Tuesday, 22 January, 2013
Wednesday, 2 January, 2013
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Money Money Money! What are we going to do with all this cutting, the austerity, the terrible policies, the madness of it all?
The Big Bad (ACE) is about to hand down another, albeit smaller, cut to the arts in the shape of a 3% snip over the next two years. If they do it right then it won't hurt too much. Cutting is never a good thing but it is what it is, for now.
ACE and their partners in crime at the DCMS have placed all their bets on replacing the money lost from central government funding on philanthropy. For most that's not going to work so are there any other ideas?
At the moment ACE is entangled with the BBC on the misguided Space website. A project that's duller than a rusty hatpin. Combined, the two organisations have spent millions of pounds achieving pretty much nothing at all.
Just like ACE, the BBC is funded by the general public, not through taxes or the Lottery, but through a legally enforced "licence fee" that people must pay to watch television in the UK. Even if they watch programmes that are not on the BBC.
How much is that licence fee worth to the BBC annually? Well, just over £3.6Billion every single year. The corporation also brings in almost £900Million in other revenue (from government grants, commercial enterprise, etc).
Given the scale of the BBC's income it really does make you wonder why they are always complaining about not having any money, but we digress.
What do they spend all of that money on? Well, apart form paying off employees that resign with alarming regularity, they do have several television channels and radio stations to operate. The lions share of the cash goes to BBC One and BBC Two, they cost just short of £2billion between them annually.
It's fairly obvious to anybody with a brain that there is a natural synergy between what the BBC do and what Arts Council England do. Basically, they both fund creative activity. You might not always like what they fund but there they are, doing it anyway.
The BBC itself is continually coming under fire from critics for the paucity of cultural output on the network as a whole. In response the BBC makes reference to the annual "Proms" at the Royal Albert Hall then rapidly runs out of steam.
The much loved, by some people at least, BBC4 television channel is often seen as little more than a poor third cousin on the network as a whole. It attracts less than £70Million per year in funding, about £60Million less than Radio 4.
Why So Serious?
If ACE and the BBC want to strike up a partnership, why don't they stop shuffling about with terrible projects like The Space and get a lot more serious.
What we are suggesting is an annual investment, by the BBC, in the arts across the UK (the BBC is not bound to just England). ACE could then collaborate with the funding bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to distribute that funding to the arts.
Now, we're not talking about spending millions so the BBC can "live stream" ENO on the iPlayer or make fawning "aren't you awesome" shows about the National Theatre.
The money should be distributed, predominantly, to the mid-scale and, to a slightly lesser degree, the small scale performing arts companies and individual artists. Individuals and the small-scale should be adequately supported by the increased amount of money available through Grants for the Arts (in theory at least).
An initial commitment to £60Million annually would have the effect of mitigating some of the problems caused by central government cuts (in England at least).
As for the BBC itself? Well they could ramp up the output on BBC4 to include lots of nice documentaries on artists, complete recordings of theatre, music and dance performances that don't happen in large scale venues and yes, the occasional ballet here and there and maybe an opera or two.
Despite what ACE and the BBC would have you believe, filming live performances is not a hugely expensive endeavour.
Other than the inevitable bureaucratic tangle there is literally no downside. Arts output at the mid-scale level could potentially increase and the BBC, with a new commitment to covering the arts beyond the wretched Culture Show and Newsnight Review, could put individuals, small scale and the mid-scale right in front of hundreds of thousands of people via BBC4 and the iPlayer.
In addition to that the BBC could actually call itself a "Beacon of Culture™", or whatever, and fend of the critics in a meaningful way. Putting Melvyn Bragg on the radio every so often doesn't count.
If you think this sounds ridiculous, which it isn't, consider this. The BBC already spends almost £30Million per year on in-house orchestras so providing funding for other art forms is not a big stretch.
The money is there, it always has been, but, as always, the people in charge just need to spend it more thoughtfully.