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  • 29 Sep 2015

Moira Sinclair’s Speech at No Boundaries 2015

How does the money flow?  How changing structures and policies shape future flows of money into the arts

 “If you have been as lucky as I have, and the sums of money are as enormous as they are, it seems to me unthinkable if some of it didn’t go to people who need it.”

Paul Hamlyn

Foundations usually exist because someone, at some time, wanted to make a difference, to make the world a better place. The founder- in our case refugee, entrepreneur, arts lover Paul Hamlyn – wants to use their wealth to achieve change and usually sets out without a clear plan and using a great deal of instinct to support things that they love, that they are closely connected to and that they believe will create a better society. So, in our case, for example, early grants (whilst Paul was alive) included the Paul Hamlyn Performances at Royal Opera House, which for over 20 years from 1986 provided free or minimal cost tickets for 200,000 people to experience opera (which Paul loved) for the first time. And support for the Jaipur Foot Foundation, which developed and provides the most widely used prosthetic in the world – and is run by the inspirational Dr Mehta who Paul met on his travels.

The normal trajectory is that as the foundation matures, it professionalises and in comes strategy and priorities. And that’s the process PHF has been through in the years since our founder’s death. We’ve introduced programmes and application forms. And most recently after a period of consultation and reflection we launched a new strategy in June 2015.

It’s now six months since I made the move from Arts Council England – and of course, part of that time has been working out what the job is. One of my preoccupations has been thinking about the role of trusts and foundations, the legitimacy of their strategies and the contribution (or not) that they make to arts and culture in this country through the ‘ask’ they make of those that they fund and through their own actions.

I’m issuing one health warning at this stage – when I started in the role, a colleague from another organisation warned me that ‘once you know one foundation, you know one foundation’ – it’s an idiosyncratic business and I make no claims to speak for anyone except me and PHF.

We like to think that the contribution that we can make to the arts and cultural ecology is inherently good. After all, our spend – somewhere in the region of £8 million for the arts of a total £25 million – is a significant amount, albeit a drop when compared to the income that organisations can generate and that the state (not withstanding a period of austerity) contributes.

We like to think our position as an independent grant-maker gives us the freedom both to commit money to try things out – so you’ll hear us talk about risk and a comfort with failure – and to stay the course when the political mood changes…so we remain committed in this strategy to funding the arts and to arts education when both are arguably less valued in an austerity-focused world.

And because we, like so many of the foundations, have that social justice golden thread and want to see change, we have placed access to and participation in culture as our priority…funding organisations’ capacity to grow, to scale, to replicate and to share best practice, and data and evidence. And we fund advocacy through bodies such as the Early Arts Network, the Cultural Learning Alliance and What Next? to support the health of the cultural sector more widely.

“To fundamentally change the field in order to meet a fundamentally changing nation and time, we need to fundamentally change who is in the field”

Jason Tseng, Community Engagement Specialist, Fractured Atlas

“I’ve been working for too long with people trying to achieve great things for the world and watching them degrade themselves at the feet of foundations whose structures turn brilliant thinkers into fundraisers and who reduce a highly complex world into amateur box ticking”

Jake Hayman, CEO, The Social Investment Consultancy

But this doesn’t mean I don’t think there are inherent challenges. There are no external drivers at a foundation – no ministerial pressure, no bottom line, no obvious public interface. And I think we have to guard very carefully against the charge of being in a ‘ivory tower’ or of being inappropriate ‘gatekeepers’ that disproportionately represent the interests of a wealthy, white, able bodied constituency.

To do this, we place a great deal of importance on the sector/field experience and expertise of our staff; on the role of external advisers to help us shape and make decisions about our programmes; on being able to supporting individuals to test and pilot great new ideas; on being responsive and seeking out people doing great things as well as running open programmes; on encouraging collaborations rather than competition – amongst grantees and amongst funders; on flexible funding, some longer term when that’s best and some lighter touch and shorter when that feels good.

