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William Hunt performing Call John the Boatman at VIVID for Endurance, 24 April 2008'

Realising the Value is now published on the a-n website. It analyses the immediate situation for a small number of visual arts organisations that are due to lose their core funding from April 2012.

In April 2010, Su Jones of a-n asked me to research the likely effect of losing their RFO funding on 15 practice-led visual arts organisations. The resulting paper, Ladders for Development, attempted to articulate the value of what these organisations, and others like them, provided to the arts ecology.  It found, for example, that several of them nurtured and gave opportunity to talented artists at the beginnings of their career who later went on to achieve significant mainstream success in the art world: examples include Tacita Dean, current holder of the Unilever Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern, and Simon Faithful.

Last October, a-n asked me to revisit the organisations and update the report.

The result is Realising the Value. It shows that the immediate future is still very unsettled for them, spanning an outlook that is at best cautiously optimistic and at worst, finite. Redundancies are already taking place with the likelihood of more to come, and the services, professional and social value these organisations offer to artists and to their local and regional communities are already being scaled back.

These organisations are representative of other comparable organisations in a similar situation; and as the Size Matters report demonstrates, also representative in important ways of small organisations that will retain their revenue funding.  The Size Matters report by Sarah Thelwell is an important context.  It conceptualises the early investment in artists who go on to achieve success as “deferred value”, and demonstrates how it is often other, larger organisations, who reap the financial and reputational benefits later on. The further point is made  that currently, funding mechanisms have no methodology for capturing – and therefore valuing – this activity.  ArtSway for example, appears to have suffered from a dogmatic application of ideology that has devastated an otherwise high value, well-governed and artistically ambitious organisation.

The implications for the visual arts sector include a lessening of opportunity for early career and emerging artists, with consequent negative effects on their career development and ability to earn a living, and increased competition for the opportunities that remain.  PVA Media Lab, for example, is a key player in the relatively small number of visual arts and media providers in Dorset. The company’s development role is not easily replaced, particularly within recent partnership projects. In another example, Globe Gallery in Newcastle recognises that “a predicted change will be our ability to support individual fees to artists to the level to which we have been able in the past.”

The wider implications suggest a longer-term effect on the arts ecology as a whole. As the sector contracts, the beneficial effects of the arts for individuals, for society, for employment, tourism, regeneration and the economy will also be lessened.

It’s a dispiriting outlook given the hard work so many have put in to creating what is in so many ways an area of activity the UK can be so very proud of.


1 Size Matters, by Sarah Thelwell, was commissioned by Common Practice, a consortium of nine small London-based visual arts organisations

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