Why are artists poor? And, according to reports in Ireland, getting poorer? According to the official narratives artists and their art are a core component of the Irish economy and society. According to that narrative art is good for everybody’s wellbeing and is a cornerstone of tourism and soft diplomacy. Every time an award is won or a film starts principal photography there’s a politician standing by for a photograph like a proud parent at a graduation. Despite all this the income goes down and the cost of being an artist goes up.
Even as funding creeps up year on year it fails to alleviate the problem. The Dutch artist and sociologist Hans Abbing argued convincingly that as funding goes up more people are attracted into the funding market, so increases in funding – below a certain level – make the problem worse.
What is the root cause of this funding problem, the ongoing poverty of artists?
Its a mismatch.
Bear with me, because this is about a great truth underlying state funding and the cultural economy. It’s also a way that artists could secure almost limitless additional funding.
Section 481 is the tax incentive programme, managed by the Department of Culture through the Revenue Commissioners, for the benefit of the audio visual industry. Its a model of simplicity. Roughly here’s how it works.
I read a report recently – from Arts NI I think – about per capita spending on the arts. They were comparing the current absurdly low level of per capita funding in Northern Ireland with other territories in the EU. It struck me that there seems to be difficulty getting agreement on amounts invested and economic value created, costs and benefits etc., particularly at government level. A lot of the confusion stems from the old problem of are we talking about Culture or are we talking about The Arts, around capital as opposed to current funding, and around a fundamentally ideological problem surrounding the idea of state funding – is it investment or is it an expenditure. So I thought I’d skip back to the source data in an Irish context and see what I could find. The results are very interesting.
I was having a conversation recently with a colleague about organisational strategy and culture. We were comparing our experiences with, and approaches to, various clients. My colleague works primarily from a communications perspective, analysing how organisatins communicate internally and how they manage their external or PR functions.
The conversation began to focus on the nature of the stories we tell, both within organisations and the stories we tell to present ourselves and our organisation to the wider world. We did a lot of name dropping in the course of that coffee, invoking the remarkable body of academic work on the function of stories within organisations by Professor Yiannis Gabriel, and of course we had to talk about Campbell and the notion of the Heroes Journey.
Its been my experience, working in the culture sector, that some clients get very excited when the business tools are deployed. The BCG Box, the Blue Ocean Graph, The SWOT and PESTLE, Weisbord’s Six Box Model etc. etc. However, I have found a healthy suspicion toward these tools with some business clients and students, a sense that a rational approach alone will not deliver the necessary insights.
So I developed the Story Box. Because clients love a good Box. Its proven to be a really insightful, useful and popular tool. And here it is:
You would be rightly outraged if you discovered that Focus Ireland charged a homeless person for their services; and you’d probably take to the streets with pitchforks and torches if Concern Worldwide started charging famine victims for food support services. Such behavior is completely contrary to the principles of charity and works against the very heart of what we understand as philanthropy.
And yet this is precisely what arts organisations are asked to do: charge our end users for our services, and then ask them for charitable donations. This is like Focus charging a homeless person for their services and then asking them for a contribution!
Every arts organisation has experienced this absurdity. As a potential donor once said to me “My partner and I spend a €1000 each a year on tickets, our tax contributes to your grant, and you want me to give you more money?” Its a good question: either charge the necessary price at the point of consumption or make everything free at the point of use because its a public good. But there’s a sleight of hand about arts being both free and commercial, both public good and wealthy private interest that – interestingly – goes to the heart of questions on value and inequality.
This conceptual sleight of hand means that securing philanthropic support for the arts is different – very, very different – from securing it for “real” charitable causes. This difference means that if your organisation commits to securing philanthropic investment then your Business Model will need to make some very, very fundamental changes. Continue reading
€8,919,000 is the total amount of Private Investment (sponsorship and donations) raised by 177 Clients of the Arts Council Ireland in 2014. That’s according to the 2into3
Private Sector Investment into the Arts Report: 2016, commissioned by the Arts Council. It is, to my knowledge, the latest such report available
For clarity, the concept of “Private Investment” in this context is composed of Sponsorship (€3.609 million) and Voluntary Income (€5.31 million) , which in turn is composed of gifts, donations, friends schemes, bequests etc.
That’s an average – in the sense of an arithmetic mean – of just over €50,000 per client. Except that – anecdotally – very, very few organisations raised anything close to €50,000 private investment in that year. So, the question is, even with the best fundraising training in the world, what are the factors affecting my chances of raising €50K in 2019?
(Photograph Daniel Biber)
So, with Budget Day just around the corner, a vague promise to double arts funding over the next SEVEN years while facing a crisis in housing, finance, health and – arguably – education, police and defense forces – I thought I’d ask the question: Should the Arts Council get more money? Continue reading
I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months thinking about strategy, and talking to various people about strategy, and developing strategies. In seems that within the culture and creative sector Strategy has become something of a buzzword. Strategy is right up there with “well being”, “co-working” and “entrepreneur”, “growth mindset” and “multi-disciplinary” etc. Its a word that’s used in a lot of contexts but its actually very difficult to get agreement on what the word actually means (It’s very revealing to ask a roomful of business students or a board of directors to define strategy). Continue reading
Had a fascinating conversation with a student about business training for artists. As we all know the real problem in the development of artists careers is that they have no business skills. Which of course is a handy way of shifting the responsibility for the failures in the arts sector onto the shoulders of the artist, and making sure that the artists know that they’re not as grown up as the business folk. As the leading cultural economist Arjo Klamer points out the heroic figure of the Cultural Entrepreneur is primarily a fictional character in a very particular economic narrative.
There are however other economic narratives that we can consider.
In the light of the recent government allocations to the arts and culture sector I thought it might be interesting to explore the assumptions underlying the decisions. And from a certain perspective the only conclusion I can come to is that the arts and culture sector in Ireland is systematically funded to fail.