Art Fund volunteer Jane Crease responds with incredulity to reports that the charity's financial support for its volunteer network can no longer be justified.
I read your piece last week on the disbanding of the Art Fund's volunteer network with great interest; there are a number of points on which I need to comment.
Before I do so I should say, in common with every one of the nearly 500 volunteers, that we are deeply committed to the core purpose of the Art Fund: the acquisition of works of art for public collections. I write, therefore, as a candid friend to the charity which has, I believe, risked enormous reputational damage by their action.
To reprise: last autumn, with no consultation or notice, it was announced to the volunteer network that it would cease to exist at the end of 2019. Although it was suggested that there might be some sort of role for the volunteers in supporting events run by local museums and galleries, to date there has been no detail to put flesh on the bones. Naturally, the volunteers are angry and upset; not only was there no consultation but the letter to them announcing the decision contained not a word of thanks for their fundraising over the years.
Three reasons are given for the decision. The first is that the funds raised by the volunteers did not justify the investment in the volunteer network. The annual report of the Art Fund for several years past has given the figure raised by the volunteers as around £300-£350k. This has now been downgraded to £100k (audited figures for this sum are not available) on the basis that the "investment" in the volunteer network is not justified.
I find it very hard to see where the quarter million cost figure for the network comes from. The committees are supported by two (very dedicated and professional) staff. I am sure they would be both surprised and delighted if it were suggested that they were to be paid £250k for their efforts. A quick check on the level of remuneration for current vacancies at the Art Fund shows figures much more in line with normal charity pay. The second point is the obvious one: whatever the level of support, the fact remains that the volunteer network makes a profit which is available for the Art Fund to spend on its core purpose. Most charities would be delighted to have a network making money for them!
As to the impact of the General Data Protection Act and concerns that it was inadvertently breached by volunteer committees on a small number of occasions: can I observe that other charities with volunteer sectors do not seem to have the same worries. Surely it is the duty of the charity to set up robust systems to comply with current legislation, rather than simply to cut off a whole segment of its fundraising activity.
Finally, there is the suggested difficulty of recruitment to committees. I am afraid this is as a result of the Art Fund changing the legal relationship between it and the volunteer committees by imposing limits on the term of office of committee chairs and officers. The resulting retirement of a large swathe of long-serving and experienced chairs and officers has, not surprisingly, left us with a recruitment problem.
It gives me no pleasure to point out that this affair has attracted adverse comment in the press (the Times, a critical editorial in the Burlington magazine, Country Life) on the BBC and on at least one influential art blog. We would really rather not have the charity to which we have given so much support perceived in this way; the core purpose of the charity is one we all support.
Jane Crease is Regional Chair for the Art Fund's Yorkshire volunteer committees