Fund guy: Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England, in 2008. (Photo: Getty)
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Our arts organisations are in a dance of death

The deadline for Arts Council applications has just passed, and the funding outlook is looking bleaker than ever.

Arts organisations and museums all over the country will have been scrambling to get their grant applications in to the Arts Council by 12pm Tuesday. And they should be worried. The news in all of the culture pages in newspapers is bleak. Stories abound about local authority cuts and Arts Council cuts, and rightly so, because without investment the arts and cultural industries are at risk.

I could spend my time arguing about the numerous benefits these industries bring to the economy: how this is an industry that generates up to £8m an hour; the innumerable benefits engaging in the arts has on a person’s outlook on life; or for the way that tourists flock to the UK, not for the rain, but for visits to our museums, galleries, and theatres. But instead, I think it’s time for us to face the music and dance.

Government funding of the arts is being cut. Despite the Arts Council doing a stellar job of advocating and arguing the case for sustained investment in the arts, they are facing even more cuts to their grant in aid. And we may see what is further in store when the budget is announced on Wednesday.

And local authority cuts are also hitting home this year. Yes, some councils recognise the vital work that the arts and culture do, but the facts are that cumulative local government funding for the arts fell by more than 20% between 2009/10 and 2011/12. This is hugely disproportionate to the cuts that local government have even had to make during this period, and shows that arts and culture is being singled out. So what dances can we do to this terrible track?

Some members of the public have called for the Arts Council to back-fill the local authority cuts that are placing specific arts organisations under threat. Just look at the Brewhouse Theatre, where local MPs and those in the community all looked to the Arts Council, with hands held out, hoping for some emergency funds to save them.

But should the Arts Council shuffle vital (and limited) funding to these organisations to keep them standing? I would argue not. Surely the little money that we have should go to the strongest organisations, those that are sure to put on outstanding work and engage people with the arts in new and exciting ways? The strongest certainly does not mean the largest; there are, by percentage, many more small cultural organisations that are really delivering both artistically and sustainably.

The UK government suggests marching to the beat of the philanthropic drum. But there is no way that philanthropy can generate the kind of money that arts organisations are losing from local authority and Arts Council cuts.

One of the most dangerous pieces of rhetoric flying around Westminster at the moment is that philanthropy could replace state funding. It cannot, because state funding is risk money. Organisations use this money to make the work that other sectors would not fund. Look at Manchester International Festival. It is so exciting because the work you see there is completely unique – you wouldn’t see chances and risks like this being made anywhere else, especially not when business funding is involved.

Perhaps for some arts organisations, then, this is a dance to the death. Arts organisations are businesses, and businesses need to be sustainable. Those that aren’t will inevitably fold. It’s a Darwinian economy that we buy into, and inevitably only the strongest business plans will survive.

One of the things we are teaching at Goldsmiths is to have the contingency of folding in your organisation’s business plan.

If an arts organisation does have to fold, one of the outcomes should be that the artistic excellence goes on to nourish and support other organisations in the sector. For instance, artistic directors should be able to take the skills they have honed and refined elsewhere, perhaps shaking things up in another organisation. And for those in administration or in governance, they should be able to learn from the mistakes that they perhaps may have made in the past, and take that elsewhere, strengthening business plans in other organisations.

It is in this sense that collaboration is key, in the life of an arts organisation of course, but also in its death. The system has been set up to make organisations compete for funds, audiences and essentially survival. Maybe we can change the paradigm to one of collaboration and mutual support, or even symbiosis. The recent Plan B statement suggests a much more collaborative relationship with organisational supporters and audiences. This is clearly going in the right direction.

The more we work together, the more we can help each other out, driving towards a common goal in this sector – that of having a thriving arts and cultural scene, enjoyed and appreciated by all. To survive, we need to stop dancing solo, and grab a partner.

Gerald Lidstone is director of the Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, University of London. HeThe Conversation receives funding from AHRC, Ford Foundation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Marvel has moved past the post-credits teaser, and it's all the better for it

Individual stories are suddenly taking precedence over franchise building.

