Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable enterprise of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, earlier this year launched it’s 2018 ‘Public Art Challenge’. Part of Bloomberg’s ‘American Cities Initiative’, this is seen as part of the effort to help U.S. cities generate innovation and advance policy. The $3 million fund is seeking proposals for temporary projects that address civic issues and demonstrate an ability to “generate public-private collaborations, celebrate creativity and urban identity, and strengthen local economies”. Mayors of U.S. cities with 30,000 residents or more are invited to apply. At least three cities will be selected to receive up to $1 million each over two years.
So, is this the ultimate alternative public arts funding model that must increasingly begin to be applied in England and wider UK? Certainly, in terms of wider arts and culture spending shifts, the 2016 paper, ‘Funding Arts and Culture in a Time of Austerity’, written by independent think tank New Local Government Network (NLGN) saw such a fundamental scenario. It recognised that local authority budgets were coming under unprecedented pressures, with significant cuts being made to museums, libraries and the arts. This was seen as being uniquely challenging terrain, with shrinking resources making sustainability, and even survival, ever-harder. New ways of working were therefore seen as being mandatory. On a more positive note, the report did conclude in the end that both councils and the cultural sector were beginning to see a way forward from all this.
In England, an ‘Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme’ also backs such a new philosophy via key advocacy and support. It has been looking to transform fundraising across all cultural sectors for some time now. As a Sector Support Organisation (SSO), it's programme is funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and is led by a founding consortium that includes Opera North, University of Leeds, Cause4 and the Arts Marketing Association.
Stemming from this sort of partnership approach, several exemplars are increasingly starting to emerge. One such, now jointly funded by Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS), and the philanthropic Wolfson Foundation. From spring 2018, is a reboot of the Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund. Launched in England with £4 million now on offer, individual grants of up to £300,000 are available to improve exhibition spaces and increase accessibility.
Given regional arts organisations are increasingly facing standstill funding from ACE, on top of often major cuts in local authority support, then is this type of auxiliary funding model the best way forward? Perhaps so, but a wider UK arts sector still needs to identify and energise these type of alternative sources as the arts still reportedly receive under 1% of all philanthropic giving here. Also, from this very small quota, it has been noted that nearly two thirds of it is given to our 50 largest arts & cultural organisations.
The slow evolution towards a heavier weighting of philanthropic US-style of funding is perhaps inevitable. Arguably, it is seen by many as a major way of augmenting the inevitable decline in national arts funding, as well as providing a way to engage more effectively with audiences, whilst building a broader base of financial support. However, the U.S. philanthropic model still needs to be considered within the wider context of its own public funding for the arts:
For example, in the U.S, public funding for the arts is available at both federal, state and local levels. At that national, federal level, the amount of money distributed in 2017 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was $149.8 million approximately - or just .004% of the federal budget. More than 80% of this was distributed as grants and awards to organizations and individuals. Based on a US population of around 326 million, this is a per capita spend of just 46¢ - or 33 pence per person at today’s exchange rate.
By comparison, over the next four years until 2022 ACE is still committing to investing nationally across it's three key funding streams of: arts organisations (£409 million across 830 institutions); National Lottery funding (£97.3 million, including open-access funding); and strategic Arts Council Development Funds (£72.2 million). This average of £144.625 million per annum, when spread over an English population of 53.5 million, equates to a £2.70 spend per annum on the arts per capita. This doesn’t include the additional public funding of the arts coming from local authorities, and so it is argued, helps puts the England and UK arts funding models into better comparative perspective.
In terms of imagining future public art funding and procurement models themselves, I would suggest old shared collaborative case studies like the 2004 PROJECT initiative run jointly by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), Arts & Business (A&B) and ACE form an interesting case study to consider as a starting point. However, A&B has since merged with Business in the Community and CABE with Design Council, and so a revisioning and reality check is long overdue.
The focus now will inevitably move away from a dependence on government-funded programmes, and more towards a wider range of funding partnerships. For example, these could range from research interests (like those of Arts and Humanities Research Board and NESTA) to the charitable sector (via socio-cultural programmes like those of Calouste Gulbenkian and Esmèe Fairbairn foundations).
Currently in England several new exemplar approaches to public art are already well advanced (such as Folkstone Triennial, Situations, Super Slow Way etc), although one could argue that these are more regional project based, and so not acting fully strategically. Of those movements with public art ambitions looking to advocate more nationally, there appears to be something of a power play developing. This vacuum is being driven by funding competition and arguably a lack of governance and advocacy on best practice from ACE. For example: the self-styled public art think tank ixia lost its NPO funded status from ACE in 2015, although it is currently revaluating itself and it's industry before making a renewed funding application and radical rebrand; In parallel a fledgling Public Art Network UK (PANUK) is looking to set up some form of independent membership association of public realm curators - also driven by feasibility grant application to ACE; Add to this an evolving 10-point plan coming out of the national Arts & Place Manifesto, being developed through a working group of the Place Alliance (itself a movement stemming out of the 2013 Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment). The resulting dialogue and face-off between these three should be fascinating to say the least, and where ACE will position itself is anyone’s guess.
Irrespective of the outcomes of any organisational posturing over 'ownership' of any national public art strategy and direction in England, I would hazard a guess that either way, new collaborative procurement models like those being developed in Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge and the DCMS / Wolfson Foundation Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund probably form the best funding platform to build a sustainable delivery and advocacy model going forward.