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“Please don't stop the music”: An alternative approach to public sector evaluation and funding policies for cultural events

By Rebecca Finkel and Joe J Goldblatt


The former director of Britain’s National Theatre, Sir Richard Eyre (2005), suggests there is a fundamental incompatibility between politics and the arts. He quotes Philip Roth as saying, “Politics is the great generaliser and literature the great particulariser, and not only are they in an inverse relationship to each other they are in an antagonistic relationship. How can you be an artist and renounce the nuance? How can you be a politician and allow the nuance?” (Roth, 1999, in Eyre, 2005). The relationship between UK politics and culture has become more complex and more closely connected in recent decades. The New Labour government, especially, has exerted control over the cultural realm through instrumental policies quantifying the worth of each cultural project. \ud Cultural events now need to justify their grants on the basis of their contribution to government goals such as economic regeneration, tourism and social inclusion, rather than their cultural value (Holden, 2004). Contemporary cultural policies that see development instead of art have been criticised as sucking the poetry out of the city and replacing it with pizzazz (Cooper, 2006, 12). The results of pressure by central and local governments to justify the impact of their work have made the cultural contribution of arts festivals less important than their funders' non-cultural priorities. This model of prioritising strategic public funding is spreading to Europe as well. For the most part, cultural subsidies are still higher in many European countries than they are in the UK (Serota, 2006). However, European subsidies are not as secure as they once were, as they also have succumbed to economic restructuring pressures. For example, many IFEA Europe member festivals have also resorted to seeking private funding due to budget cuts or too many 'strings' attached to obtaining public funding (Torch, 2006).\ud Using the city of Edinburgh and the ten major Edinburgh festivals as a case study, this paper provides an assessment of the way in which the public sector evaluates cultural events to determine financial support. It examines the factors included in this evaluation, which are mainly socio-economic targets that correspond to cross-cutting, non-arts agenda items. An alternative model of evaluation is introduced to argue for an events-driven approach to policy, which would provide benefits not only to the communities and places in which the events occur, but also would be advantageous to events and their future financial sustainability. \ud \ud Methods\ud This research is based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with ten Edinburgh Festival Directors from the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh Science Festival, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Children's Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Book Festival, Edinburgh Hogmanay and Festivals Edinburgh. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were also conducted with Edinburgh city council officials. The data acquired from this qualitative approach with festival providers and public sector funders shed light on the status of public sector rationales for funding and the impacts these decisions have on the cultural festivals. This, then, informed a model for an alternative evaluation system that is events-driven and does not fall pray to the mainly instrumentalist and managerialist approaches widely employed by the Scottish public sector at this time. \ud \ud Findings\ud It was found that although the Edinburgh city council supports the Edinburgh festivals through funding and other resources, their policies are based on the prevailing instrumentalist argument for public funding of the arts. These socio-economic dimensions seem to provide justification for public spending, as if an exceptional artistic experience or widening education and exposure to the arts were not enough in its own right (Myerscough and Bruce, 1988, 2). In terms of the festivals themselves, the main concern of the directors is future stability and financial sustainability. Indeed, they are finding it increasingly difficult to plan from one year to the next because the council cannot pledge an amount in advance. There are some hard feelings here, as the festivals provide tremendous benefits to the city in terms of tourism, image and profit; therefore, they believe they are entitled to more financial guarantees from the public sector.\ud \ud Application of results\ud It is argued that an events-driven approach to funding policies would be beneficial to both the public sector and the festival sector. Such an approach has the potential to create reliable evaluation tools in order to measure the holistic impacts of the events more effectively and provide more relevant rationales for the use of public money. It also has the potential to help festivals and events plan for the future in a more dependable manner, which would improve the quality of the event infrastructure and the cultural forms presented. This model of festival evaluation encompasses the intrinsic, institutional and even parts of the instrumental arguments (Holden, 2006) for events provision and support in order to “mend the fences” between funders, providers and audiences.\ud \ud Conclusions\ud Although arts festivals have the capability to contribute to wider policy objectives (Florida, 2002), it is argued that their main value should not be judged by those considerations. The socio-economic enhancements often brought about by events are valid and especially attractive to policy makers; however, it is important not to have them become the top priority for events provision. In making non-cultural priorities the overriding benchmarks for success, arts festivals on the whole are becoming increasingly unoriginal and culturally mediocre (Finkel, 2006). It is argued that it is imperative that public agencies adopt a more holistic approach to validating their funding decisions and evaluating the impacts that cultural events have on places. Without including more than socio-economic valuations into impact assessments, the cycle of underestimating and undervaluing, and therefore underfunding, cultural events will continue to the possible detriment of communities and places (Sherwood et al, 2005, 12). \ud \ud References\ud \ud \ud Cooper, N. (2006) Edinburgh: expiring capital. The List, 6-20 July, 12.\ud \ud Eyre, R. (2005) Ballot-box blues. The Guardian, 26 March.\ud \ud Finkel, R. (2006) Unicycling at Land's End: Case study of the Lafrwoda Festival of St Just, Cornwall. Leisure Studies Association Journal, 2(92), 129-145.\ud \ud Florida, R. (2002) The rise of the creative class: and how it's transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Perseus Books Group.\ud \ud Holden, J. (2004) Capturing cultural value: how culture has become a tool of government policy. London: Demos.\ud \ud Holden, J. (2006) Cultural value and the crisis of legitimacy: why culture needs a democratic mandate. London: Demos.\ud \ud Myerscough, J. and Bruce, A. (1988) The economic importance of the arts in Britain. London: Policy Studies Institute.\ud \ud Roth, P. (1999) I married a Communist. New York: Vintage.\ud \ud Serota, N. (2006) A new direction. The Guardian, 5 June.\ud \ud Sherwood, P., Jago, L. and Deery, M. (2005) Triple bottom line evaluation of special events: does the rhetoric reflect reporting?. Paper presented at the Annual Council of Australian Tourism and Hospitality Educators' Conference, Alice Springs, Australia.\ud \ud Torch, C. (2006) Citizen meets city: arts and urban re-invention. Paper presented at the IFEA Annual Conference: Festivals and Identities, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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