John Kieffer and Gilane Tawadros: the funding problem, or, a better way to distribute public funding

How could the arts be financially supported in more efficient ways that better benefit artists?

With John Kieffer and Gilane Tawadros. Read an edited transcript of the talk here (PDF).

If I had the power to-day, I should most deliberately set out to endow our capital cities with all the appurtenances of art and civilisation on the highest standards of which the citizens of each were individually capable, convinced that what I could create, I could afford–and believing that money thus spent not only would be better than any dole but would make unnecessary any dole. For with what we have spent on the dole in England since the war we could have made our cities the greatest works of man in the world.

John Maynard Keynes, economist, 1933

Modern public funding for the arts in the UK is fifty years old this year, with the first (and so far only) white paper A Policy for the Arts – First Steps published by arts minister Jennie Lee in 1965. But much earlier, in 1946, economist John Maynard Keynes (above, with his wife and former ballet dancer Lydia Lopovoka) was instrumental in setting up its forerunner, the Arts Council of Great Britain, which endured until 1994. With much subsequent modification, the four home nation funder – Arts Council EnglandCreative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council of Northern Ireland – are the main legacy of this vision, along with local councils still the principal funders of arts activity in the country.

The original aims of public arts funding, as developed by Keynes and his peers, were to protect the past while helping artists and audiences to create a cultural future for all the country. He understood that governments have a responsibility to their citizens to fund culture, and that money was only useful when put to good use.

Today, much public funding is used to pay for riskier projects that may not otherwise see the light of day, complimenting and feeding commercial sections of the art world that return tax revenues to the Treasury but nothing directly to funding bodies. It aims to develop diversity, equality and environmental sustainability but doesn’t make demands on rates of pay for artists. It allows individual artists to develop their practices aside from commercial pressures, but tends not to engage with commercial elements of the art world very effectively. And in the past it has sometimes paid for large infrastructural organisations but not budgeted for ongoing costs, leaving them at the mercy of financial pressures outside of their control.

Most importantly, arts funding bodies are intended to provide a crucial distance between politicians and culture, ensuring that longer-term aims can be considered in national cultural decisions, a principle increasingly under threat.

The first public funding went only to a few large organisations in central London – the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells having been continually funded since then. And most public funding still ends up with organisations – Arts Council England will spend around £1bn from 2015-18 on organisations in its national portfolio, against £210m on Grants for the Arts, its open access programme aimed mostly at individuals (up from around £180m in the previous three years).

This talk will explore and test these assumptions and asks: is this balance right? Do artists deserve more of the available diminishing public funds? Is our organisational infrastructure the best place for this investment in our cultural future? Who makes the decisions? And what part should artists play in a system that puts the producers of artistic activity at its heart?

This open and solutions-focussed conversation will perhaps touch on topics such as:

  • The place of institutional funding: given that organisations need infrastructure and inevitably incur administrative duplication, why are the arts publicly funded via organisations and not artists?
  • How artists deal with a public, media oriented view of them as being undeserving of funds to support and develop the cultural life of the country.
  • Current encouragement from Government, via public funders, to chase dwindling alternative sources of money from trusts and foundations, private philanthropy and corporate sponsorship with little acknowledgement of the long-term cultural shift this will take.
  • How the shift from predominantly publicly funded arts to corporate and philanthropic income may weaken less diverse and socially responsive aspects of the art world toward marketisation and income generation.
  • What we risk when justifying arts funding on primarily financial, industrial, investment-oriented grounds.
  • The ethics of museums and galleries taking private money that has been seen as ‘greenwashing’ by polluting companies, notable the recent BP protests at Tate Modern.
  • New models of cultural investment such as the Arts Impact Fund and The Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund (RRAAF).

Through discussion and debate, the audience will be invited to actively take part in this event, with time at the end for informal conversation and involvement on social networks.

Further links and articles

John Kieffer, a contributor to The New Economy of Art and a speaker at this event, recently worked with Creative Partnerships Australia to research new business models and thinking for arts organisations, making videos of his main points.


John Kieffer is a writer, cultural critic and consultant who has worked in the arts for 30 years in senior positions with funding bodies and with arts organisations big and small, in the UK and internationally. He works almost exclusively in organisational change and development, and is one of the partners in consultancy Three Johns and Sheila.

Gilane Tawadros is the Chief Executive of DACS. Established by artists for artists, DACS is a not-for-profit visual artists rights management organisation which has generated over £67m in revenues for 20,000 artists over the past 30 years. DACS recently established theDACS Foundation, a new charity that will make grants, provide education and training, organise exhibitions and carry out vital research. Gilane was the founding director of theInstitute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) in London, which, over a decade, achieved an international reputation as a ground-breaking cultural agency at the leading edge of artistic and cultural debates nationally and internationally. She was a board director and then president of the International Foundation of Manifesta (Amsterdam) and serves on the boards of Camden Arts Centre (London), London Film and Video Umbrella, Matts Gallery and the editorial board of Whitechapel Art Gallery. She is also a members of the Artquest Advisory Group

This talk was originally part of System Failure, a series of in-conversations looking at the systemic failures of the art world in its wider context. Held on Wednesday 4 November 2015 at Block 336

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