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Geoff

Arts Council: Relevance not excellence will be new litmus test

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Posted (edited)

For those who have not already seen the story here is a report from The Stage:

 

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2019/arts-council-relevance-not-excellence-will-be-new-litmus-test-for-funding/

 

Perhaps this provides a new context for comments about the “modernising” of the ROH, the body which continues to represent the Art Council’s largest single commitment. 

 

Edited by Geoff

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:rolleyes:

 

I'm starting to wonder how "relevant" the Arts Council is.

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So is ACE going to be the harbinger of relevance now?  I can decide what's relevant to me.  What does relevance even mean in the context of art?  I hope that once they have decided how they are going to determine what is relevant to an audience, they share their philosophy with us.   

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Clearly, in their 'philosophy' the arts per se are no longer relevant to a society - it depends on their content. (The 'relevance' of which, as Sim points out, will be assessed by a small number of people at the ACE.) That's incredibly disturbing. Philistinism of the highest order, at the highest level.

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So the striving for excellence as the ultimate goal is no longer relevant. That should ensure longevity for the philistines serving on the Arts Council! But how should we measure their relevance now since excellence in the job is not longer the test?

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Posted (edited)

Sounds to me like a groundwork for misery all round.  Surely relevance is hard to sustain - for many things - even in a short term, let alone long.  

 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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I think the only good point is about making arts education more accessible in schools. It seems to me that the current lack of interest shown by some younger people is largely due to the failure of schools to involve children in arts. I agree that most theatre companies, orchestras etc have educational programmes which do a great job, but I think I am right in saying that not all schools have the cash, resources or will to involve their pupils. As far as relevance is,concerned, I fail to see how you can make any art form relevant to all. My needs are different to those of a 12 year old who has never visited a theatre, and in these days of everyone having their 'rights' surely my needs are as important than those of the 12 year old? To me access to the arts should be available to all.

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I’m not sure this is anything new really, it has long been the case. The Arts Council receives so many high quality applications that they cannot award funding to all of them. As such, they need additional criteria to choose between the high quality applications. Hence, ‘relevance’. It does say in the article that excellence is ‘no longer enough’, meaning you have to be both excellent and relevant. They aren’t going to start funding low quality work just because its ‘relevant’. (Although there is no accounting for personal taste!)

 

It looks to me like the guy in charge of the new strategy just wants to show how progressive he is. All bark no bite if you ask me. The criteria haven’t even be decided yet. Nothing to see here other than some peacocking on behalf of a desperately fragile ego. 

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'The lack of diversity in the governance, leadership and workforce receiving public funding “remains intractable and unacceptable”.'

 

I actually think there's something in this. As Geoff (I think) has pointed out in the past, arts chiefs are obsessed with attracting a more diverse audience but make appointments in their own image: middle class, white and frequently male. (The juxtaposition of this point with the photo at the top of the article made me laugh.) I can't be the only one to have noticed that the upper reaches of the ROH, RB and RO are awash with that very type.

 

Until quite recently I'd have said that positive discrimination is not the answer - then I realised that many white, middle class males (nothing against them, but they *are* over-represented in senior positions) have benefited from a form of it their whole lives without even noticing. I'm not arguing for appointments to be made on the basis of a candidate ticking the right boxes, but for the selection process to acknowledge inequality of opportunity when assessing CVs.

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I always sigh when I hear people in charge of these sorts of organisations saying that something has to be "relevant."   

 

As a result, there is the danger that you will either get projects being funded that will only appeal to a very small minority, or that try to encompass various tick boxes regarding race/gender/sexual orientation, which end up pleasing nobody.   Either option can lead to a massive waste of money. 

 

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1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

Until quite recently I'd have said that positive discrimination is not the answer - then I realised that many white, middle class males (nothing against them, but they *are* over-represented in senior positions) have benefited from a form of it their whole lives without even noticing.

 

Lizbie if you are advocating positive discrimination against "white, middle class males" in job recruitment, don't the provisions in the Equality Act  on race and gender apply equally  to discrimination against someone because they are white, or because they are male?

As for "class", how is that to be defined these days, and can it really be an appropriate and useful criterion in recruitment?

 

1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

I'm not arguing for appointments to be made on the basis of a candidate ticking the right boxes, but for the selection process to acknowledge inequality of opportunity when assessing CVs.

 

But isn't  "inequality of opportunity"  just  another dangerous area to introduce into job selection criteria, and full of all sorts of assumptions? Even supposing  it to be both legal and desirable, I wonder how it would be defined, assessed, and applied fairly? 

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1 hour ago, Richard LH said:

 

Lizbie if you are advocating positive discrimination against "white, middle class males" in job recruitment, don't the provisions in the Equality Act  on race and gender apply equally  to discrimination against someone because they are white, or because they are male?

