Arts Council England Chief Executive Alan Davey has stated the organisation’s commitment to individual artists, saying that ‘how we engage and encourage talent is fundamental.’

Writing on the Guardian Culture Professionals site during a live web chat on Wednesday 31 July, Davey was answering a question from AIR’s Jack Hutchinson, who queried how ACE intended to enhance its support for artists, beyond its Grants for the Arts.

Davey responded: ‘I hope the newer, simpler under £15k for Grants for the Arts will help individual artists. Beyond that, we need to look at workspaces, alternative sources of finance (we are piloting some loans/ business advice schemes in east London and Yorkshire), the role of institutions in providing help and support for individual artists.

‘We expect our funded organisations to treat individual artists fairly. The question of how we do support individual artists is something I want us keep an eye on in the next years as we get smaller in staff terms – how we we engage and encourage talent is fundamental.’

Demonstrating excellence

During the hour-long chat, a-n’s Director, Susan Jones, flagged up a-n/AIR’s Paying artists research, which reveals a dramatic decline in exhibition fees and other kinds of tangible support to artists for showing in ACE’s flagship NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) galleries.

She put the following to Davey: ‘Could ACE seek to demonstrate ‘excellence’ in the funded arts by including a KPI [key performance indicator] to measure good practice by NPO galleries? This would be a strategic way to highlight the value of contemporary artists whose work is creating the audiences for contemporary art that ACE and others are using to make the case for the economic value.’

Davey responded: ‘We’ve had a number of questions about our support for individual artists including funding, artists’ pay and opportunities for them to raise visibility. I’m pleased to report that in 2011/12 alone we provided c.£3.4m to individual visual artists via Grants for the Arts – the largest type of individuals grants awarded.

‘In addition to this we are very excited by the strong response from visual artists for the new Artists International Development Fund, in partnership with British Council, which has enabled individual artists to develop their international profile, networks and further their practise abroad. The majority of beneficiaries to this scheme are visual artists.

‘It is important that artists are able to self-determine their own projects and I believe our simplified Grants for the Arts scheme will enable more artists to benefit in this way. Within our funded portfolio of NPOs we have a large number of organisations which are focussed on talent development – many of which, such as Art Gene in Barrow on Furness or Auto Italia in London, are artist led.

‘We also provide revenue and capital funding to a number of organisations with studio and production facilities, offering the space and community for artists. In terms of artists’ pay, we are aware of the recent a-n survey and are speaking with the sector about how this might be better addressed. In the first instance, with our new Grants for the Arts scheme, we are very clear now about our expectations for funded projects.’

Instrinsic and instrumental value

Davey also talked about the need to make an economic case for the arts, in the face of public resistance to arguments around intrinsic value.

‘Unfortunately, public discourse on the arts in this country – for whatever reason – tends towards not allowing the intrinsic to be discussed,’ he said. ‘We need to keep on at it – getting more people to talk about it is part of that I think, and making sure that we as an arts council keep talking about what really art does – getting better at the economic, but not forgetting what art is really about.’

Staying with the economic theme, Davey explained that ‘…resilience and the need to embed it in financial and creative senses is part of our ten year framework, Achieving Great Art for Everybody – and future resilience is one of the things we look at when deciding levels of funding for people. I think our understanding of how the arts work does need to have some sense of business and the economy, but in many senses we are addressing areas where we need… to encourage the creative process to happen and to cross boundaries in new ways.

‘For me it’s an ongoing thing – but if we became purely overly formulaic we woud lose our ability to fund the unexpected and surprising. As Keynes, our founder, once said: we should let the artist take us wher’er they will.’



Read the full transcript of the live chat here.