Last week Alastair Niven, now running the Cumberland Lodge conference centre, once Director of Literature at Arts Council England, hosted a colloquium on whether we have the arts funding system 'we' deserve, with speakers including Jude Kelly and Alan Davey, CEO of ACE. Tim Joss was the only speaker to present a vision for another way of funding the arts, based on his downloadable book New Flow. He imagines the closure of ACE, The Craft and Film Councils and the creation of two new organisations, one focusing on artistic experimentation and the other on audience engagement. I like the radical approach but feel the most exciting work of all bridges the two.
Other opinions expressed seemed all too familiar. ACE has been engaged in a constant process of restructuring for as long as I can remember. Centralise then give power to the regions, replace artistic lobbying with effective managers - then decide to centralise again, bring back peer review by fellow artists, stress excellence over education... and then start the cycle again. Meanwhile organisations bring in big guns to lobby against cuts to their grants in an environment when it's impossible for anyone to debate how good their stuff is. Oh, and how strange to be in an environment these days when so little attention is given to the Great Digital Revolution. It's almost refreshing, but actually concerning that despite regular mentions of webness, the view of the arts from Cumberland Lodge seemed to be essentially about activities in buildings that bring colour to grey lives, whereas I reckon the web gives nearly all of us access to a cacophony of culture. The issue is how to choose creatively, and what bits genuinely needs funding to sustain and expand the national imagination.
Cumberland Lodge was an ideal setting for this timely opportunity to view the bigger picture of how we fund the arts at a moment when the existing structures of funding are under pressure.