We've been thinking about wider societal trends that might be relevant.
The challenge will be to encourage practitioners and others involved with the arts to find ways to think innovatively, to provide incentives to do so, and to challenge the status quo.
The sector has to ensure that there are networks and mechanisms to promote consultation within and across communities, voluntary groups, sector users and practitioners. It must work in genuine partnerships, in the public and private realms, to continuously support and assist the arts. It must work with other sectors e.g. health and education, towards mutually determined goals. It must break down the division between concepts of, say, ‘high’ art and ‘community’ art, where each is considered to be for mutually excluding audiences.
Increasing and drastic cuts to funding are a key issue for the arts. In particular, local authorities - which are well placed in a locality as potential partners in projects - are so beleaguered that they cannot prioritise or maintain funding to the arts and culture, nor promote innovation and creativity.
Social inequalities are key. People who do not choose apathy, and who would otherwise wish to enjoy and participate in the arts, increasingly have to prioritise basic survival in an uncertain and apparently less supportive world, and are often excluded from the arts. Creativity, talent and participation outside London suffer from funding regimes which favour the south.
Brexit may well threaten the vibrancy and stability of the arts.
An over reliance on commercial profits, while offering apparent opportunities, may threaten more challenging creative endeavour.
While sharing digital experiences may work in favour of participation and increase access to the arts, there is a danger that for many, without skills or desire for digital experiences, exclusion from the arts may follow.
New digital technologies, and the diversity of our population offer huge opportunities.
Reforms, such as distribution of funding in favour of the north, or at least fairly to the north, involving young people in the arts and increasing arts education, will open up opportunities to create and participate in a more vibrant arts sector.
Should such reforms not occur, the threats to the sector will increase. But the need for change is in itself a threat and maintaining the focus on London and the south would be the easier but misguided option. It would reinforce the cynicism which is evident in the north, and further reinforce the north/south divide.
There are real threats of closures of public museums and galleries. Arts organisations and artists are forced to compete for scarce resources and to rely on inadequate salaries.
A stronger and well evidenced case has to be made to engage all parties and to raise the profile of the arts and culture in the north, a difficult task when essential services are being cut. Leaders of the sector must combine to represent all their various communities more closely, to act transparently and remain accountable.
A very big question which others are better qualified to answer, but for us includes environments and activities which are re-vitalising and inspiring, and which help people to gain knowledge and obtain new perspectives on life.
The traditional role of galleries and museums on a day to day basis is to display works of artistic importance from artists and craftsmen and women and make them available for public viewing, be this on a temporary or permanent basis. They are essential facilities providing easily accessible activities of comfort, knowledge, challenge and inspiration in a rapidly evolving world. Galleries, museums and libraries should collect books, objects, art, object art artefacts, data etc of cultural, religious and historic importance and preserve them, research into them. And show them to the public for the purpose of education and enjoyment. This is important as these buildings’ contents act as crucial barometers of social change.
It is imperative that these public buildings become social “hubs” of information and are inclusive to all members of society equally. They must keep re-evaluating their social role and re-position themselves in relation to their audience. And for users to feel that they are there for them, when they need them.
We think at present there is insufficient networking and collaborative work with the voluntary sector. And with artists and practitioners who may not, by current narrow definitions, be deemed “professionals”.
They are conduits for understanding life and provide a means of information and self-help, in familiar environments. They provide access to different forms of creative expression.
They offer space for the many hard working (often voluntary) groups which keep the smaller creative projects going.
They provide one of the too few important opportunities that families can enjoy together and without great expense.
There should be more funding of regional arts collections and venues, and for local, community, education and participatory activities. In Sheffield, a strong hub for the visual arts and cultural activities to complement the very popular theatres is essential.
What is the role of public funding in arts, museums and libraries?
To provide the infrastructure for housing and exhibiting collections. To educate, inform and entertain, and to foster creativity, self-expression and good levels of mental health. To provide access for all and to encourage inclusivity.
There is at present inadequate affordable exhibition and performance space for community and voluntary groups. There is also a dearth of engagement with the artistic heritage of citizens from other cultures, and possibly, neglect of the potential of street art.
All these should attract public funding: arts, museums and libraries (which include seeing them as curated archives); ways of supporting the creation of new arts, artefacts and literature; anything that leads to expression and storytelling
Any body which provides money from the public purse should have an obligation to publish its aims and intentions, and also how it distributes those funds, with regard to the arts and culture. They should be accountable for this as with any other public services. We know, however, that scrutiny processes for local authorities (who provide much of the funding for local collections) are not very efficient. Scrutiny should be firmly within the public discourse.
We think it is sad that there is still the idea that these are distinct and perhaps opposing perspectives. For us, both are essential and complementary. This is an important challenge that the Arts Council faces. It demands a serious re- examination of the elitism which is presently prevalent, and more recognition of the value of popular culture.
Over recent years, galleries etc have tried to implement change. Those with money have extended the fabric of the buildings, making them larger, opening up space. Nearly all now have numerous restaurants and shops. They have tried to make exhibits more accessible with walk-around talking recorders in many languages, information plaques, hands on exhibits, workshops, lectures and many more inter-active opportunities for children. However, there are still many parts of our society they are not reaching in large enough numbers.
Five things need more attention:
We see this as a good intention, but the question is, how to deliver and whether it has been delivered.
It would mean that we in Sheffield could have easy access to our local collections and that those collections can be built on; and that there should be access to venues and collections irrespective of people’s means. Unfortunately we believe that acquiring art for our galleries is a bit like a post-code lottery. In these strapped-for-cash days, we doubt that many such establishments especially in the North can afford to buy any new acquisitions. The difference in funding per capita between the north and the south is disgraceful and something that concerns us greatly.
