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
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.
“Far too many wonderful words have been written about culture in Ireland and far too little has been done that has been sustainable”
– Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
I think its important to take a moment and review what last years Uplift petition and the lobbying and actions it provoked have achieved to date.
Last year – in June I think – Fianna Fail’s Niamh Smyth, in response to this petition, put down a motion and called a special debate in the Dail. In view of a packed visitors gallery various ministers spoke to the importance of Culture, Arts and Heritage and of course the majority voted against the motion. In the course of the debate we were assured by Minister Humphreys that the existing configuration of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was ideal and no dedicated ministry was possible or desirable, and that additional funding would be made available as and when the economy improves.
Now, just over a year later we have a Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and a Taoiseach promising to double the funding to the Arts over the next seven years. Given the very low starting point doubling over a seven period is not a particularly ambitious target, but it is something we can measure progress against.
I’d call that a win. Well done.
The Social Welfare Pilot Scheme for Artists
So the government has announced a new pilot scheme that “allows” artists to be self-employed and claim social welfare. Of course, this is a pilot scheme and only applies to visual artists (subject to verification by the VAI) and writers (subject to verification by The Irish Writers Centre). For the twelve month duration of the scheme performing artists will not be eligible, because as we all know they’re not really artists at all. (There’s an interesting facebook thread on this here led by Declan Gorman)
According to the Irish Times report on the scheme the artist will have to be registered as self-employed with the Revenue Commissioners and be able to demonstrate at least 50 per cent of their income has been derived from their art in the preceding year to be eligible.
“Once a person has been classified as a self-employed artist on the DSP system they would not be subject to activation process for at least a year.
The conditions associated with jobseeker’s allowance will continue to apply, as they do for all other claimants. Artists will have to prove that they are genuinely seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.
I want you to think about that last phrase for a moment: “Artists will have to prove that they are genuine9ly seeking other work, taking part in courses or classes like CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and Jobs Clubs, for example”.
Its time we got something out in the open, so here it is:
THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR ARTISTS. NONE.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman}