Briefing Document

Remind me never to get involved in any collective letter writing again. Eight, maybe nine months ago at a small meeting it was agreed that it would be useful for City Councillors to receive a briefing document about how the arts ecology works. The thing finally got sent of a couple of weeks ago – WAY too late.

What a nightmare it was trying to go back and forth between a wide group of people for suggestions, amendments, quotes and sign-offs. For what it’s worth this is what the final thing ended up being. I never want to see it again.

Birmingham’s Cultural Ecology:
A Briefing for Birmingham City Counci

Birmingham needs an inspiring cultural offer in order to substantiate its claims to be a great international city and it needs a breadth of cultural provision to give it a local heart.

The City is rightly proud of its large Arts Organisations. However, what makes a City distinctive, and therefore great, is everything else – the broader artistic scene, the “one offs”, the “only heres”, the bubbling up of ideas, innovation and excitement around every other corner. And what gives a great city a dynamic cultural scene are individual artists, thriving medium and small-scale arts organisations alongside those large organisations.

We believe that investing in small and medium scale Arts Organisations brings many benefits:
• They bring in more money than they cost, as they operate with low overheads and use revenue funding as seed money with strong returns.
• They employ freelance artists, retaining creative talent in the City and helping them make their own independent work.
• They provide employment opportunities that encourage graduate retention.
• They contribute to a vibrant cultural scene that supports inward investment.
• They act as excellent ambassadors promoting Birmingham, in the UK and around the world, as a home of innovation and excellence. Such promotion is often in prestigious venues and at significant festivals where there is strong media coverage.
• They are flexible and responsive, and are able to seize rapidly on opportunities.
• They deliver strongly on the City’s agendas for cultural entitlement, social inclusion, and engagement; especially with young people and marginalised communities.

The funding decisions taken in March 2011 bear no relation to the evaluation criteria set out by the council’s own appraisal process. The resultant 100% cut in revenue to 50% of the 2010/11 portfolio represented a saving of just 2.6% of the revenue funding going to the Arts that year: a huge sacrifice to make, for a very small saving.

It was suggested then that an increase in monies available to fund Arts Projects will substitute for Revenue Funding to Medium and Small-Scale Arts Organisations. This is a fallacy for the following reasons:
• Like all well run organisations Medium and Small-scale arts companies thrive on stability, and project funding is inherently unstable.
• Project funding considerably restricts the ability for organisations to plan ahead. Application deadlines and financial years do not map onto the rhythm of artistic programming.
• Project funding is heavily bureaucratic, inflexible, inefficient and resistant to acting as seed money for the generation of additional revenue.
• Project funding encourages organisations to chase money and tick boxes rather than create coherent and valuable programmes of work.

Revenue funding also represents a hugely significant political commitment by the City to the strategic importance of the Medium and Small-scale arts companies.

Ultimately the cultural life of a city is an interconnected ecology, and if Medium and Small-scale companies are impoverished all those around them suffer, including the Large Scale Arts Organisations

“Birmingham Arts Partnership supports the statement that an inspiring cultural offer is imperative to compete as a great international city. The city’s cultural economy will only thrive as a combination of cultural organisations of all shapes and sizes, large and small in a web of mutual support and interdependence. Birmingham exemplifies this model which has been developed over many years and delivers a breadth and depth of cultural experience and engagement unequalled in the UK. “
Birmingham Arts Partnership

“The RSC recognises the role that individual artists and small scale companies play in developing the whole theatre ecology, both locally and nationally. Without the endeavour, creativity and challenge they bring, we will all be the poorer.”
Michael Boyd – Artistic Director, Royal Shakespeare Company

In recent years Birmingham has had every right to be proud of its vibrant cultural scene, so to choke this off would be to undo years of good work.

To save so little by cutting so much is, amongst other things, bad economics. We ask the City Council to recognise the role of Medium and Small-Scale arts organisations and prioritise and a reinstatement of the revenue funding which was cut in March. The aspirations to being a great international city must go hand in hand with a local heart.

This Briefing Document is Supported by:
ACE Dance and Music, Big Brum, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Birmingham Arts Partnership , Birmingham Jazz, Punch, Sound It Out, Stan’s Cafe, Women and Theatre.

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