In cities such as Sheffield we cannot even afford the basics such as paying enough staff to open all three art galleries every day
It is very important; indeed vital and central; it means funding not just standard and traditionally accepted forms of creativity, but also new, popular, difficult, subversive
and challenging forms.
Could the Arts Council not use some of the grant to make safe and secure what we already have, instead of trying always to be looking for something new? These buildings (galleries and museums) are at the very heart and soul of our towns and cities, and although we are firmly in a technological age, are still used by many who have not got this technology at their fingertips. Certainly the prediction that books would become redundant has proved inaccurate. Could we not give encouragement to all school-age children to become familiar with these institutions by issuing them with free gallery and library tickets as a matter of course? Anything we change or introduce to do with culture has to be from school age; in that way it will intrinsically become part of our norm and not something that only “posh” kids do.
It is necessary for education, participation, engagement, and inclusivity to be addressed, to produce that definition of ‘quality’. And to ensure that developing forms of creativity are not excluded.
It needs willingness, and indeed sometimes courage, to challenge the status quo, and to be open to genuinely new approaches, especially when these are “bottom up”. This is not assisted when people are exhausted with trying to manage with inadequate budgets. Nor does that exhaustion facilitate innovative thinking.
Its role should be advisory and inspirational, and specifically it should help shape a varied art experience, with access to high quality and new and imaginative forms, across the country. It should encourage community consultation, involvement and interest.
It should help shape the infrastructure of arts – collections and venues, as well as training and development. It should monitor areas of cultural deprivation and show a willingness to share resources more equitably across the country. Equally, it should establish consultation mechanisms with individuals and groups who are at present excluded.
The Arts Council leadership in its experience, eminence and celebrity is extremely well placed to take on an advisory and inspirational role in championing sharing resources and assisting those at present excluded from enjoying the arts.
Partnerships are going to be such an important aspect of the future that the Arts Council really must do more to encourage and sustain them. ‘Going Public: International Art Collections in Sheffield 2015-2017’, which explored how public galleries and philanthropists can better develop meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships, was a highly successful example of how such partnerships can be fostered. Such collaborations should be encouraged by the Arts Council.
Also, there should be much more sharing between galleries so that good art exhibitions can be seen without having to travel to London. People can ill afford to travel to an exhibition and pay the entrance fee unless they are die-hard enthusiasts.
The Arts Council must also find ways to make partnerships with organisations to find out more about the provision of arts and culture across the country, which often happens through a myriad of smaller voluntary organisations, and to give a voice to those who cannot at the moment participate in arts activities.
We appreciate being consulted in the initial discussion over a possible re-development of the Graves central library / gallery building, and we are keen to be involved in future consultations and proposals.
We recognise the financial difficulties the city finds itself in and indeed, we would suggest the City Council makes more explicit just how changes in funding from Westminster Government have adversely affected their ability to provide services, and the difficult choices councillors are having to make. Certainly, we recognise the need to be creative about finding solutions. In 2015/2016, Museums Sheffield hosted the city-wide “Going Public” exhibition and conference which was designed to stimulate discussion between private philanthropy and the public art sector, examining global trends in philanthropic funding as well as exploring the various means by which public art institutions could unlock the potential of philanthropy within the specific context of the north of England.
It was well received locally, nationally and internationally, but, significantly, also supported and well received by bodies like the Arts Council who were impressed that MS was seeking to move beyond traditional avenues for exhibition materials, for exhibition venues, and funding streams. It was also supported by the Henry Moore Foundation, and by the City Council itself, as well as by Sheffield Hallam University, and by Montabonel and Partners. That is an important reputation. We are concerned that the City, which supported 'Going Public', is not now taking full advantage of that experience.
See Report on 'Going Public' http://www.museums-sheffield.org.uk/assets/PDFs/Going%20Public%20-%20The%20Report%20by%20Louisa%20Buck.pdf
We are interested in any development related to cultural provision in the city, and this includes the whole of the current functions in the Graves building. However our focus is on the future of the Graves Gallery, and access to, and availability of, the city's art collection (which is of major national worth, and international importance) for both the people of Sheffield and for visitors to the city. You have asked for suggestions about the future consultation processes.
Can we suggest that you make some space specifically to discuss the gallery? In the recent public meetings, most of the discussion was about the library and the physicality of the building, rather unsatisfactorily for those of us whose main interest is the visual arts perspective.
We did have some access to the plans for the building, in the Surrey Street Central project. What efforts are at present being made to find funding for that project, which was intended not only to deal with the physical problems with the building but also to bring together (to some degree) the library functions and display of visual arts? The 'Going Public' experience may be helpful here.
In responding to the suggestion that the Graves Gallery be retained within the building if converted into a hotel, we would like to see assurances that the floor space be at least the same as now. There need to be particular assurances associated with hosting a publicly owned collection within a building which houses a privately owned hotel. These relate to such factors as physical access being separate from the hotel access: you shouldn’t have to enter the hotel reception to enter the gallery; the hours of access for the public (including school and specialist groups) need to be at least equivalent to access now; there needs to be the usual provision of toilets, cafe, shop etc. within the Gallery as is customary in a major regional gallery; the Gallery should also be available for special activities, such as the evening promenade event last year associated with Shakespeare's 400-year legacy; the independence of exhibition content and gallery management; the proper provision of environmental controls and monitoring (to ensure the condition of works of art), and other such factors. All these must be guaranteed, and explicitly built in to any proposals.
Lastly, we wonder what the fall-back position will be if these development plans fail, or if they fail during the construction of the hotel and the Gallery. There is a need to have some ideas for a Plan B.
We hope that you will understand from our comments here that we are keen to be involved, and to work with you on our suggestions.