Arts Council England Live Chat and responsibility for libraries

Last week Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) took part in a live chat, during which he answered a number of questions related to the organisations responsibilities for libraries. The questions and answers are republished below:

Questions (from Gary Green)

  • How do ACE aim to ensure that the non-arts aspects of libraries is developed as much as the cultural and arts aspects? Areas such as (but not only) support for education & literacy, community & social aspects are as important as the cultural and arts focus of libraries.
  • Will the ACE charter and mission statement be amended to reflect your new responsibilities that go beyond the arts, as indicated above?

Response (Alan Davey):

We are already working hard to ensure that we join up arts and cultural activity with the wider libraries agenda, mainly through the Libraries development initiative announced in January. Areas such as education and literacy will be targeted through projects like the one led by the London Borough of Richmond, which tests the delivery of adult learning in libraries. The Books on Prescription project will also help libraries address health and social care issues by prescribing books from a list of high quality self-help manuals for people suffering from common mental health problems. It is also worth noting that most of the artistic activities going on within libraries will be used to support education and literacy, and will involve local communities. In answer to your second question, our mission statement has already changed to reflect our wider cultural remit and is very much embedded in our decision-making framework Culture, knowledge and understanding. Our charter has also been updated.

Question (from Silent Pete)

  • What experience does the arts council have to oversea museums and libraries? This seems a sector where the expertise of the MLA is missed.

Response (Alan Davey)

We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors. We’ve sought to engage both sectors in a constructive way and have listened very hard to their concerns and needs. We’re getting good feedback from the sectors about the way we’ve done this and so I think you cannot say we lack the right expertise.

Question (from nolarae)

  • The Rumor Mill is pretty active at the moment, saying that the DCMS will be split up after the Olympics. What potential threats does this pose for Arts Council not having DCMS holding ‘holding back the wolves’, i.e. other Govt Depts taking funding away from the Arts?

Response (Alan Davey)

Well, I’m not sure that wolves get much from DCMS budgets – it being the smallest department in Whitehall by far. Whatever happens, they’d need to protect budgets for arts and museums and there would need to be a place in Whitehall to represent their interests. In the past this has been the Cabinet Office, the Education department or even the Treasury direct. Some other countries such as Australia put arts and culture as part of the Prime Minister’s office, reflecting their importance. So if there is a proposal to abolish the DCMS there will need to be a convincing alternative so that the interests of arts and culture remain at the heart of government. And that is the case we – the sector and the Arts Council – have to argue as strongly as we can. It seems to me to be a false economy to abolish a body if you then have to reinvent it elsewhere.

From these responses it is welcoming to read Alan Davey’s commitment to libraries, and it’s also reassuring to hear that A.C.E. will still continue to employ staff to focus on libraries and museums. However, it’s not clear how many members of staff there are in comparison to previous M.L.A. staff numbers and how many of them have a specific focus on libraries.

With regard to Alan Davey’s mention of the updated A.C.E. mission statement, the focus is still clearly on the arts (below) and a welcome addition would be the acknowledgment that libraries have a wider focus than this.

“Our mission is ‘great art for everyone’ and we work to achieve this by championing, developing and investing in arts and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives.”

“We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. 

Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. 

Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £0.85 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.”

#tds11 Arts Council England Talent Symposium by Amplified2010

#tds11 Arts Council England Talent Symposium (c) Amplified2010 / Flickr

It’s also reassuring that A.C.E. are continuing to fund development initiatives for libraries and we look forward to A.C.E. building upon these initiatives, both in terms of the number of local authorities receiving funding for development work and the projects being funded. It’s hoped that successful pilots will be expanded throughout other library authorities and supported long-term. In the past some excellent projects have been left to find support elsewhere after the original funding ceased.

It’s also important to note that the structure of A.C.E is currently under review . The review runs until mid October 2012, with a decision on the final structure being made by November. The new organisational structure will be in place by July 2013. This review was primarily brought about by the need to cut administrative costs by 50 per cent by 2014/2015. Current proposals for the future structure of A.C.E. admit that there will be fewer staff, implying that there will be even less staff charged with focusing on libraries, especially as the number of regional councils will be reduced.

The review and proposed model takes the Arts Council England reports “Achieving great art for everyone” and “Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone.” as its key focus. Voices For The Library team commented on “Culture, knowledge and understanding” in September 2011 – we were encouraged by A.C.E. acknowledgement of the role libraries play beyond the arts and A.C.E. commitment to support and assist in the development of libraries. We also raised the point that even though funding was being made available to libraries, certain aspects of the Future Libraries Programme “aren’t necessarily seen as successful by local communities or the library profession, especially when they involve reductions in service.”

At this stage the key features of the proposed A.C.E. structure are:

  • A national organisation with major offices will be in London, Birmingham, Manchester and the South West. National functions will be co-located in Manchester, Birmingham and London.
  • Five porous localities covering London, the South East, the South West, the Midlands and the North that replace our current regions and areas.
  • Smaller local facilities will keep us close to and connected with the organisations we fund whilst significantly reducing our property costs.
  • An Executive Board of five members, reducing from nine, accountable for strategy and national priorities.
  • Leadership of art form and cultural policy expertise distributed across the Arts Council. Everyone will have a local and national focus.
  • Core funding streams of National portfolio, Grants for the arts, Major partner museums and strategic programmes, supported by an Investment Centre that will help us streamline our investment processes.
Unfortunately, there are no specific mentions of libraries in this proposal, and sometimes it does feel as if libraries are the poor relation in this arts focused family. We understand that A.C.E. will be talking to representatives from the library sector during the review and we hope that these discussions will help the organisation gain further understanding of the purpose and benefits of successful library services. A.C.E. will have a key role to play in the future of libraries and we look forward to it developing its role as their champion.

4 thoughts on “Arts Council England Live Chat and responsibility for libraries

  1. Pingback: Round up | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

    1. Gary Post author

      Thanks for the comment Carl. Apologies for the delay in replying. Hopefully the ongoing discussions and interactions with the library sector on a day-to-day basis (not just the formal discussions held during the review) will help to not only develop the sector’s position in A.C.E., but also give the organisation a greater awareness of the purpose of libraries.

  2. Pingback: Voices for the Library» Blog Archive » Concern over loss of Arts Council England Libraries post

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