Showing posts with label ACE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ACE. Show all posts

Saturday, September 17, 2016

They are going to measure artistic quality. Seriously.

Most perturbed by the revelation that Arts Council England is planning "to impose quantitative measures of artistic quality" upon its National Portfolio Organisations. Here is more information about it on the ACE website.

Here is a clear and detailed report in Arts Professionalhttp://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/arts-council-impose-quantitative-measures-arts-quality

The scheme so far has apparently cost more than £700k, and the ACE is said to be pressing ahead with it despite concerns, following the pilot scheme, that it's not guaranteed to deliver in an entirely satisfactory way...

So how is this going to work? ACE site provides us with this.

The core quality metrics
Self, peer and public:
  • Concept: it was an interesting idea
  • Presentation: it was well produced and presented
  • Distinctiveness: it was different from things I’ve experienced before
  • Challenge: it was thought-provoking
  • Captivation: it was absorbing and held my attention
  • Enthusiasm: I would come to something like this again
  • Local impact: it is important that it's happening here
  • Relevance: it has something to say about the world in which we live
  • Rigour: it was well thought through and put together
Self and peer only:
  • Originality: it was ground-breaking
  • Risk: the artists/curators really challenged themselves
  • Excellence: it is one of the best examples of its type that I have seen

Some of these points make more sense in some areas of the performing arts than in others; it would, one surmises, be iffy to apply them en masse not only to theatre and cinema but also to opera and ballet both traditional and contemporary, and to concerts of classical music. One size doesn't fit all. It never did and it never will. 

It's tempting to wonder if this is an unintended consequence of the continuing reduction of space for professional critical assessments of artistic work in the national press - now so marginalised that the majority of cultural work never receives any newspaper assessment at all. The notion of public reviews - the 'everyone is a critic' stance - seems to be progressively devaluing the concept of the alternative: this is because consensus is so rare that once you pass a certain number of reviews everything ends up, on a scale of one to five, averaging around three because some like it, some don't, everyone takes a different view for a different reason and nobody really trusts what other people say in any case. 

This in itself should demonstrate how problematic it is to assess artistic quality in a generalised way.

Let's try out the Core Quality Metrics on an actual classical concert...

Yulianna Avdeeva. Photo: C. Schneider
It so happens that the most recent event I've been to was the debut recital at the Wigmore Hall the other night of Yulianna Avdeeva, the young Russian pianist who won first prize at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 - the year Daniil Trifonov pulled in in third place. Instead of a review, here is an assessment of the evening according to Core Quality Metrics.

CONCEPT: it was an interesting idea
Of course it's interesting to have the winner of the Chopin Competition make her Wigmore debut six years after the event. She is an extremely fine artist and should be far better known than she is.

PRESENTATION: it was well produced and presented
Find me anything at the Wigmore Hall that isn't well produced and presented? It's the Ritz of concert halls. Such things are never in doubt. As for Yulianna, she is a consummate professional, at ease on the stage and in complete control at every turn. (Presentation? I don't know where she got her pewter-coloured shot-silk jacket, but I'd like one too.) 

DISTINCTIVENESS: it was different from things I've experienced before
Yes, because I haven't previously heard Yulianna Avdeeva give a recital at the Wigmore Hall. I'm not sure I've heard those exact pieces played in that exact succession before either. But others might say: well, it's a piano recital, so it's not all that different. To those who love going to piano recitals, it was different for the above reasons. To the non-pianophile bureaucrat, though, would this risk raising puzzlement?

CHALLENGE: it was thought-provoking
That depends purely on the individual listener. Some might experience provoked thoughts such as: here is Bach's English Suite No.2 being played on the modern piano with absolute clarity, great conviction, beautiful rhythmic sense, exquisite sound quality and enthralling virtuosity, so what price those who think it's the wrong instrument, and do those people still even exist? And: here is Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.8, written towards the end of World War II: it is a massive, nearly symphonic work, full of colour, deeply original and fantastically difficult to perform, and Yulianna is so at one with it and its idiom that she's making me imagine that I am in Moscow looking at Russian modernist art by the likes of Malevich and Goncharova. 

I hope this is what they mean by 'thought-provoking', but it's quite hard to tell. 

CAPTIVATION: it was absorbing and held my attention
Yup. See above.

ENTHUSIASM: I would come to something like this again
Yup. You bet.

LOCAL IMPACT: it's important that it's happening here
We're going round in circles now. Yes, it is important that Yulianna, a top-class musician with a growing international profile, should have a Wigmore Hall debut, here in central London, and that our discerning audience should have a chance to hear her. See above.

