COMMENT: Endowment funding – a catalyst for conformity?
When Michael Portillo announced the recipients of the Catalyst: Endowments scheme on Wednesday, the headlines were all about the millions of pounds flowing into the arts. But while it’s hard to begrudge any of the 34 organisations their hard won cash, the ideological context shouldn’t be forgotten.
22.06.12 The recently announced DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) Catalyst: Endowments scheme is another piece of ideological policy making from the Coalition. It’s an attempt to wean the arts away from its ‘reliance’ on the public sector and into the domain of the corporates and the patronage of the rich.
Endowments have been used in the United States for some time. They are typically very large funds held in perpetuity by organisations, who use the interest earned as income to help offset running costs. The new scheme is an attempt to kick-start their greater use here in the UK.
As is nearly always the case in these instances, the corporate rich will want to associate themselves with safe brands and excellent but not-too-challenging art – good news for the many worthy organisations that provide this, including successful awardees Pallant House, Dulwich Picture Gallery and even the National Portrait Gallery. But it does mean that organisations that are politically challenging, socially radical or just plain unsexy, are unlikely to benefit from the ‘seed-funding’ made available to this scheme.
But of course this particular branch of Catalyst funding is not meant for those type of organisations. This is a long-term planning scheme, with each organisation’s endowment fund expected to be managed for a minimum of 25 years. This means that from a practical perspective, awards really can only be given to organisations that can be certain of long-term stability, excellent governance (or at least the appearance of) and the resources to manage such a fund over this period, and ideally longer.
A high level of individual funding has been made available – a minimum of £500,000 and a maximum of £5m. This, along with the requirement to equal, double or even triple the public funding amount via private giving, inevitably means that those organisations already carrying significant brand status, artistic credibility and cultural capital (by which I mean well connected and wealthy Board members) are best placed to succeed in this.
Again inevitably, there is a critical mass of these types of organisations in the capital, and ten out of 18 Arts Council England (ACE) awards are for London-based organisations. But encouragingly, eight of the recipients are regionally-based.
In terms of artform spread, awards have been heavily weighted towards orchestras, opera and music venues –11 out of 18 ACE awards. ACE is giving to three visual arts organisations, and the Heritage Lottery Fund is giving to four – overall not a bad result for the visual arts (especially compared to theatre, which has only two winners across the board).
In this context, the Turner Contemporary has done exceedingly well to be awarded £1m. Its location in Margate – a town seemingly without significant sponsorship opportunities – does not make it an obvious contender. Although as an organisation engaging in art activities it has been active for over a decade, as a new-build publicly funded gallery it’s barely been open a year. It therefore does not have the same profile and track record of the other successful visual arts organisations.
It looks likely that this has been a strategic decision, designed to boost Turner Contemporary’s chances of survival once the current round of Kent regeneration funding has run-out, and in the event of further ACE cuts. Notwithstanding this, its plans to raise a further £1m in new money must have been particularly robust.
There are two ‘usual suspect’ awards – London galleries the Whitechapel and the Serpentine. Assuming they are able gain their projected match funding – £1m and a whopping £6m respectively – their futures look reasonably assured.
Reading between the lines, it seems likely that those organisations that have already managed to raise significant pledges of match funding support from benefactors will have had the competitive edge, in what was likely to be a very hard fought funding round.
In the current climate, it is hard to begrudge any good organisation success in this challenging funding system. And whatever your politics, the practical provision – and vision – to encourage long-term financial planning must surely be a good thing.
But there does seem to be growing evidence that the recent changes to our funding infrastructure have had a tendency to back the obvious winners, with success breeding success and less emphasis on what a healthy infrastructure might look like.
There seems to be a lessening of opportunities for the edgier, the experimental and the new, and for those organisations championing and nurturing the next generation of emerging artists. I’m pretty certain that many of us can think of many other ways to cut and distribute £56m of new money for the arts and heritage.
From the a-n archive:
Turner Contemporary review:
Dany Louise is a visual arts specialist and writer with twenty years experience in education, management and strategic arts roles. She has worked with organisations including Arts Council England and Brighton and Hove City Council. She wrote 'Ladders for development: Impact of Arts Council England funding cuts on practice-led organisations' and 'A Fair Share? Direct Funding to Artists' for a-n. A freelancer, she works strategically with small arts organisations. She is researching a PhD on the interface between biennials of art and public policy.
First published: a-n.co.uk June 2012
Comments on this article
Post your comment
To post a comment you need to login
© the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.