Innovative, risk-taking work which “grows out of and represents the Britain of the 21st century” should take precedence in the eyes of funders in the future, according to recommendations made by Sir Brian McMaster in his report ‘Supporting Excellence in the Arts’, published on 10 January. Sir Brian was asked by the Government to consider how public sector support for the arts can encourage excellence, risk-taking and innovation, how artistic excellence can encourage wider and deeper audience engagement, and how to establish a light-touch and non-bureaucratic method to judge the quality of the arts.
Sir Brian writes that funding bodies “must move to a new assessment method based on self-assessment and peer review that focuses on objective judgements about excellence, innovation and risk-taking and is made up of people with the confidence and authority to take tough decisions”. Where organisations are failing, funding could be made subject to fixed conditions or be removed entirely. On the issue of governance, Sir Brian believes that every cultural organisation should have at least two artists or practitioners on its Board, and that appointees to senior positions should be mentored. He also suggests that “all funding bodies have and take up the right to be involved in the appointment processes of the organisations they fund”.
There is a strong emphasis in the report on the development of young people, recommending that cultural organisations should be heavily involved in enhancing cultural education in schools and in creating opportunities for training and professional development. Several bold measures are put forward: that ten organisations with “the most innovative ambition” should receive ten-year funding to further that ambition; that a week of free entry should be offered to all arts events to encourage new audiences to attend; and that free or discounted tickets should be offered to “aspiring practitioners” to support the development of upcoming talent. Some more predictable recommendations include the need to encourage diversity in its widest sense, to develop a greater sense of the international context and to exploit technology further.
In his introduction to the report, Culture Secretary James Purnell writes that the review “will mark a real shift in how we view and talk about the arts in this country”, and that artists and cultural organisations should be freed from “outdated structures and burdensome targets, which can act as millstones around the neck of creativity.”