Arts Professional has published the findings of its online survey on the impact of local funding cuts on grassroots arts. The survey was distributed to Arts Professional readers between July and August 2017. Of the 506 people who responded, most were working in or with the arts and culture sector, and some within local authorities.
Respondents were asked questions on how local authority support for the arts has changed, how arts organisations were responding and what should be done to steer the sector ‘towards a thriving future’.
Amongst the survey’s key findings are that 90% of respondents said their local authority has reduced spending on arts and culture, while 69% agreed this is hitting grassroots arts the hardest.
70% said a knock-on effect of the cuts is that fewer artistic risks are being taken. One said: “Safe investments are favoured over new work”, while another commented that this is leading to the arts offer becoming “more homogenised”, with the same work being programmed at more venues, and organisations being less willing or able to create expensive or artistically risky work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those working in this field also speak of increased stress and low morale. Shockingly, many receive such poor pay that they feel they are effectively subsidising the work they produce. This has resulted in many of those working in community arts having to leave the sector.
One respondent said the price of art classes has risen to such a degree that they are now “pretty much art-classes for retired millionaires only”. Others reported severe increases in fees for, or the complete closure of, spaces that are hired by arts organisations and community groups.
Another questioned whether local authorities are actively engaging with broader artistic communities. They commented: “Art as a social resource is valuable but it is not only useful as therapy and social care. Artists exist and deserve income. Enrich local creatives and give them a more established platform.”
Commenting on the findings, ArtsProfessional editor Frances Richens said: “Arts activity is a key source of support for the most vulnerable in our society, and the responses to this survey raise serious concerns about whether enough is being done on a local level to enable this work and respond to community need.”
More generally across the arts sector, 85% say their organisation has or is likely to lose at least some of its local authority funding. They also raised serious concerns that the needs of local communities are often overlooked, with national policy agendas taking priority.
Many raised concerns about a lack of a clear strategy for arts and culture in their local authority. One respondent said: “It all seems very disjointed and a lack of long-term strategic thinking and planning.”
Some connected this to the loss of arts officer roles, with almost 80% saying their local authority has cut the number of arts officers it employs. Others reported over-stretched staff, reduced wages, an increasing reliance on freelance staff and a cut-back in training offered to local authority staff.
In order to make up for the loss in funding, organisations are applying for more money through trusts and foundations, and public funds. They are also focusing more on sponsorship and individual giving. However, respondents warned of a ‘capacity deficit’ as staff numbers have been reduced while the work load is increasing.
In terms of support following cuts, only 17% reported that their authority has made an attempt to help arts organisations find alternative sources of funding. A number of respondents called for councils to work with them collaboratively to mitigate the damage of cuts.
Richens said that there are areas of the country where local authorities are getting it right. Among those singled out for praise were Hull, Manchester, Leeds and Islington. However, she said this was the minority.
She added: “When we decided to launch this survey, we were keen to help move the conversation forward, beyond the negative impacts of local authority cuts. But what we found is that many are still reeling from these devastating cuts and are not in a position to start looking forward, particularly at the grassroots level.”
The vast majority of respondents – 97% – were in favour of local authorities continuing to fund the arts in some capacity, with some commenting that even a little support is a “magnet” for other investment. Half thought arts and culture should be prioritised over other areas.
The findings back up a 2016 report by Arts Council England that estimated that, since 2010, local authority investment in arts and culture had declined by £236m, equivalent to 17%, and warned that cuts were likely to continue.
Read the report on the findings of the survey at www.artsprofessional.co.uk
1. How is your local authority responding to cuts? Courtesy: Arts Professional
2. What effect are the cuts having on the wider sector? Courtesy: Arts Professional
3. How it your organisation responding to local authority cuts? Courtesy: Arts Professional