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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How Ken Loach's radical vision won him a second Palm d'Or

In Loach's films, authenticity is everything, and when his quest for realism pays off, there's nothing as raw in all of cinema.

On 22 May, at the age of 79, Ken Loach became the first British director to win the top prize twice at the Cannes Film Festival. His previous Palme d’Or, in 2006, was for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, which dramatised the British occupation of Ireland and the origins of the IRA. This time, he won for I, Daniel Blake, the story of an ailing carpenter wrongly declared fit for work by the callous UK benefits system. No wonder Ed Vaizey, the culture minister, could issue only the most grudging acknowledgement, alluding vaguely to “Brit success!” in a tweet that failed to mention either Loach or the film.

The actor and Cannes jury member Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, called I, Daniel Blake “an absolutely terrific movie that resonates in your heart and soul”. It was an incongruous delight to see Loach posing before swarms of paparazzi. He usually disdains such frivolities; he might be red but he’s hardly red carpet. “As a film-maker, you’re forever involved in things that constantly inflate their own importance,” he once complained. Artifice, hyperbole and celebrity hold no appeal. Even film-making itself is full of irritating impediments. “If Loach could make a film without a camera, he would,” said Trevor Griffiths, who collaborated with him on Fatherland (1986).

Authenticity is everything. Unusually, Loach shoots in sequence, even if it requires moving back and forth at great cost between locations. In the days of celluloid, he would forfeit much of his fee to buy more film stock so that his beloved improvisations could roll on and on. When I visited the set of Carla’s Song near Loch Lomond in 1995, Loach gave the actor Robert Carlyle a good-natured ticking off for speaking to me between takes. “I’d rather he didn’t talk to anyone,” he said, “because then he’ll start thinking about things in terms of technique and who he really is, and it’ll all become conscious.”

When the quest for realism pays off, there is nothing as raw in all cinema. Think of the chilling attack on a family home by loan sharks in his 1993 drama Raining Stones, one of the films that began his most successful period, or the climax of Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC in 1966 and arguably his most groundbreaking film. As Cathy (Carol White) has her children taken off her by social workers and police, Loach films the entire traumatic episode in a wide shot with a hidden camera to preserve the reality. The movie led directly to the founding of Crisis.

Conversely, Loach at his worst can be one of the most simplistic sentimentalists out there. The characterisation of the salt-of-the-earth heroes in recent films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Route Irish, or the pantomime-villain Brits in The Wind That Shakes the Barley, shows what happens when action is overpowered by agenda.

Born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, Loach read law at Oxford but became seduced by theatre directing and acting: he was in a revue for which Dudley Moore composed the music, and understudied in the West End in One Over the Eight. He joined the BBC in 1963, where he brought extra earthiness to Z-Cars before finding his ideal outlet in The Wednesday Play slot that went out after the news. “We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered dramas but as continuations of the news,” he said. He made ten TV films under that banner but it was with his second movie, Kes, in 1969, that he took flight, proving that the gritty and the lyrical need not be mutually exclusive.

His politics was fully formed by this point. Though he has rejected claims that he is Marxist or Trotskyist, he admits that the analysis to which he turned after his disillusionment with Harold Wilson in the mid-1960s was a Marxist one. “The idea of a class analysis was the one we identified with,” he said of himself and his collaborators the producer Tony Garnett and the writer Jim Allen. “What we realised was that social democrats and Labour politicians were simply acting on behalf of the ruling class, protecting the interests of capital.”

This stance was consolidated by a series of run-ins in the 1980s, when he saw his work banned and thwarted by political forces. The transmission of his four-part 1983 television documentary Questions of Leadership, which asked whether the trade union leadership was adequately representing its members’ interests, was delayed and blocked by Labour string-pulling. Which Side Are You On? – a documentary about the miners’ strike – was rejected because of footage showing police violence.

Since his full-time return to cinema in the early 1990s, acclaim has eclipsed controversy. Even if he had not won a Palme d’Or, his stamp is all over other directors who have won that award in the past 20 years. The Belgian social realists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Rosetta, The Child) have never hidden their debt to him, while recent winners such as Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Cristian Mingiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) exhibit his mixture of directness, compassion and realism.

If there is anything that defines him, it is his fight, which has made it possible for him to remain one of cinema’s angriest and most effective voices. “In the long term, I guess I’m optimistic because people always fight back,” he said. “The reason to make films is just to let people express that, to share that kind of resilience because that’s what makes you smile. It’s what makes you get up in the morning.”

“I, Daniel Blake” is released later this year

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad