Last week, Arts Council England made the long-awaited announcement of their National Portfolio Organisations funding for the next 3 years. It was a moment of significant stress for arts organisations across the UK as they waited to hear whether they had any funding and if so, whether it was cut and by how much.
To get to this point, these organisations invested weeks and weeks of time and effort to develop and write their funding bids, trying to demonstrate their value to the cultural sector (to the Arts Council) and articulate their impact on the local, regional and national communities. Numerous versions of the core documents, consultations, development plans, detailed budgets and strategies for everything have been created as part of making their case for public funding. The Arts Council are very clear about what they want and need and which objectives they need to be fulfilled and rightly so. For many of the NPO’s, we are talking about thousands and thousands of pounds of public money so it is right and proper that there is a rigorous process in allocating it.
I don’t envy those in the Arts Council who were making those decisions either. All of the blood, sweat and tears that go into those funding bids make an emotive argument for support but there is never enough money to fund everyone. So they have to make choices and not everyone gets through. It is utterly tragic for those organisations who don’t make it (although there are other options with the increase in the grants for the arts fund) and euphoric for those who do! There have been many organisations celebrating over the last week including some new National Portfolio companies such as Tangle (run by my friend, Anna Coombes) who successfully demonstrate that it’s not just funding for the same old same old but rather strategic investment in innovative, challenging, high quality cultural activity.
Aside from my background working for a number of Arts Council funded organisations (and for the Arts Council itself for a little while), this whole process is of interest because it highlights the power that many of those organisations have given to their funding sources. With this dependency, they run the risk of that large funder changing their minds or priorities and whilst they can be comfortable for the next 3 years, what about beyond then? This stress of having to prove one’s value doesn’t go away after the funding bid is granted; if anything it increases. The same is true in the private sector when a company is dependent on one major client – what happens if that client decides to go to a competitor or changes their mind? Or if they still want to work with you but want you to work in a different way – do you change according to their demands?
So whatever area we might work in, we need to manage that risk of being too dependent on single activities, funding sources, people, income streams etc. The risk beyond the financial is that of funder drift where organisations just follow the money, leaving their creativity, ambition, values and integrity by the wayside. There are times when it is good to say no or what might feel like a disaster (such as funding being cut) really opens up new opportunities to the benefit of the organisation and leads to greater success and happiness.
Congratulations then to all those who have been granted NPO funding – well done! And commiserations to those who haven’t but let’s look at this as a massive opportunity to change and develop or simply to retain our integrity and follow the path that we want to. If this is you, then I wish you good luck!
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky