Year-long arts debate will attempt to shift Arts Council Englands traditional focus away from supply and towards demand.
A large-scale public inquiry involving focus groups, meetings and one-to-one interviews has been launched by Arts Council England (ACE) in an attempt to explore how people value the arts and& become more accountable to the public it serves. Broken into four stages, the inquiry is expected to cost £500,000 with reports and responses due to be published by autumn 2007.
The first stage, which has now begun, involves discussion groups with members of the public, including individuals with no involvement with the arts. These will seek to establish what people define as the arts as well as attempting to uncover attitudes to ACE and to arts funding generally. The next stage of the programme will use workshops and interactive research to focus on the attitudes of specific groups such as young people, rural communities and disabled people. Qualitative research with artists, producers, arts administrators and other cultural leaders will then take place, followed by multi-stakeholder events next spring.
The initial focus group stage of the inquiry will attempt to address broad themes including: what is meant by the arts these days; what people get from their experiences with the arts; and what people think about funding for the arts. An adjunct to ACEs website has been launched offering a forum for contributions to the debate (http://www.artsdebate.co.uk). Launching the inquiry, ACE Chief Executive Peter Hewitt said it was time ... we led a fresh debate about one of our most fundamental challenges: how we in the arts community can best hold ourselves to account for the money we receive from the public purse. Like other parts of the public sector, we have found this territory difficult to negotiate, and many commentators have expressed their dissatisfaction with output-based or instrumental performance measures. I believe that by giving members of the public a voice in the debate, we can shape a more contemporary notion of accountability in the publicly funded arts sector.
An independent panel of leading figures from the arts and the research world have been appointed to oversee the inquiry and to ensure that findings are generated transparently and rigorously, and that the published findings are not manipulated to pursue a particular agenda. There is also a commitment to taking action based on those findings. Panel members charged with overseeing this process include Tony Hall, Chief Executive of The Royal Opera House; Andrew Graham, the Master of Balliol College, Oxford; and Philip Cullum, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Consumer Council. Dame Suzi Leather, Chair of the Charity Commission and a panel member, welcomed the inquiry: For too long this conversation has been the preserve of the expert few, and this important initiative will enable the Arts Council to understand and respond to a much wider range of opinions and experiences.