Sunday, 26 April 2009

Sustain...the quangocracy?

At Friday's conference on 'maximising the importance of arts and culture throughout the downturn', the Arts Council announced its response to the recession.

Sustain, '
a £40 million, open application fund will provide extra support for organisations under pressure as a result of recession. 'This is not a fund for failing organisations, but a way that we can sustain artistic excellence in the context of the economic downturn'.

In a period when it is supposed to be shrinking, ACE will now have to create a totally new application process, using a combination of artistic and economic judgements, and resulting, as always, in more losers, each of which will be more noisy than all of the winners combined.

Although the details are not yet there, existing criteria already seem random. Commercial organisations cannot apply; nor, bizarrely, can any organisation less than three years old. Might it have been better to give Grants for the Arts a £40M boost, possibly with an additional recession-related remit.

Maybe ACE just felt it had to be seen to do something, but I predict many difficult headlines that will outweigh the apparent good news on Friday. Besides, might such a funding stream promote moral hazard in the cultural sector - why deal with the recession, when you can wait for a funding application decision?

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