THE NATIONAL FUNDING SCHEME IS A SCANDAL. A ‘SCHEME’ IN THE MOST NEGATIVE SENSE. A SCAM.

Michael Landy, Cor! What a Bargain! 1992

Cor! What a Bargain! Michael Landy, 1992

Liz Hill’s revelations about the National Funding Scheme in Arts Professional this week are undoubtedly shocking. How has the art world reacted to the exposé? Almost blanket silence. Any interest from the national press? Nope. Not yet. This silence typifies an arts establishment that happily trumpets any ‘positive’ news about the arts but increasingly closes ranks whenever there’s a whiff of failure or scandal. This story reeks of both failure (not that failure is necessarily a bad thing) and scandal.

I do not wish to rehearse Liz Hill’s detailed work in exposing the on-going affair nor her previous article about the NFS from 2014.  But I feel it only right that I write a little about my feelings as a response to the entire debacle.

Scandalous activities aside (for now). The National Funding Scheme was and still is for me an incredibly insidious attempt to redefine how UK (English?) arts and culture is financially supported. The NFS is not state funding. The NFS is a platform for philanthropic giving to specific causes – once arts and culture, now anything ‘charitable’. It is not national. It does not funding other than in the sense that it distributes money donated to a specific organisation/ project. As payment for their services, NFS keeps almost half of the eligible gift aid. The NFS is then nothing more than another way to give to some organisations; a method more expensive and less charitable than most, it would seem from the recent Arts Professional article. The name was sanctioned by Jeremy Hunt and the DCMS; the ‘charity’ (for that is what the NFS is) is funded by Arts Council England and Creative Scotland. To describe this organisation as the National Funding Scheme is misleading. It suggests that philanthropic giving is (or is destined to become) the primary source of arts (and charitable) giving in the country. This is certainly the intention of Panlogic Limited – one of two private companies who deliver the platform on behalf of the NFS.

Thankfully, it would appear that the NFS is failing badly. Failing to gain a broad base of national ‘partner’ organisations; failing to attract very much in the way of philanthropic giving (excepting a few big name successes); and failing to be financially viable. In short, it’s failing to be a National Funding Scheme. For me, philanthropy will never be a viable form arts funding in the UK. Nor should it ever be considered as a replacement for state funding. I’ve written often enough (as have many others) about the need for state funding of arts and culture to be more democratic and equally distributed but we must defend it against attempts to replace it with philanthropy. No need to worry in the case of the NFS. They’re doing a great job of discrediting state-supported philanthropic giving initiatives. To be clear, I’m not opposed to philanthropic giving. There are many ways already available to give to arts and cultural organisations that are not backed by the state. Fair enough. I just cannot understand why anyone would think it a good idea to pay for something like the NFS. It would seem to be another (expensive) case of literally reinventing the wheel – and not a very good replica at that!

A National Funding Scheme that’s not national nor distribute funding (in the traditional sense of the word). A ‘scheme’ supported by state and other funders with large sums of public money to make arts organisations money that ends up losing lots of public money. A ‘charitable’ organisation that hives off all of its work to two private companies and pays them using public funds then requests more public funds to pay the two private companies even more to apparently fail to deliver on their promises. A business model that requires the siphoning-off of 45% of Gift Aid from donors in order to (potentially) become economically viable. Oh, did I mention that THE SAME PERSON SITS ON THE BOARDS of the NFS and its two private subcontractors!  The NFS, Panlogic and Digital Information and Giving Limited also all share the same office address!!  Public money becomes company income. I could go on but enough for now (almost).

Clearly, there are many people implicated in this sorry tale (some have been named in Liz Hill’s report). How did THEY let this happen? Why didn’t THEY do something? WE NEED A FULL PUBLIC INVESTIGATION!

It riles me to see significant amounts of public arts funding money being wasted on a scheme like the NFS whilst many individual artists cannot get a penny and many arts organisations/ projects are facing cuts. This failure REDUCES arts funding available for other smaller, perhaps grassroots, activities. It is perverse that a scheme (perhaps ludicrously) intended to increase arts revenue ‘nationally’ has actually leeched public money away. It continues to do so. More is apparently needed. This money is predominantly destined to pay companies ran by a man who also heads the NFS.

THE NATIONAL FUNDING SCHEME IS A SCANDAL. A ‘SCHEME’ IN THE MOST NEGATIVE SENSE.  A SCAM.

We cannot and should not stay silent. This affair cannot be allowed to be brushed under the carpet. We must demand an explanation. We are struggling. We need to have faith in the state to do the right thing; to use dwindling state arts funding carefully and wisely…

ARTS & CULTURAL WORKERS–STRUGGLE NOW AGAINST CREEPING NEOLIBERALISM

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The art world’s such a fickle place.  Buzzword after buzzword follows business metaphor upon business metaphor.  Right now, the UK arts and cultural world is apparently ‘waking up’ to inequality.  The art world’s unequal THEY say.  We need diversity THEY say.

Academics wonder if this inequity is a class, race, gender thing.  Politicians and policy makers enthusiastically call for fairer opportunities.  Some say: Art for everyone.  DCMS trumpets the need for diversity then appoints an all male, white and middle aged committee.

I’m bemused.  We all knew state and market-driven arts and culture was highly hierarchical, didn’t we?  We know it still is, don’t we?  Even voluntary or the deeply derogatory ‘amateur’ arts often have hierarchies of one sort or another.  So is inequality in arts and culture really as simple as an issue of social class, gender, race, etc?  On many levels, it’s true that social status opens doors or slams them in our faces.  Arts organisations up and down the land are staffed by graduates, led by middle class arts administrators and filled with well-meaning middle (perhaps even upper) class trustees and board members.  Not all.  The bigger the organisation, the more likely that opportunities narrow.  Smaller organisations tend to be more open.  These are, of course, generalisations.

But big London and national organisations are different.  Their boards are full of wealthy and uber-wealthy people - some are government appointed.  They are sponsored by wealthy banks, hedge funds, etc.  They receive large amounts of state funding.  And now these same organisations and the same people leading them are branching out.  They are setting up all sorts of Creative Industries groups, partnerships and federations.  Others in the field suggest we join them.  Why?  I’m not sure.

THEY ARE ALL THE SAME FEW PEOPLE.  UPPER CLASS BANKERS AND SUPER RICH.  THEY give to the arts of their choice.  They are capitalists.  They are often part of the 1%.  Their calls for greater equality in the arts are hypocritical.

THEY cannot lead the revolution needed to make arts and culture more equal.  THEY do not want to.  Not really.  They are neoliberals.  They band together to create an even more inequitable arts and cultural field.  THEY influence decisions.

People like me are not from their world.  Never will be.  WE see through their nicely presented thin veneers.  WE can only nip at their heels.  Sometimes they like what we do.  Sometimes they tolerate us.  Sometimes they silently squeeze us into line.  Sometimes they quietly attempt to cut us off.  That’s fine.  That’s THEIR game.

But we are many.  Dark matter, as Gregory Sholette often describes those outside of the system.  Only a truly culturally democratic world of arts and culture can begin to offer fairness and equality (or equity) for all.  This means ending deeply entrenched status quos, not tinkering around the edges.

The art world is frightening for people like us.  But we cannot stay quiet.  We must say NO.  We must organise however we see fit.

IF WE TRULY BELIEVE IN EQUALITY IN ARTS AND CULTURE, WE MUST STRUGGLE TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

We must unearth the roots of inequality in arts and culture, starting with those in the know and their (in)vested interests.  Just as we must do the same in all areas of our deeply unequal neoliberal societies.