a national portfolio for artists

There's a straight line from Arts Council England back to the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA).


CEMA was set up during the Second World War to promote and maintain British culture, and was chaired by Lord De La Warr. So the idea that the arts were worth supporting was made under far more difficult circumstances than we face today.


CEMA was replaced by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1946, and the first Chairman was John Maynard Keynes who used his influence in Government to secure funding despite Britain being bankrupt.


Keynes made sure that most money went to big organisations he was connected to, like the Royal Opera House, and was restricted to Central London. That inequality has remained embedded in the organisation, in some ways undoing the earlier work of CEMA which took opera, ballet and classical music to the masses - making these artforms popular beyond the Middle Classes.


Now, with the Covid-19 lockdown causing chaos in the cultural sector, and a hard Brexit ahead, it's time to address Keynes' inequality head on, and redistribute Arts Council England's funding.


First, every arts organisation in Arts Council England's national portfolio should commit 2% of its funding to employ an artist* (or for larger organisations, artists. The Royal Opera House receives a grant of £24,000,000 a year. 2% is £480,000. The average visual artist earns less than £10,000 a year). They will be employed within the organisation  as an artist - not to deliver projects, act as part of the education team, or tied to any outcomes. All the artists will have to live locally to the organisation.


Second, through this process, Arts Council England will establish a National Portfolio of Artists, just likes it has a national portfolio of organisations. These artists will receive a living wage and support for studio costs, again just to be artists. ACE can monitor - but not guide - their output, just as it does with organisations.


Together these two ideas put money in the hands of artists, redressing Keynes' inequality. More importantly, they state the importance of the artist to the arts economy, and ensure that a diverse and nation-wide group of artists are nurtured, to feed all the venues across England that rely on their labour.


*Visual artist, musician, writer, choreographer - anyone, in short, who makes new work.


Dan Thompson 2020