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May 11, 2011

Cuts in Culture conference live blog - 2 of 3

Welcome to Research Fortnight's Cuts in Culture live blog from Bafta. Our second session today is Funding Innovation.

Our speakers are the chairman of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and UCL professor, Alan Wilson, chief executive of Arts and Business, Colin Tweedy, and director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, UK branch, Andrew Barnett. Their chairman is chief executive and secretary of the British Academy, Robin Jackson.

News, instant analysis and comment on  what was said. Read from the bottom up.

That wraps up the debate from this morning's session. As we head off for more discussion over lunch, you can look forward to this afternoon's session on the Future of Research and Collaboration, from which Miriam Frankel will blog from 2.15pm.

13.09: Finally Wilson adds that for entrepreneurship we can look at the development of the Council's new Knowledge Exchange Hubs, the first of which he lets slip will be in Brighton. And that gets a double bonus for being outside London, although not terribly far...

NB: Since the event, the AHRC has clarified that Alan Wilson had intended to refer to the Brighton Fuse project rather than the knoweldge exchange hubs project. The results of the hubs competition will not be announced until later in the year.

13.06: Alison Mitchell of Vitae asks about developing entrepreneurship amongst researchers and how to break discipline divides. Wilson says the AHRC has been developing interdisciplinary themes in order to encourage researchers to get out of their silos.

13.00: As well as bias by region, is there bias by art form? Arts Council cuts hit visual arts by 25 per cent, whereas dance was only cut 8 per cent.

12.56: A comment from the University of Exeter opens up the question of whether funding is too concentrated on London, given that the Arts Council no longer sponsors any theatres west of the Bristol Old Vic. Tweedy says the withdrawal of funding from English counties and cities is "a burning issue and has to be addressed now."

12:52: Wilson: Big Society-gate was blown up out of all proportion and if commentators wanted to work through other delivery plans, they would find many other government references. Questioned on whether the council is trying to direct research to much, Wilson says: “We have £100 million and could easily spent £500m, we have to choose. We have to decide what research should be about in the next five years.”

12.50: Q&A now. Questioned on why AHRC researchers have been so critical of the mentions of Big Society in the council’s delivery plan, Wilson says many councils have a role in civilising society and making things better and were jointly working together on the "Connected Communities" project, before the government got on board.  All engage with aspects of government agenda, but they don't do it for the government, but for the public, as critical thinkers, he says.

12.45: Barnett wraps up on a positive note, that perhaps we shouldn't be talking about the impact of cuts on creativity but the opportunity of arts organisations to garner support from corporate, philanthropic and new sources that exist out there.

12.40: Philanthropy more common in the US, in part due to the tax system, in part due to culture.

12.38: Barnett: The Gulbenkian Foundation is increasingly focused on supporting innovation with more engagement with non-professionals and disadvantaged communities, eg £175,000 for the Manchester International Festival to recreate the Manchester children’s choir.

12.35: Philanthropy is healthy in the UK, says Barnett, but concern exists about its concentration on a small number of organisations.

12.30: Barnett is now speaking, starting with a description of the democratisation of the arts, with new technologies and the mixing and different art forms changing our experience of the arts.

12.27: Final word from Tweedy: Campaigns on behalf of the arts need to be more joined up - the public marched on behalf of forests and must be prepared to do so for the arts.

12.25: Tweedy concludes that we have to review funding structures for charities to allow arts organisations to stimulate their own private income and be more open to risk and entrepreneurial development. He adds that we need the evidence to convince the Treasury (more stats available on the Arts and Business website: http://artsandbusiness.org.uk/)

12.20: Tweedy: BP is one of Britain's most important arts sponsors.The financial community is also very important - the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch is sponsoring the Afghanistan exhibition at the British Museum, as well as restoring Queen Mary’s throne in Westminster Abbey. Louis Vuitton is also a major gallery sponsor - there are real growth opportunity for private giving.

12.16: How much do businesses invest in culture? asks Tweedy. Since 2008 there has been a more than 17 per cent drop in cash sponsorship and corporate donations, but 8 per cent growth in in-kind sponsorship such as volunteering.

12.13: 72 per cent private money goes to major arts organisations. Of that 72 per cent, 70 per cent goes to 25 arts organisations in London. “We’re seeing a very distorted figure of private sector funding still.” The concept that investment from the private sector is merely icing on the cake is simply not true, he adds.

12.10: Tweedy: The golden age of public funding of arts is “no more”.  In 2009/10 private sector funding and earned income for cultural organisations made up almost 60 per cent. This is a reversal of the major arts organisations in continental Europe.

12.05: Colin Tweedy introducing his talk quoting: "If we do not spend more money on the arts, we will build more prisons".

12.02: Wilson sums up: Cuts in arts and humanities are insignificant compared to what might have been and what is happening in other sectors. Arts and humanities are treated on par with sciences in research council terms. AHRC is "meeting this challenge of creativity in the future by seeking to move the AHRC to new territory"

12.00: Wilson: Interdisciplinarity can have a variety of forms. The applications of computer science within the humanities – for example mapping the effect of the US rail network in the 1890s and settlements in 8th century BC Greece – are providing new avenues for research.

11.55: The council has previously seen interaction with museums, SMEs etc as knowledge transfer, in this delivery plan there's a shift to "knowledge exchange hubs". Wilson is conscious there's a view that hubs will quell individuality and revolution. "We’re trying to define frameworks, not direct what individuals do," he responds.

11.50: AHRC: We fund more than 50 disciplines and we have to chart out what we can fund relative to others. Is there a role for the AHRC to fund larger and longer programmes, and increasingly fund interdisciplinarity?

11.45 Wilson: "Leading the world", published late 2009, showed how arts and humanities give value to the world. Maintaining a knowledge base, economic capital, growth and "civil capital" are all important and what consitute impact. Overseas students studying arts and humanities bring around £2bn to the economy every year.

11.40 Alan Wilson will talk about the AHRC's delivery plan and place in funding arts research. AHRC funds less than a fifth of academic research in higher education, he says, and has to find a distinctive role in that research ecosystem.


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Wilson's reply is disappointing to say the least. First, the opposition to the AHRC's decision to include the 'Big Society' in its delivery plan for strategic research funding priorities DOES NOT claim that the related 'Connected Communities' project was launched after the coalition government came into office. On the contrary, the language 'the Big Society' was inserted into the delivery plan AFTER the coalition government was formed. The opposition is not to the Connected Communities, but to the inclusion of the Big Society in the delivery plan. This could not be more clear in the petitions. Wilson confuses the opposition by 3,200 academics and over 30 learned societies with a separate matter.

Perhaps all research councils do "engage" with the government agenda of the day. The problem is that the AHRC appears to have crossed a clear line. The AHRC does not appear to simply have "engaged" with the government: instead, the AHRC has included a political party's campaign slogan in its delivery plan spelling out its strategic research funding priorities. The opposition takes a clear position on principle, not politics. The principle is that political campaign slogans have no place in research council delivery plans. Wilson's suggestion that all "engage" fails to account for the fact that the AHRC is not simply engaging with an agenda, it is going much further and including the political campaign slogan of a political party in government in its delivery plans. This is a move that I believe may be unprecedented. There is -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- unprecedented opposition from literally thousands of colleagues in the arts and humanities as a result.

I must also say that it is deeply worrying if the AHRC continues to be unable to even properly acknowledge the relevant concern. This raises many questions about how it has managed the issue. It must be widely agreed that they have thus far clearly "lost the argument" and they would be encouraged to take the simply remedy of removing all references to the Big Society in their documents, including the delivery plan.


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