As for "class", how is that to be defined these days, and can it really be an appropriate and useful criterion in recruitment?

 

But isn't  "inequality of opportunity"  just  another dangerous area to introduce into job selection criteria, and full of all sorts of assumptions? Even supposing  it to be both legal and desirable, I wonder how it would be defined, assessed, and applied fairly? 

 

The legal form of “positive discrimination” is called “positive action” and it’s that which I’m advocating. The Spectator - not known as a hotbed of radical leftism - has a no-CV policy when it recruits its (paid) interns: that’s closer to the spirit of what I’m talking about.

 

There’s no point anyone trying to define class as you’ll find umpteen views about it in any given committee - but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many examples who nobody would hesitate to categorise as middle class.

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Maybe I'm rather old fashioned, and even slightly 'Soviet' in my thinking, but I would think the function of any arts organisation is to ensure that the best possible,quality of work, be it dance, drama or whatever is made available to as many people as possible. To say it must be made relevant implies that the organisation judges what people in any particular area, age, race, should enjoy. Making the arts relevant seems to involve dumbing down, and we've seen what that does on the BBC!

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I think it's a shame to see such largely negative reactions to ACE contemplating its navel as to how best to spend its budget on the nations art over the next few years.

 

Most of the readers here have every reason to be thankful that ACE is funded as it is and has made the decisions it has around dance and company funding - so that many shows are substantially cheaper to see than would otherwise be the case. And of course, some shows tour that otherwise would not.

 

In terms of The Stage report, I see lots of useful things emerging from ACE and particularly welcome its wish to connect with and be more relevant to more of the population. It's right that they are concerned about the audience who fund them. That doesn't mean they are not committed to high-quality work - it just shouldn't be an end in itself. It will be interesting to see how this crystallises out, but they are there to enrich the nation and not just a few who "Get it" in a high art sense. The only thing I don't spot in the report is any continued pressure to spend less on the arts in London and more away from the capital.

 

But overall ACE deserve our appreciation and constructive support. No institution is perfect of course!

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14 minutes ago, ninamargaret said:

Maybe I'm rather old fashioned, and even slightly 'Soviet' in my thinking, but I would think the function of any arts organisation is to ensure that the best possible,quality of work, be it dance, drama or whatever is made available to as many people as possible. To say it must be made relevant implies that the organisation judges what people in any particular area, age, race, should enjoy. Making the arts relevant seems to involve dumbing down, and we've seen what that does on the BBC!

 

I think that’s precisely the opposite of “Soviet” thinking about the arts!

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2 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

The legal form of “positive discrimination” is called “positive action” and it’s that which I’m advocating. The Spectator - not known as a hotbed of radical leftism - has a no-CV policy when it recruits its (paid) interns: that’s closer to the spirit of what I’m talking about.

 

Legally (as well as practically, I believe)   trying to  acknowledge inequality of opportunity in recruitment decisions is not particularity straightforward. 

 

The attached link seems to help us here https://www.xperthr.co.uk/faq/what-positive-action-is-permitted-under-discrimination-legislation/103008/

 

"The employer can encourage people from disadvantaged groups to apply for work, and can provide training to help equip them for the particular work, but the decision on whom to select must be made on merit alone, except in circumstances where the candidates are "as qualified as" each other and s.159 applies.

 

For example, an employer that has records that show that its employees from a particular racial group are under-represented at management level could run a management training course targeted at employees from that group. However, the employer could not favour candidates from that group, at the expense of other candidates, when recruiting managers (unless s.159 applies).

 

Section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 allows an employer to treat an applicant or employee with a protected characteristic (eg race, sex or age) more favourably in connection with recruitment or promotion than someone without that characteristic who is as qualified for the role. The employer must reasonably think that people with the protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage or are under-represented in that particular activity. Taking the positive action must be a proportionate means of enabling or encouraging people to overcome the disadvantage or to take part in the activity. Employers must not have a policy of treating people who share a characteristic more favourably; they should decide whether or not to take positive action on a case-by-case basis.

 

The position in relation to positive action in favour of disabled people is different because it is not unlawful to discriminate in favour of a disabled person and employers have a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments to compensate for disadvantages related to disability".

 

So (other then the special provision for disabled people)  you could legally choose to employ or promote, on a case-by-case basis, candidate A  rather than candidate B,   based on A's  race, or gender,  if that characteristic is causing A to be at a disadvantage or is under-represented in the activity concerned,  but only if  A is as qualified for the role as B  (who  does not have the same characteristic). 

