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.

Screenshot of Black Mirror's Fifteen Million Merits.
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How likely are the plots of each Black Mirror episode to happen?

As the third series is on its way, how realistic is each instalment so far of the techno-dystopian drama? We rate the plausibility of every episode.

What if horses could vote? What if wars were fought using Snapchat? What if eggs were cyber?

Just some of the questions that presumably won’t be answered in the new series of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror, somewhere between The Twilight Zone with an app and The Thick Of It on acid.

A typical instalment takes an aspect of modern technology, politics, or life in general and pushes it a few steps into the future – but just how plausible has each episode been so far?

Series 1 (2011)

Episode 1: The National Anthem

Premise: A member of the Royal Family is kidnapped and will only be released unharmed if the Prime Minister agrees to have sexual intercourse with a pig on live television.

Instead of predicting the future, Black Mirror’s first episode unwittingly managed to foreshadow an allegation about the past: Charlie Brooker says at the time he was unaware of the story surrounding David Cameron and a pig-based activity that occurred at Oxford university. But there’s absolutely no evidence that the Cameron story is true, and real political kidnappings tend to have rather more prosaic goals. On the other hand, it’s hard to say that something akin to the events portrayed could NEVER happen.

Plausibility rating: 2 out of 5

Episode 2: Fifteen Million Merits

Premise: Sometime in the future, most of the population is forced to earn money by pedalling bikes to generate electricity, while constantly surrounded by unskippable adverts. The only hope of escape is winning an X-Factor-style game show.

In 2012, a Brazilian prison announced an innovative method of combating overcrowding. Prisoners were given the option to spend some of their time on electricity-producing bikes; for every 16 hours they spent on the bike, a day would be knocked off their sentence.

The first step to bicycle-dystopia? Probably not. The amount of electricity a human body can produce through pedalling (or any other way, for that matter) is pretty negligible, especially when you take account of the cost of the food you’d have to eat to have enough energy to pedal all day. Maybe the bike thing is a sort of metaphor. Who can say?

Plausibility rating: 0 out of 5

Episode 3: The Entire History of You

Premise: Everyone has a device implanted in their heads that records everything that happens to them and allows them to replay those recordings at will.

Google Glasses with a built-in camera didn’t work out, because no one wanted to walk around looking like a creepy berk. But the less visibly creepy version is coming; Samsung patented “smart” contact lenses with a built-in camera earlier this year.

And there are already social networks and even specialised apps that are packaging up slices of our online past and yelling them at us regardless of whether we even want them: Four years ago you took this video of a duck! Remember when you became Facebook friends with that guy from your old work who got fired for stealing paper? Look at this photo of the very last time you experienced true happiness!

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 5

Series 2 (2013)

Episode 1: Be Right Back

Premise: A new service is created that enables an artificial “resurrection” of the dead via their social media posts and email. You can even connect it to a robot, which you can then kiss.

Last year, Eugenia Kuyda, an AI entrepreneur, was grieving for her best friend and hit upon the idea of feeding his old text messages into one of her company’s neural network-based chat bots, so that she and others could, in a way, continue to talk to him. Reaction to this was, unsurprisingly, mixed – this very episode was cited by those who were disturbed by the tribute. Even the robot bit might not be that far off, if that bloke who made the creepy Scarlett Johansson android has anything to say about it.

Plausibility rating: 4 out of 5

Episode 2: White Bear

Premise: A combination of mind-wiping technology and an elaborately staged series of fake events are used to punish criminals by repeatedly giving them an experience that will make them feel like their own victims did.

There is some evidence that it could be possible to selectively erase memories using a combination of drugs and other therapies, but would this ever be used as part of a bizarre criminal punishment? Well, this kind of “fit the crime” penalty is not totally unheard of – judges in America have been to known to force slum landlords to live in their own rental properties, for example. But, as presented here, it seems a bit elaborate and expensive to work at any kind of scale.

Plausibility rating: 1 out of 5

Episode 3: The Waldo Moment

Premise: A cartoon bear stands as an MP.

This just couldn’t happen, without major and deeply unlikely changes to UK election law. Possibly the closest literal parallel in the UK was when Hartlepool FC’s mascot H'Angus the Monkey stood for, and was elected, mayor – although the bloke inside, Stuart Drummond, ran under his own name and immediately disassociated himself from the H’Angus brand to become a serious and fairly popular mayor.

There are no other parallels with grotesque politicians who may as well be cartoon characters getting close to high political office. None.

Plausibility rating: 0 out of 5

Christmas special (2015)

Episode: White Christmas

Premise 1: Everyone has a device implanted in their eyes that gives them constant internet access. One application of this is to secretly get live dating/pick-up artistry advice.

As with “The Entire History of You”, there’s nothing particularly unfeasible about the underlying technology here. There’s already an app called Relationup that offers live chat with “relationship advisers” who can help you get through a date; another called Jyst claims to have solved the problem by allowing users to get romantic advice from a community of anonymous users. Or you could, you know, just smile and ask them about themselves.

Plausibility rating: 4 out of 5

Premise 2: Human personalities can be copied into electronic devices. These copies then have their spirits crushed and are forced to become the ultimate personalised version of Siri, running your life to your exact tastes.

The Blue Brain Project research group last year announced they’d modelled a small bit of rat brain as a stepping stone to a full simulation of the human brain, so, we’re getting there.

But even if it is theoretically possible, using an entire human personality to make sure your toast is always the right shade of brown seems like overkill. What about the risk of leaving your life in the hands of a severely traumatised version of yourself? What if that bathwater at “just the right” temperature turns out to be scalding hot because the digital you didn’t crack in quite the right way?

Plausibility rating: 1 out of 5

Premise 3: There’s a real-life equivalent of a social media block: once blocked, you can’t see or hear the person who has blocked you. This can also be used as a criminal punishment and people classed as sex offenders are automatically blocked by everyone.

Again, the technology involved is not outrageous. But even if you have not worried about the direct effect of such a powerful form of social isolation on the mental health of criminals, letting them wander around freely in this state is likely to have fairly unfortunate consequences, sooner or later. It’s almost as if it’s just a powerful image to end a TV drama on, rather than a feasible policy suggestion.

Plausibility rating: 2 out of 5

Series 3 of Black Mirror is out on Friday 21 October on Netflix.