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Notes from the Chair

Well I confess to some pretty mixed feelings as I write these ‘notes’ for what will be the last time, as I stand down as chair at  Thursday’s AGM.  It is time for me to move on and right for Arts Development UK, but after eleven years in various management roles with nalgao and AD:uk, it will also be quite a wrench!

 It is appropriate maybe that my last ‘notes’ are to report back on the liaison meeting last week with Arts Council England, the Local Government Association (reverting to its traditional name from Local Authority Group) and the Chief Culture and Leisure Officers’ Association (CLOA). Reflecting the changing world we now inhabit, we were joined by Hedley Swain, recently transferred from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to ACE as Director – Museums & Renaissance, and Nicky Morgan, Director – Libraries.  I’ll come back to this new world, but you might remember that the Editor of Arts at the Heart, raised some questions in the last edition about the balance of the new National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), and wondered if there was a policy shift  from smaller and rurally based organisations.  

Roddy Gauld, the Director – RFOs, from the North West Office, joined us by teleconference, and having also explored the data, thought it quite difficult to truly draw conclusions by comparing the older RFO and new NPO lists, or indeed to unpack the whys and wherefores of who had done well and who had done badly.  He pointed out that NW based rural touring schemes largely hadn’t applied for NPO status (although we might want to know why not), and that comparison between artform balance showed that combined arts had fared well (a 24% funding increase) and with a slight  financial shift from London and the West Midlands to other previously less well supported areas.  I have insufficient space here to explore this in detail, but ACE do feel they have a largely balance portfolio (with 111 organisations entering for the first time) and assure us there is no deliberate policy shift.    We have already raised some questions about how smaller, emergent organisations can be supported to become eligible for NPO status, and ACE tell us they are committed to doing this, both in ensuring they get out more to see new work and to working with local authorities which will know about local talent.

 We did touch also on the NPO agreement process, and to add to the information shared by ACE at the last AD:uk National Meeting, the Key Performance Indicators at the heart of the new agreements should be those from the applications made by the organisations themselves, not imposed by ACE.  The ‘self-management/ improvement’ philosophy we are all so familiar with is a driver here, as is the expectation of ‘outcomes’.  These should – it would seem only logical – reflect local priorities and consequently reflect local authority priorities.  Talk to your organisations and Relationship Managers if you are in doubt this is happening and not already in that loop.

 ACE asked if I would clarify other information given to our last National Meeting, not least that while there will be a priority to try to engage with people and places with least engagement (identified most likely through the Active People Survey) the term ‘cold spots’ won’t be used and how strategic funds might be invested in those areas is still being worked up, which ACE will brief us about.

 Also, the planning process flowing out from Great Art for Everyone continues with the work on Arts Council business plans and ‘area delivery plans’, not ‘area strategic views’, early drafts of which are with regional councils and which will be consulted on with local stakeholders, including NPOs. That might be one-to-one or by joint meetings.  There will be further details of the Arts Council Plan in November with engagement with ‘local authorities over the autumn period where we have strategic partnerships, aiming to align our plans with those of local authorities’.  As Richard Russell noted, these conversations will now be in the context of ACE’s wider responsibilities and the aim to have a ‘single cultural conversation’ with local authorities.  ACE advise that we ensure engagement is happening by getting in touch with our regional offices.

 Which brings me back to the wider attendance at the liaison meeting and flags up for me some question about whether the arts might be disadvantaged in this wider context, while acknowledging of course library and museum colleagues also fear their services might not fare well.  But I’ve already wondered about a possible loss of interest by the DCMS in the arts.  All the more important, then, that AD:uk continues its  advocacy role at the highest levels.  I know that will be most effectively carried out by the Regional Co-ordinators and the Trustees, where Jane Wilson, currently our Treasurer, has been nominated as Chair, a role I know she will fulfil with great commitment, knowledge and skill.

 I look forward to seeing many of you in Blackpool at the conference later this week, and to those I won’t see there – all very best wishes for success and flying the flag for the arts.  This is me – signing off.

Lorna Brown
Chair of Arts Development UK
Tel: 01243 756770, email: lorna.brown@westsussex.gov.uk