Tag Archives: Arts Council


18 Dec


“Being an Artistic and Quality Assessor for Arts Council England,” I thought. “That might be an interesting job to do.” No, I really did. I know it’s sick. What’s an Artistic and Quality Assessor, though?

“Experienced cultural professionals [who] work with the Arts Council to contribute towards the assessment of arts organisations and museums. We will be asking you to undertake assessments of the work of Arts Council funded organisations across England.

Artistic and Quality Assessments provide a fair, robust and transparent platform for discussions about the quality of work produced by organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds, helping the Arts Council develop a broader evidence base to inform funding decisions…”

I’m an experienced cultural professional. Despite my opinion that ACE is far from perfect, they make an embarassing number of idiotic and non evidence-based policy blunders, they waste a lot of money and prioritise wrongly while harping on about cuts, and they need to just get on with rebalancing funding away from London instead of always blustering and quibbling every time the issue is raised (being able to see a play from the National Theatre that’s on for one midweek afternoon on a cinema screen in Ipswich or Wolverhampton doesn’t count)… broadly speaking I think the Arts Council makes a reasonable attempt at supporting the arts in England. I’m glad they exist, and I’d happily work with them or consult with them directly if they cared about people like me and our opinions. The AQA specification all sounds fair enough, but it also sounds like quite a lot of work. It must pay very well, especially on the “comprehensive terms contract”. I mean, you’re an expert in your field; an experienced artist, a journalist, somebody who works in a museum, an academic, etc. Artists and arts workers definitely should be assessed fairly and transparently by knowledgeable colleagues and peers who know what the job is like. You’ll be doing important work and writing reports that could influence the future programming and even the financial survival of the Arts Council’s regularly funded organisations.


Oh, wait…

“A flat fee of £1,000 a year, plus expenses” if you attend up to fourteen events. That’s £71.42 per gig. I actually had to do this three times on the calculator. Not that I thought the answer would be any different; I was just completely failing to deal with reality being so crap. It might be worth it if you only went to two or three things, but I can’t see them letting you get away with that.

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1 Oct



“This video work is an ontologically complex vehicle for the exploration of domestic space, oscillating between the predatory subtexts of the manufactured consumer sphere and its products, and an ironic postmodernist subversion of so-called “innocence” in nature.”

The Arts Council has just awarded a “seedcorn investment” £1.8 million grant to Rightster, the “global b2b video network for distribution, content-sourcing, audience engagement and monetisation”, via the National Lottery. That’s a large seed corn, approaching inexplicable James and the Giant Peach proportions. It’s in aid of a new YouTube-based multichannel network (MCN) for the arts. You never know, it may be brilliant. It may open up opportunities and wider audiences for lots of previously undersupported, excluded or underappreciated artists who deserve more recognition and reward. Stranger things have happened. Maybe they’ll genuinely bring in people other than the usual suspects and the same boring old brand name artists who really don’t need any more help. They need to do some proper research and outreach, look properly at what artists are really doing and really interested in right now instead of just going straight to the established galleries who don’t have a bloody clue about either of these things. They’re always 5-10 years behind the actual practice of most artists. Bypass institutional curators entirely, because they only know what and who they like, not what’s really happening at ground level. The AC’s previous effort, The Space, seems well-intentioned and appears to be doing something even though to me their website is such a usability horrorshow and so sparse in its content that I can’t tell what exactly they’re doing or what they’re hoping to achieve. I’m not even being sarcastic. Seriously, if anybody can explain it to me, feel free.

I really fear, though, that MCNACE* will simply favour an art world version of the lowest common denominator trash that racks up the views everywhere else on YouTube, facilitated by corporate interests like Rightster– unknown to most people, who still somehow manage to delude themselves that there’s any kind of indie, grassroots creativity or spontaneity to million hit+ channels. I’d love them to prove me wrong, but at the moment I really don’t see how it makes sense to tackle an inherently minority interest aesthetic realm like the arts with the same toolbox as uncomplicated, zero-subtext, zero-craft virals about people wearing GoPros as they leap off a cliff, or cats riding Roombas.

The biggest clue to the purpose and mentality behind these MCNs is in the very name: “channel”, like on your TV, programmed, commissioned, corralled and controlled in exactly the same way except that the investment in production and artists’ development is a fraction of what broadcasters have been accustomed to. It’s what they’ve been trying to do with varying degrees of failure since the internet became a genuinely mass medium. Does anybody remember “web portals”? And if so, do you know anyone who liked them? Start planning your new video art practice now, but only on subjects like kittens, pugs, various other pets in costumes or boxes or otherwise doing human-like stuff, screamingunhingedrunk commentaries while you play video games, what you bought when you went shopping, your dinner, reactions to or parodies of other YouTube videos, setting fire to things, cruel and psychopathic pranks, unfunny skits with you wearing a wig, drippy low-fi ukelele or piano covers of pop songs, etc.

Also, from the same link and presented in the same no biggie, FYI, just-thought-you-should-know spirit as the press release:

“Rightster applied for the MCN grant commission in May 2014. In July 2014 they bought Base79**, a company in which Arts Council Chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, had a shareholding (declared in the Arts Council’s register of interests in November 2013).  Rightster’s purchase of Base79 is a cash+shares transaction, the shares dependent on Base79’s future performance, so Sir Peter Bazalgette has a potential interest in Rightster. He has not been party to the decision to award the grant to Rightster.”

* Somebody from Rightster should contact me privately to discuss licensing this name for use on all the channel’s branding. <Tony Soprano voice> I’d like a taste of that £1.8 million, just like Baz… you know… POTENTIALLY.

** Base79 is an existing MCN, which seems fairly ghastly.


11 Feb

My article about Arts Council England’s “small” (£100,000-£499,999) funding for stylish foyers, gardening and service lifts (while artists often can’t even get paid for an exhibition) has been picked up and republished in The Guardian.



28 Jan

I bet you wish you could get half a million quid in grants because you need a new bathroom, your garden needs doing, you’d like “state of the art lighting”, or you have “inadequate foyer facilities.” As similar as this may sound to the recent scandal of British MPs and their expense claims for absurd items like duck houses while some of their constituents can’t even find homes fit for human habitation (and it is very similar, though not quite so scandalous), it’s actually Arts Council England’s capital grants scheme for organisations that are already in receipt of regular, long term funding.


I’ve sometimes had to escalate to just a hair’s breadth away from taking galleries or arts organisations to court in order to extract a few hundred pounds that they owe me; and this is a situation where I’m supposed to be paid and they agree that I should be. I know artists who’ve just given up fighting for their money. It’s increasingly common for galleries to not even mention budgets or payments, as if it’s something an artist shouldn’t even consider. We’re constantly being told that it’s austerity all the way and everyone has to suffer. And yet… £500K for goods lifts, washrooms and gardening still seems valid to some people, apparently. Read my latest article at a-n about the topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass priorities of arts council mandarins:


PS: Cut from the article for brevity and clarity, but an interesting footnote: in answering objections to huge sums being spent on offices and coffee shops while artists struggle to get a few hundred pounds for an exhibition or workshop if they’re lucky, the Arts Council says it’s addressing decades of under-investment in England’s arts infrastructure with these grants. As the main funding body for the arts in England over the past sixty years or so, whose fault could this under-investment possibly be other than that of the Arts Council itself?


8 Jan


What does £500,000 of Arts Council funding get the people of Merseyside? Ha ha, it’s a trick question! The answer is nothing at all, apart from some excuses and a plea for more money. And it’s not even meant to be a high concept semi-rehash of the K Foundation burning a million quid. Please join me at a-n to read all about it.


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