And whilst we have yet to fully work out how we might engage directly with the users of services that we fund, we are prioritizing our grants to those that place users’ voices more centrally.  So whilst I’m not pretending for one second that we are perfect, I am confident in saying that we – and others like us – are working hard to make sure our houses are in order.

And in the end it’s because we have to be confident in our legitimacy in asking questions of the cultural sector.

It is simply not enough to say ‘the arts need funding’ or ‘I’m better than them and it’s not fair’ – for any foundation, indeed for any funder, there is the lurking question of why should we fund you? Given the limits on our funding, how are you addressing our concerns? And what is your mandate? The ‘who’ we fund, the decisions we make are guided by the answers to those questions.

We are interested in supporting organisations who ask of those around them ‘what challenges are you facing?’ and think about how they might respond, rather than those that say ‘this is what we do’ and ask others to buy. Whether that’s talking to funders and commissioners who may be grappling with attracting tenants to hard-to-let places and revitalizing communities or addressing the social isolation of the elderly. Or really engaging with communities to provide content that reflects and stimulates, entices and speaks to them and their experiences.

None of this compromises artistic integrity – and indeed I’ve never recognised the false division between intrinsic and instrumental art. We would not dream of telling artists what to create, the themes they should explore, the methods they should use. We expect that everyone we fund will have as their baseline the drive to make, to be the very best they can. And, if you want our funding and support, we will want you to show us how you respond to the things we are paying attention to and we will commit to being as open and flexible as we can in return.

So what are we paying attention to?

The growth of social inequality – which is not a party political issue for us, but one of social justice. It has a bearing on all of our work – around migrants and refugees, youth services as well as arts and education. We are interested in redressing the balance.

The contribution that we make to a civil society, communities as well as audiences and what real community engagement looks and feels like and the benefits it brings.

The richness and value of diversity, and the interplay between that and real resilience

How we might resource and build different models – with a recognition of the changing environment in which we operate.

So, for example, while we are not able to directly create employment opportunities at any scale, we can look for innovative ways in which young people can be supported to participate in cultural activities – with all of the benefits to communication skills, confidence and well-being that we know can be derived from them. And we are particularly keen to have young people at the heart of cultural organisations – they bring a freshness, a diversity of opinion, a knowledge and understanding of new platforms and new art forms, and may of our grants support that approach.

I was struck by how our thinking has been steered by the Artsworks programme and Our Museum and mirrors a recent article by Sally Staples at East Sussex County Council, who talked about how a study revealed that while the Bexhill Pavilion “weighs heavily on the council’s balance sheet, most locals are fiercely proud of it. Many locals associated the building with family events such as weddings and performing there as a child, reminding us that is not merely a civic space but a part of personal stories. The directors began to understand that they were not just managing a contemporary arts space but they were stewards of people’s memories.”

More than ever we need everyone to see the value of culture, we are not talking about a marketing exercise, but an approach to equality that is embedded in the vision, the leadership, the employment, in all aspects of a companies’ work. And that will only happens if our buildings are open and welcoming physically and metaphorically; the programming reflects contemporary experiences; the people on stage, in the bands and running the place are recognizable to the people who might buy the tickets; our children and young people have access to it in school as well as outside; in short that it feels easy to be part of it.

So I could have used my 10 minutes to talk about the things that drive us mad in the trusts and foundations world and issued you with a set of guidance to help the flow of money to the arts:

  • yes, we do talk to each other;
  • no, we’re not all fusty brigadiers anymore;
  • yes, asking us what we think you should apply for is really not appropriate;
  • no, we can’t see every piece of work, we are lean teams;

But that didn’t feel very grown up. And I’m much more interested in a shared space, one that recognises the power dynamics in play and can rise about those, that is genuinely reflective and generous on all sides, that can talk about what’s working and what isn’t and what can be learnt from that, so we can be the very best funder that we can.

For in the end, it’s not about you or about me – not matter how corny it sounds, it’s about changing the world and that’s something we should, in my experience, appreciate and trust in each other.


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