News Friday, February 26th

Arts funding: The fight back starts now

Mathematics and poetry share a special bond.

Think Fibonacci, ponder Pi…

Right now, Peter Arscott sees that bond strained not by the binary rhythms of iambic pentameter, but hard calculation.

Peter is the chair of Ledbury Poetry Festival, coming off its most successful year of ticket sales yet - 5,328.

In the light of Herefordshire Council’s decision to cut its arts commissioning grant scheme, he’s done the sums and it doesn't add up.

Divide the record 5,328 ticket sales by the £3,000 council support grant. Then throw in the estimated 1,000 people who attend the festival’s free and non-ticketed events as the variable.

Altogether, that comes in at around £2.10 per attendee for that £3k - and there’s no doubt those attendees are putting a lot more than £2.10 into the local economy.

Then there’s the leveraging – the extent to which the council’s £3k could be used by the festival as match-funding for further finance.

That comes in at close to £133,000 based on figures for 2013-14 – when the council first considered cutting its £3k grant.

For Peter, there’s neither rhyme nor reason as to why the council should make the cut now. Which is why he wants his money back.

Ledbury Poetry Festival is one of several arts providers – all major contributors to the county’s cultural scene - counting the cost of council cuts ahead of Hereford’s bid to be Britain’s 2021 City of Culture.

In voting through its 2016-17 budget, the cash-strapped, cuts-wracked Herefordshire Council ended its £60,000 arts commissioning grant scheme – a scheme which cost taxpayers as little as 30p per person to secure some £600,000 in external funding for arts groups.

The ruling Conservative group have opted the invest the sum in assisting museum, archive and library services.

While the claim from that sector is strong, opposition councillors had argued there was “no point” investing in buildings to house cultural events if you don’t provide the seed funding for those cultural events to take place.

What's On: Poetry salon with Myra Connell in Ledbury

Affected arts groups plan to campaign come 2017 to get the £60,000 for arts commissioning re-instated.

2Faced Dance Company, one of the county’s biggest cultural success stories, told Herefordshire Live of its “incredible frustration” at Herefordshire Council's cut.

“The impact that arts organisations have on the local community go way beyond simply putting on an event or a show,” said Tamsin Fitzgerald, artistic director. 

“The wellbeing, health and economic benefits that arts organisations bring to this county are worth investing in - every £1 generated by the arts and culture industry results in an additional £1.06 being generated in the economy.”

On 2013-14 figures, 2Faced received £3,800 through the council which was leveraged to around £150,000.

“Last year we worked with 15,000 children and young people, 28,000 people came to see our work as audiences and we created 8 new full time jobs bringing young people into the county,” said Tamsin.

“These are not small figures and having no support from your council makes staying in the county very difficult. 

“As a county that relies on tourism as its biggest industry it is a shame that the council cannot support those organisations who provide them with the things that people want to visit the county for.”

Back in Ledbury, Peter Arscott is right behind the plans to fight back.

Yes, he says, the festival receives “significant support” from Arts Council England. But that support must be matched each year through the festival’s own fundraising efforts.

“This is made more difficult when one's own local authority is not seen to support the project,” said Peter.

“We would encourage Herefordshire Council to show this support to the county’s arts organisations by reconsidering re-instating the arts commissioning budget for 2017-18; even George Osborne highlighted the fact in the last budget that cutting expenditure in the arts was damaging and short-sighted, for which reason he decided to leave it well alone.

“Meanwhile we continue to grow and develop, working even more in partnership with many other local organisations, schools, the Town Council, trusts and funds, volunteers, students and interns, local businesses and charities, to bring about the many benefits to the county.

“We want to see Herefordshire Council committed to playing even more of a part in the growing cultural life of the county.”

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What's On: an evening with Monty Don at the Courtyard, Hereford

Some of the biggest names in British poetry were drawn to Ledbury last year.

Established voices like John Burnside – the festival’s poet in residence - Selima Hill, Imtiaz Dharker, Paul Henry, Sophie Hannah, and Simon Armitage blended with the potential identified in Mona Arshi, Sarah Corbett, Jane Yeh, Eleanor Rees, Chris McCabe, Jo Bell, Steve Ely, Matthew Clegg and Nic Aubury.

In a new initiative, Ledbury in London was launched with two events trialled to showcase the Festival to London audiences in order to raise funds, and promote Ledbury to a wider audience.

The festival’s profile was raised through partnership with Guardian Live. With more than 110,000 members globally, it meant Ledbury shared a platform with London, Edinburgh, Sydney and New York on a site which has 1.5 million views. It was part of the festival’s continuing efforts to find a media partner.

While Arts Council England remain Ledbury Poetry Festival’s main funders, it’s indebted to the Elmley Foundation and the University of Worcester for the core programme and there is significant, support from a swath of others - the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, the Garrick Charitable Trust, the Rowland Trust, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, plus continuing support close to home from Ledbury Town Council, Ledbury Civic Society, and the town’s two independent bookshops – amongst the last of their kind in the county.

Why, asks Ledbury councillor Liz Harvey, wouldn’t Herefordshire Council want to invest in that?

Liz, deputy leader of the It’s Our County (IOC), led the opposition group’s attempt at the budget meeting to move an amendment that retained the arts commissioning grant.

That amendment saw the council shift £60k from its energy cost budget to support cultural services and help lever match funding.

It wasn’t straight forward.

The Conservative group countered with an amendment of its own – shifting the £60k to support library, museum and heritage services. They won with a majority of just eight votes.
Slim enough, said Liz, to have another go at re-instating the grant next year.

“It’s becoming a theme for us – we can’t believe Herefordshire Council is not putting anything into the City of Culture bid when other contenders are investing millions of pounds.

“And, as the figures show from Ledbury Poetry Festival alone, the arts commissioning grants are an investment - as much of an investment as the inducements the council appears willing to offer developers.

“Culture and cultural events are increasingly what this county is about and what makes it special,” she said.

In a previous statement to Herefordshire Live, Herefordshire Council said the withdrawal of arts grants was agreed as part of the council’s medium term financial strategy, focusing council resources on priorities including child safeguarding and vulnerable adults.

“The arts grants were last awarded in 2014-15 – to 11 organisations of funding between £9,600 to £750,” said the statement.

“A full consultation process was carried out with the arts organisations 12 months prior to that to enable them to assess how they were to address their sustainability following the withdrawal of the grants.

“A decision at the recent full council meeting was to allocate £60,000 investment to help museums, archives and library services to be more financially self-sufficient in response to the public consultation that show significant support for retaining libraries in the county.”


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Image credits:

Ledbury Poetry Festival on Facebook

Luke Evans, 2Faced Dance


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