NFASP responds to ACE nationwide arts consultation 2010

NFASP calls for more focus on the role of artists and secure long-term studio provision in response to Arts Council England's nationwide consultation - Achieving great art for everyone - which will inform its ten-year strategy for the arts.

In our response to the consultation, NFASP calls for more focus on the role of the artist, secure long-term studio provision, further capital investment, and recognition of the essential support given to the visual arts by umbrella arts bodies like NFASP.

Here is a summary of the response from NFASP director Val Millington:

A strengthened role for the artist:
Despite the reference to ‘extraordinary talent and a new arts landscape’ and that the arts are now operating in many, varied contexts, including outside of arts buildings, there is too much emphasis in ACE's consultation on the presentation of arts (especially venues) and engagement, rather than the artist.

Without artists, there would be no work to present and no artists and work to engage with. The consultation doesn't reflect a sense that artists play a major part in instigating and developing extraordinary work, not all of which is a consequence of collaboration with venues and production/presentation agencies. We would like to see the role of the artist strengthened.

NFASP would like to point out that ACE's use of the word ‘arts organisation’ also does not appear to embrace artist-led initiatives and artists’ organisations.
Once again, the vision seems to be dominated by more traditionally conceived arts organisations (mostly venues) as the leaders and pioneers.

Referring to England as ‘a great place for artists to live and work’ seems tokenistic. Artists are involved in nurturing talent in their role as teachers, collaborators, mentors, programmers and more. It would be good to see artists given a more serious place in the ACE vision.

More secure, long-term studio provision:
NFASP certainly welcomes ACE's commitment to developing infrastructure, such as workspace provision. However, we feel this could be strengthened by a commitment to developing secure, long-term infrastructure. The history of workspace provision shows us that nearly all workspace, particularly for visual artists, is temporary.

In the current, difficult economic climate, we again find ourselves in a situation where plenty of space seems to be available (and indeed the use of temporary space for creative activities has been encouraged by the government and ACE), but most of the space is insecure, on short-term leases, with the ever-present threat of significant rent rises or eviction as soon as the property market picks up. In fact, there is evidence that property prices in London are increasing again.

We would like to see a firmer commitment from Arts Council to secure, long-term workspace provision to ensure a core infrastructure for artists’ production. We would also like to see Arts Council use its influence within the planning and development process, to try and secure infrastructure that supports the development of talent. 

No 'one-size-fits-all' approach to the arts:
We agree with ACE that, for the arts sector to be sustainable and thrive within a mixed economy, they will have to be even more enterprising. However, it is also important that Arts Council does not implement a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to organisational development and funding.

Better research and benchmarking is needed to understand what basic level of funding is necessary to maintain activity for each organisation, how long an organisation needs to establish itself, and what the optimum level of earned and self-generated income from non-public sources including the private sector is in different types of organisation.

Recognition of the value of arts umbrella bodies, like NFASP:
Umbrella bodies lack immediate appeal to funders, because they are not dealing with artistic product. Nevertheless, they make good use of resources, by promoting good practice and sharing skills, knowledge and expertise across a wide number of individuals and organisations.

The National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers (NFASP) is a good example. NFASP provides advice, support and resources to groups that have minimal resources. We deliver a shareable benefit, providing good value for our subsidy in terms of the number and spread of beneficiaries.

It is unrealistic to expect organisations such as ours to be able to generate income in the same way, or to the same extent as a presenting venue.

Capital development:
NFASP also welcomes the possibility of a new capital grants programme and urges ACE not just to think of it in terms of modest sums for individual buildings. Artists’ studio providers such as Acme in England (and WASPS in Scotland) have demonstrated clearly that, given investment of a capital sum for a programme of development, infrastructure development is possible, cost-effective and sustainable. We would like to see this as a possibility, so that other parts of the country could benefit.