better, broader, more agile efficacy from our public national representative body and if they want us to be helpful then they really do need to start listening – #sota11feedback illustrates this, feedback from #sota10 was not acted upon, #sotaflash whilst a step in the right direction was long overdue and ultimately not instigated by ACE or the RSA. ACE are much better at talking at, then they are at listening and learning from. I don’t hate them or despise them and I don’t want this to be just about ‘dinosaur’ practices. As both a consumer and a user I want to see those employed as ACE staff to prove their agility and start taking more responsibility.

    Also see here http://danthompson.co.uk/?p=297 Agile Arts Manifesto

Comments are closed.