As DCAL Committee calls for more arts funding, why are the arts special?

The NI Assembly for Culture, Arts & Leisure has called for all executive departments to contribute to the arts.

13p 11p for the artsSo yet again, we are being asked to give more public money to subsidise the arts sector. Previously, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland had ran a public awareness campaign, “13p for the art,” I’ve written about this previously on Slugger. So what’s changed since then?

Funding has been cut further, a couple of times I believe. But certain facts remain.

The arts budget, which is now below £12million, is administered by the Arts Council… who had a wage budget in 2014 of over £2million. Approximately 16% of the entire budget for the arts in Northern Ireland is spent paying the wages of those who decide how to spend the other 84%.

In times of budgetary constriction, some out-of-the-box thinking is called for. Instead of, “gimme gimme gimme,” when it comes time for budget allocation, what if DCAL exercised some modern thinking, engaged the public AND put some power into the hands of the people.

I’m talking about participatory budgeting, a scheme that has worked brilliantly in areas such as Porto Alegre, Brazil.

I’m a strong believer in a free market, in standing on your own two feet. If arts organisations can’t get enough money from the public purse, then they need to get the money in private funding. So in the current situation where the public purse is getting shallower… if sponsorship and/or ticket sales aren’t making the numbers work, perhaps the organisation has run its course.

Supply and demand, as true in the arts sector as any other. If a theatre group perform 2 nights in a 300 seat venue and sell 50 seats per night, maybe they only needed a 100 seat venue for 1 night… It’s simple, except there are those in the arts who see this kind of logical thinking as, “Anti-Arts.” Why can’t one be sensible and not be anti-art?

Let’s say that £12million budget remains the same… but we increase the amount available to arts organisations by cutting out some of the administration costs?

Crowdfunding as a concept is an increasingly common way for businesses to raise enough capital to launch products and companies. Not only does crowdfunding provide the money but it also provides qualification of interest, it shows whether or not the public want the product.

SO, here’s the idea. £12million budget, let’s take say… £3million, 25%. Set up a portal where organisations and arts groups submit a brief, outlining their activities, what the funding will be spent on, a complete breakdown of what the money will go towards. Then we let the public decide. People interested in voting can register, we can work out the details later but let’s say…unique identifier of a National Insurance number.

Added bonus, as groups campaign for funding they will naturally build up PR for their event.

We’ve also cut out most of an entire layer of bureaucracy, saving money in the process.

If the scheme works, we’ve established Open Government, engaged the electorate in direct democracy, participatory budgeting and also ended up with arts funding going to organisations and groups that have proved that they have a value to society and an audience lined up or at least interested enough to vote for them to receive public funds.

If it doesn’t, then some different organisations got the funding and the world continues as normal.

But then doing something out-of-the-box is just too damn interesting for Northern Irish politics to embrace. For now, we’ll just have to put up with the never-ending rendition of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’….”Please sir, can I have some more?”

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On Friday, Ali FitzGibbon responded to this post in a Soapbox piece


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