The arts are going to have to accept that there’s less funding in the next few years – Britain’s government is, let’s face it, effectively bankrupt.
At the same time, the government is exploring ideas of getting truly local, supporting communities as they develop their own ideas – ‘localism’, ‘local distinctiveness’ and ‘hyperlocal’ are buzzwords I keep hearing.
When I joined Worthing Arts Council, the town’s community arts forum, it was a struggling group with literally a handful of members led by a perfectly nice but not very dynamic old lady. It was just a committee that met once a month to moan.There was talk about folding the organisation, about giving up, of it all not being worth the time and effort.
But I could see the potential of bringing people together, encouraging debate and even disagreement, helping groups to collaborate across artforms and lobbying the local authority. So I started with an open meeting once a month. And once a few more people were onboard, I suggested a strategy, which was formally adopted in 2007. Nothing complicated, a series of simple steps broken down into bite-sized bulletpoints. A second strategy in 2009 made sure that things kept moving.
Since then – and as a direct result of three sides of A4 that I wrote in 2007 – membership has increased tenfold, Worthing Arts Council has been given funding to distribute to members, and the group has become a vital force and an important voice.
It’s delivered a range of events directly, like the Ice Prince Arts Festival, and given funding to even more – with grants starting at only £50. But that’s enough for a small arts group to take an ad in the paper, print some flyers, or cover the hire cost of a venue – and that’s stuff that makes a real difference to a small community gathered around an interest in watercolours, weaving or whatever.
All this has cost the local authority less than the average annual wage of an Arts Development Officer, and has been delivered by the people who are fighting for this stuff, rather than by policy wonks and planners who want to tick boxes.
So – let’s see more money given directly to the community, without ringfences and red tape. Money that meets local needs, not national agendas.