The lasting contribution of 2008’s Iron Man to contemporary cinema comes not from the content of the film itself, but in its Avengers-teasing post-credits scene featuring an eyepatch-sporting Samuel L. Jackson. While post-credits scenes were not invented by Marvel, their widespread adoption in other blockbusters is a testament to Marvel using them to titillate and frustrate.

Fast forward nine years and Marvel’s direction has significantly altered. Having moved to a three-film-a-year structure ahead of next year’s climactic Infinity War, their two releases this summer have featured less explicit connective tissue, using post-credits scenes that are, in typical Marvel fashion, self-reflexive and fun – but this time with no teases for films to come.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films have trailed characters donning superhero mantles, confrontations to come, or more light-hearted team ups, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decided to lovingly poke fun at Marvel grandmaster Stan Lee, leaving him stranded on a godforsaken space rock in the outer reaches of the stars. Spider-Man: Meanwhile Homecoming targeted filmgoers who had stayed until the end in expectation of a tease, only to receive a Captain America educational video on the virtues of “patience”.

That isn’t to say that connective tissue isn’t there. Marvel seems to be pursuing world building not through post-credits stingers, but through plot and character. In the past, teasing how awful big bad Thanos is ahead of the Avengers battling him in Infinity War would have been done through a menacing post-credits scene, as in both Avengers films to date. Instead Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses character as a tool to explore the world at large.

Nebula’s seething rage is, rather than just a weak excuse for an antagonist’s arc, actually grounded in character, explaining to Sean Gunn’s loveable space pirate Kraglin that Thanos would pit his daughters, her and Gamora, against each other, and replace a part of her body with machine each time she failed – and she failed every time. It’s effective. Thanos’ menace is developed, and you feel sympathy for Nebula, something Marvel has historically failed to do well for its antagnoists. Her parting promise – to kill her father – not only foreshadows the events of Infinity War, but also hints at the conclusion of a fully formed arc for her character.

In the high-school-set Spider-Man: Homecoming, the stakes quite rightly feel smaller. The inexperienced wall-crawler gets his chance to save the day not with the galaxy at risk, but with an equipment shipment owned by Iron Man alter-ego and billionaire inventor Tony Stark hanging in the balance. While such a clear metaphor for widespread change in the MCU might be a little on the nose, the set-up is effective at plaing the film at street level while also hinting at overall changes to the structure of the universe.

Stark gifting Peter a new (and oh so shiny) suit is a key set piece at the end of the film, whereas in 2015's Ant-Man’s Hope Pym inheriting her mother’s own miniaturising suit it is relegated to a teaser. Peter’s decision to turn it down not only completes Peter’s transition past seeking the approval of Stark’s unwitting father figure, but it also leaves the Avengers in an as-yet unknown state, still fragmented and incomplete after the events of 2016’s Civil War. To anticipate Spider-Man joining the Avengers proper is to anticipate the forming of the team as a whole – keeping our collective breath held until we stump up for tickets to Infinity War.

With this happy marriage of the macro and the micro, individual stories are suddenly taking precedence in the MCU, rather than being lost in the rush to signpost the foundations for the next instalment in the franchise. It’s a refreshingly filmic approach, and one which is long overdue. To suggest that Marvel is hesitant to overinflate Infinity War too early is supported by their refusal to share the footage of the film screened to audiences at the D23 and San Diego Comic Con events in recent weeks. Instead, the limelight is staying firmly on this November’s Thor: Ragnarok, and next February’s Black Panther.

Stan Lee, at the end of his Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post credits scene, cries, “I’ve got so many more stories to tell!”, a hopeful counterpoint to a weary Captain America asking “How many more of these are there?” at the end of Homecoming. With Disney having planned-out new MCU releases all the way into 2020, entries in the highest-grossing franchise of all time won’t slow any time soon. We can, at least, hope that they continue their recent trend of combining writerly craft with blockbuster bombast. While the resulting lack of gratuitousness in Marvel’s storytelling might frustrate in the short term, fans would do well to bear in mind Captain America’s call for patience.