 

The Spectator interns don't have to produce CV s as such, but they are  set aptitude tests. I am not sure this is anything  to do with  positive action for disadvantaged groups, it seems to be more to do with  their philosophy that "In journalism, all that matters is flair, enthusiasm and capacity for hard work".

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/04/internships-at-the-spectator-for-summer-2018-no-cvs-please/ 

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1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

 

I think that’s precisely the opposite of “Soviet” thinking about the arts!

Sorry to disagree, but I think a lot of Soviet thinking was geared to producing the very best for the downtrodden masses - look at the splendours of the Moscow underground, and taking music into factories. I realise it was mostly propaganda, but at least the thought was there!

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Richard LH said:

Legally (as well as practically, I believe)   trying to  acknowledge inequality of opportunity in recruitment decisions is not particularity straightforward. 

 

Well no - I never said it was easy! What employers should be doing is examining what is holding people back from applying, being recruited, staying or being promoted and where possible modifying their processes - and behaviour - to minimise these causes. One famous example is the orchestra which started holding auditions with the auditionees behind a curtain to counteract conscious or unconscious bias, with the result that recruitment of women shot up as an result. You could argue that this was simply because women felt they’d have a better chance and applied when they wouldn’t have before, but it’s the outcome that matters.

 

3 hours ago, Richard LH said:

The Spectator interns don't have to produce CV s as such, but they are  set aptitude tests. I am not sure this is anything  to do with  positive action for disadvantaged groups, it seems to be more to do with  their philosophy that "In journalism, all that matters is flair, enthusiasm and capacity for hard work".

 

I’m aware of the Spectator’s process and motives (indeed, I introduced it to this discussion) and I didn’t cite this as an example of positive action as such, just the kind of thing that counteracts inequality of opportunity. In studies blind testing in controlled settings is the best way to level the playing field: people from disadvantaged backgrounds do relatively well in them, surprising as many find this (I don’t).

Edited by Lizbie1
“and behaviour” added

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2 hours ago, ninamargaret said:

Sorry to disagree, but I think a lot of Soviet thinking was geared to producing the very best for the downtrodden masses - look at the splendours of the Moscow underground, and taking music into factories. I realise it was mostly propaganda, but at least the thought was there!

 

I was thinking of the difficulties Shostakovich, for example, faced when he produced music that was insufficiently uplifting.

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1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

was thinking of the difficulties Shostakovich, for example, faced when he produced music that was insufficiently uplifting.

Perfectly true. Obviously he couldn't come up with what was good enough for the masses! Don't know what the authorities would have thought of his later, and very dark, works!

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Posted (edited)

There may be many reasons why  white middle-class males are (allegedly) over-represented in Arts management. 

 

May I first point out the obvious, that the population of this country as I write is just under 82% white.  I know we are being brought up to believe that there is currently something wrong, verging on evil, in being middle-class and white but for the moment, that is our make-up.

 

Secondly, I am not entirely sure how the Arts are defined.  What may be one man's artistic pleasure may have no appeal at all to somebody else, whatever their ethnicity.  This belief that has taken root that the arts must appeal to everyone (sorry, be relevant) is ridiculous.  I love music but have no appreciation of jazz, loathe rap and intensely dislike Schoenberg as well as being unable to separate Wagner the composer from Wagner the man.  But I rejoice in the fact that all these forms are liked and supported by others.

 

It is the Arts that comes in for most scrutiny by the diversity police but the past few years has seen organisations like the National Trust clothe themselves in PC mantles with the result that so many of their great properties have been dumbed down to such a degree that they are hardly worth visiting.  This is unacceptable to people like me who like to visit but, and this is in many ways more important, it is so intensely patronising to assume that things must be changed if they are to cultivate a more diverse audience. Similarly, Radio 4 obsesses about its need to attract a younger audience.  Why?  It isn't going to die; it will do what it has always done and that is refresh itself at the point of entry as listeners mature.  I cannot be the only person in this country who, when younger, would have rather stuck pins in their eyes than admit to listening to Radio's 2 and 4.  We grow older, our tastes change and we move to the next stage.

 

I would like somebody to just stand back and ask why?  I am unlikely to attend the Notting Hill Carnival or book a sittar concert.  This is not prejudice, merely the fact that I have attended both and enjoyed neither.  Similarly, I'm not going to take up dog racing or Morris dancing anytime soon or become a racegoer or attend rugby matches.  Why can we not accept that certain things appeal to different people and that, very largely, it is absolutely nothing to do with race or creed.  Why do we have this obsession with insisting that activities that have been mainstream in the British arts scene must now have so-called relevance to all?

