Art for Architecture Legistlation

Two new publications signal serious efforts to advance the art and architecture movement in the U.K.: Art For Architecture (published by H.M.S.Q.) and The Register of Artists and Craftsmen in Architecture (published by Art and Architecture Limited). It is not the purpose of this piece to review their literary or visual worth (that will be carried out elsewhere), rather to consider their diplomatically disguised, but fundamental, purpose: Percent For Art Legislation.

Each makes a promising start. It is axiomatic of the A&A movement that our current environment is in need of radical improvement, which can only be achieved through better and increased collaboration between architects and artists (including craftspeople). Two further beneficial results are the creation or improvement of our cultural heritage, and of job opportunities for artists. Impediments to the achievement of these objects are great: the age of patronage - even, if not especially, from the State - is dead; at the same time, environmental decay, especially urban but also rural, is protean, and vandalism is rife. They are not unrelated. From this disturbing background, concerned artists and architects came forward, formed the A&A Group and pushed for removal of those impediments. Legislation (requiring a percentage of all publicly-funded building and maintenance schemes to include funding for artists' and architects' collaboration) is the ultimate solution but the most difficult to achieve.

It was shelved in favour of publication of information, education, and the persuasion of bodies responsible for the environment and the arts, to accept the need to introduce voluntary policies and schemes all aimed at encouraging the collaboration they sought. Hence, five or so years on we have these two publications but no legislation and no new money. Sub-titled 'A Handbook on Commissioning', Art for Architecture is just that: 'a source of ideas and a practical guide for potential patrons interested in commissioning art and craft works for new and refurbished buildings', which tackles the historical context within which the notion of collaboration between artists, architects and craftspeople has arisen, illustrated with case studies of recent commissions in the U.K. It gives practical information on how to commission in an excellent, step-by-step account, with diagrammatic flow-charts, cross-referenced to detailed guidance on budgets, legal contracts, maintenance, consultation and fund-raising, plus useful names and addresses.

In addition, almost tangentially, certainly diplomatically, we have the A&A research team's recommendations together with statements from the relevant government departments to which they were addressed. For, as the title page declares. The text has been prepared from research commissioned by the Department of the Environment, in association with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and is compiled from many different sources, including advice from Government departments. However, individual views expressed in the text are not necessarily those of the Department of the Environment or other government department or agencies'. This obliged the A&A Research Team to force a diplomatic coup to achieve even a place for their own views although they are peripheral to the book's main thrust as a working tool
on commissioning.

Reverse tactics are employed in the Register of Artists and Craftsmen in Architecture: statements and colour illustrations from 52 makers waving the flag for the collaboration movement as well as for themselves, are sandwiched between a closing section exposing a 'draft' code of professional practice for A&A, and a bold introduction unashamedly and cogently advocating Percent For Art Legislation - together with the Arts Minister's equally frank, albeit dreamily reasoned, reply: No. Of what value, then, is this or the other publication?

Percent For Art Legislation is an absolute necessity. In the light of these two publications, there is no other reasonable conclusion. The facts speak for themselves.

  1. The A&A movement succeeded in being commissioned by the D.O.E. to produce what became a H.M.S.O. handbook. This speaks of Government sympathy for the cause.
  2. The handbook's foreword by the Ministers of State for Housing and Planning, and for the Arts jointly commends it to us, leaving us to ponder: 'But much more needs to be done, and the purpose of this book is to encourage patrons and developers, artists, craftsmen and architects to incorporate works of art and craft as an integral part of new building and renovation schemes.' More sympathy, new and eminent support; no legislation, no new money.
  3. The A&A Research Team's dear and careful recommendations, together with the Government's departmental replies reveal all:
    • Increased and more positive encouragement through the planning system; D.O.E. response: no change.
    • Increased and more positive programmes and mandatory percentage for art schemes in the public sector; responses from D.E.S., D.H.S.S., P.S.A. and D.O.E.: no change.
    • Tax incentives and allowances for the private sector; Inland Revenue and D.O.E. response: no change.
    • Moral Rights legislation (to protect works against unauthorised distortion e.g. public vandalism); D.T.I, response: will be included in the new Copyright Bill currently in draft.
    • Educational innovation through the introduction of A&A studies, including handling materials and professional administration of commissions, in schools of art and-of architecture, which should themselves collaborate on joint projects; D.E.S. response: agreed, but no change.
  4. Percent For Art Legislation is not mentioned at all in the H.M.S.O. handbook; but is tackled head on by the A&A Register: 'A&A take the view that order in society and in the environment comes from enforceable roles, from the application of standards of behaviour and expenditure'. The Arts Minister's No was qualified thus '. . . it is questionable whether at present legislation would be entirely appropriate. This has been corroborated by the Select Committee on Science, Education and the Arts, who in 1982 said: 'Whilst we think that a statutory basis would be inappropriate in this country, we recommend that companies, local authorities and Government departments should spend up to 1% of new building budgets on the purchase of works of art by contemporary artists". The Government, in its response in 1984, indicated that both business companies and local authorities had stressed that percentage schemes should be a matter for local discretion and I believe that this is more desirable at present with the possibility of working towards legislation at a later date'.

And that's the final word, dated January 12 1987. There was, however, a door left open. Mr. Luce invited A&A to meet him. If they haven't done so already, and even if they have, they should keep pressing for legislation. This means money, and that is what is needed; the argument is simple.

A small proportion, say 1 per cent (as operates elesewhere in Europe) would not be additional to the public expenditure building budgets involved in such schemes, but would merely be part of them. It would be for those responsible for managing such budgets to carve out the I per cent for A&A collaboration, by better housekeeping. This is not the 'more or less' requirement, the subject of so much current criticism of the Government's policies, it is a 'value for money' argument. They are undoubtedly convinced of the value of collaborations; their ability to achieve them for the same price somehow eludes them.

Finally, it should be remembered that the Government's willingness at long last to bring in Moral Rights legislation is principally because of our international Treaty obligations to do so under the Berne Convention, not simply because government thinks it's a good idea. The U.K. Government has no such obligations to introduce Percent For Art legislation, but it is clearly convinced of the public benefit such legislation could bring about. These two publications, and the A&A people, are to be congratulated on a promising start. Keep up the good work.

© Henry Lydiate 1987

This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material.
The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.