Launch of Arts Index

Gideon Parfitt (with his wife Dot) - Copperfield supporters of Eastern Angles talked about why they donate time and money to the arts

To the Houses of Parliament  for the launch of #artsindex – (an annual measure of the vitality of Arts and Culture in the UK) – a report by the National Campaign for the Arts.  Caused much amusement at the security gate – excuse me can you show me where the strangers ballroom is –(I asked).  Ooh sir (came the reply) theres NONE of that here.

( You can hear actor / director Sam West talking about the launch with the BBC’s Arts Editor Will Gompertz on @BBCR4today here.  His full speech to launch the index is here and the related evening standard piece is here.  The more considered piece by Mark Brown in the Guardian is here and the exec summary of the report is here.

Sam West announcing 'the patient is well' as he introduces the index

Now I should admit at this point it has long been a bug bear of mine that arts organisations are routinely asked to trap crate loads of data about their activities – which although useful in its own right at local level – is seemingly impossible to translate into a national picture.  So needless to say I’m going to be warm to a document that claims to be an ‘annual health check’ of the UK’s arts scene.

The index uses twenty indicators from a number of publically available sources to show how things have change (data sources including DCMS, UK National Statistics, ACE, Arts & Business, Higher Education Statistics Authority and SoLT).   It takes some time to get your head around what an index is (‘a measure of the value of a variable relative to its value at some base date or state’ ) but once you have the story the research tells (and the potential stories and uses in the future) become compelling.

Gideon Parfitt (with his wife Dot) - Copperfield supporters of Eastern Angles talked about why they donate time and money to the arts

Overall in the first three years of the Index (2007-2010) the index remained constant (despite the UK’s fall into recession in 2008) sign as the report suggests of sustained investment and confidence in the sector or – as colleagues and I have been discussing of a delayed impact.  The report also found a sustained decline in private sector support (by 17% and 13% in 07/8 and 08/9).  Business contributions and individual giving are key planks in Ed Vaizey / Jeremy Hunt’s plan for the arts (see catalyst) and this will be an indicator closely watched.

Ed Vaizey MP - 'we have astonishing success in the arts here in the uk - world leaders'

The report also found that public funding and adult attendance remained stable, employment figures went down whilst levels of public satisfaction rose.  What I found perhaps the most shocking (if not surprising) were the regional differences.  There is an enormous (but gradually closing) gap between the lowest ranked region (my own – the East) and Greater London.

Most people dont live in London - the regions arts scenes are essential too - Dan Jarvis MP

Three immediate thoughts.

Firstly – it seems to me – there is a need for arts organisations up and down the county to recognise the Arts Index as a useful and helpful barometer of progress and change.  Frankly if the three Ministers are all welcoming the Index (as they unequivocally did at the launch)– and intend to use it to make the case (and the odd political point)– we should sit up and take note.

Second – if that is the case we need to ensure a joined up approach to data collection.  So for example how do NPO KPI’s reflect and contribute to the index.  There is a key role here for bodies like Arts Council England, SOLT and A&B in recognising, supporting and using the Index

Thirdly one of the key strengths of the index is its readability.  Theres an opportunity here for the Index to be used to give our audience and participants information about the value of the arts sector.  A page on organisations web sites, articles in programmes and newsletters and the such like.

An animated Don Foster MP saying 'We have good things to look forward to'

There is of course always the argument that statistics are nothing but lies and can be shown to prove anything (though its worth reading the latest piece from Dr Dave O Brien on the Guardian Blog).  You can also read his paper for DCMS on Measuring the Value of Culture here.

John Nickson (Tate) - The 10% of wealthiest people give away only 1% of their wealth every year compared with more than 3% of annual income by the poorest 10%

And its true that the Index is only one part of the story.  In fact THE story is the work that goes on up and down the country – the work that makes it possible for Ed Vaizey to call the industry world leaders. What the index can do is back it up in a form that a wide range of stakeholders can and will understand (the politicians certainly did).  If one Arts Minister and Two arts spokespeople are saying they will take note – we should too.

It makes absolute sense for the Arts Index to be compiled by a body independent of government, the arts council and indeed individual arts organisation.  So bravo to the National Campaign for the Arts in picking up the baton and running with it. And if this marks the start of a rejuvenated, re energised National Campaign for the Arts so much the better.

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