 

I appreciate that public subsidy is the elephant in the room  and accept that is right that those organisations benefiting from the public purse be held to scrutiny.  But surely not to the point of changing their artistic output so as to, apparently, meet the needs of...whom exactly?  There are absolutely masses of things on offer that must fulfill the diversity criteria.  I live in the country but just a cursory look tonight demonstrates that within fifty miles of here I could experience any number of artistic offerings that would not be immediately classified as the province of the despised white middle-class.  As far as I am aware, nobody is monitoring the Frome African folk week or Bristol's Bangladeshi Cultural Heritage exhibition to check on the diversity of the audience?

Edited by penelopesimpson
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Penelopesimpson - I agree with much of what you say. The position I’m coming from is simply that I want to see the widest possible pool of talent presenting and performing ballet and opera to the widest possible audience, and I  think we’re a distance away from either.

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I am old enough to have been brought up in an age where little help was given to the young to encourage them to enjoy the arts. Luckily, I had a theatregoing family, a music teacher and a school that was at least sympathetic towards my interests. Occasional school visits to Shakespeare productions, and I think a couple of visits to concerts were arranged, but no special preparation was given for these. I feel sure people will find their way into whatever interests,them, and no amount of encouragement, cajoling or cheap admissions will get them into things,that d not interest them. After all, I wouldn't go to a football match if the ground was next door and the tickets were free!

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Yes, Lizbie, that is a laudable aim which it would be hard to disagree with.  But have you considered that taken as a blunt aim, the means to get there could and most probably would be immensely damaging to established art forms.  The likelihood is that we would end up with something that pleases no-one.

 

Maybe you feel this is a cop out, but why can't we just trust people to attend and patronise what they enjoy instead of crusading for everyone to like everything?  Seems to me this is the very opposite of artistic freedom.  

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5 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

Penelopesimpson - I agree with much of what you say. The position I’m coming from is simply that I want to see the widest possible pool of talent presenting and performing ballet and opera to the widest possible audience, and I  think we’re a distance away from either.

Yes, availability and ease of access is the important thing, not deciding what is relevant to a particular audience. 

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I guess it’s about whether you see it as cajolement and bullying or encouragement and removing obstacles.

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Posted (edited)

I can just about cope with encouraging (although it does have overtones of being patronising - the 'you will like this if you try it' line) but obstacles?  What obstacles exactly?  What, apart from having the money, is stopping people?  Money is one issue but it is common to all and at least prices are subsidised.  Try getting a subsidised ticket to a rock concert.

 

Are we back on the perception business, that going to the Opera House is ....what exactly?  Today's young people are not intimidated by much.  Can't be racial, I have seen every nationality at Covent Garden, so what is the so-called problem?

 

If we turn things upside down there are things that intimidate me attached to entertainments I don't patronise.  I would be terrified of standing in the arena at Wembley Stadium, much as I might enjoy seeing U2.  The idea of camping (particularly the toilets) rules out Glastonbury  and location means I won't be seeing Nile Rogers and Chic at the Hampton Court Festival.  All these things which represent obstacles to me, may very well be a huge part of the appeal to people who do attend.  Should their enjoyment be altered simply so that one oldie may feel 'encouraged?'

Edited by penelopesimpson
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It’s too late in the day for me to get into a detailed discussion (and I think I’ve bored people enough on the subject) but the obstacles I’m talking about are the ones I previously talked about on the “supply” side, e.g. the difficulty of people from outside the usual gene pool (both figurative and literal - the Arts is a nepotistic world) getting their initial leg up.

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4 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

Penelopesimpson - I agree with much of what you say. The position I’m coming from is simply that I want to see the widest possible pool of talent presenting and performing ballet and opera to the widest possible audience, and I  think we’re a distance away from either.

I agree with this.

 

I think most people get that the country is 82% white - the percentage is not the issue. 

 

The issue is that there is definitely talent in the other 18% that never seems to get tapped, encouraged and make it despite the interest and skills. 

 

There never seems to be much wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth over this. Instead when a few people of different persuasions make it through, they are treated like unicorns. 

 

The myth that people from certain groups are only interested in certain art forms seems to have become common place.😞 It’s not what I see on the ground when people are exposed to and get the opportunity to participate in different activities beyond what they’re “supposed to do.”

 

This mistaken perception exacerbated because it is difficult for certain people to get in ( there are matters beyond the usual training being expensive and only a small percentage ever make it and certain groups not having the disposable income). And it’s not only the most obvious ism although that is surely present as it is across society as a whole.

 

On a related note,  I don’t usually go to the Notting Hill Carnival because it’s become such a bastardised version of what a real West Indian Carnival is meant to be. It (carnival) is usually about dancing (revelry and pageantry) which I love in all of its forms but there is little dancing at Notting Hill (and not much revelry and too little pageantry)... wasn’t aware it was only certain types as most people there don’t look like me.

 

 

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