RELEVANCE: it has something to say about the world in which we live
This can only mean what you want it to mean. The concert says that people still adore listening to Bach, Chopin and Prokofiev, that some young pianists are as good as ever at playing them, and that the Wigmore Hall is one of the best places to go to listen to them. But what of the mindsets with which people approach this topic? What do we want an artistic event to say about the world in which we live? 

Again, to standardise that expectation would be an unpleasant development. If I come out of the concert without any particular thoughts about the world in which we live, but having had a really great evening nonetheless, isn't that my prerogative as a member of the public? Some people go to arts events precisely to escape having to think about the world in which we live for a couple of blessed hours.

This recital brings us great music, wonderfully played, and people love that. This really ought to be enough. It doesn't tell us whether or not Southern Trains are still on strike, or whether it's a good thing if the third runway at Heathrow gets built, or what's going on now in Syria, and it shouldn't have to do so to be 'relevant'. Music connects people to one another across time and space - listening to Chopin we're in a way communing with the soul of a human being who died in 1849, and the souls of everyone who has played or listened to his music since then. That tells us something about ourselves as human beings at our best, and perhaps that is one of the many things that music is for. Can we hope that this registers as valuable in this 'core quality metric'?

RIGOUR: it was well thought through and put together.
Yup. 

Self and peer only (including this because it's there):

ORIGINALITY: it was ground-breaking
In the sense that it was Yulianna playing in a venue that is new to her, and that venue hosting her for the first time, I guess that's a yes. In terms of musical content, not necessarily; but I don't really care because I enjoyed it so much.

RISK: the artist really challenged herself
And how. People forget what an enormous feat of accomplishment it is to play extremely complex music to a world-class level for a discerning public for about two hours. (Besides, she's hardly going to sit up there and play Chopsticks, is she.)

EXCELLENCE: it was one of the best examples of its type that I have seen
It was bloody excellent. But if every piano recital I attend has to be "one of the best examples of its type that I have seen", I think that would be a problematic way to assess them. This one was indeed top-quality artistry. But I've previously attended plenty of piano recitals that have been most enjoyable, not necessarily "one of the best" of all, yet still worth giving, worth listening to and worth loving. 

Core Quality Metrics as a measurement technique, then, seems a mixed bag. The bits that work would work anyway. The bits that don't work probably never will. And everything, but everything, depends on how the criteria are applied, and by whom, to what - and to which ends, with what effect.

For the moment, one has to try to set aside the unpleasant visions that a quango's "one size fits all" policy conjures up, with all our instinctive shudders about Stalin, Kafka and Orwell, and hope that this latest bizarre algorithmic development may somehow be able to do more good than harm. I can't say I'm holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why we need the arts: a great singer speaks out

Sarah Connolly, the wonderful British mezzo-soprano, was the principal speaker yesterday afternoon at a special Arts Council England event in Westminster, addressing ministers, MPs and leading arts figures on the vital nature of art for all, its place in Britain and the dangers that face its future. She has sent it to me to publish, so here it is. Read and be inspired.

SARAH CONNOLLY writes:
274 years ago today, on the 14th of September 1741, Georg Friedrich Handel completed the first edition of his legendary oratorio,‘Messiah’. It is a work associated with children’s charity, and thanks to a royal charter granted to philanthropist Thomas Coram’s Foundling hospital in Bloomsbury, Handel raised awareness and money for the orphans with performances every year for decades. William Hogarth was a governor and he persuaded leading artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough to donate works, effectively creating at the hospital the first public art gallery. 
Sarah Connolly. Photo: Peter Warren
Once there, a visitor would see not only the best in contemporary British portraiture, landscape and maritime painting, they would also SEE the children at mealtime and hear them singing in the chapel, and perhaps donate money. This public charity helped cure the symptoms of a deeply divided London society and Hogarth was able to showcase his colleagues’ paintings thereby inventing the NOTION of art for all.
Jumping forward to 1940: In Britain’s darkest hour, when 643m was spent on Defence, Winston Churchill procured a royal charter to create the Committee for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, known as CEMA, he ring-fenced 25k for that purpose.
A small but significant sum, Churchill clearly understood its importance, and said, “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them ... Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due”
Towards the end of the decade, CEMA changed its name to the Arts Council, local government authorised spending on the Arts and in 1951,The Festival of Britain was intended as a tonic to the nation. On London’s South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall was built, the interior designed by Robin Day who will shortly enjoy a centenary celebration in the London Design Festival.
The RFH featured concerts conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Malcolm Sargent, the two most influential British conductors up until the 1970’s and benefitted from many innovative Arts programmes under the passionate stewardship of Jennie Lee who also renewed the charter for the Arts Council in 1967. The South Bank Centre continues to be at the heart of many different and inclusive projects such as Alchemy, a festival of culture connecting with the Indian sub-continent and “Being a man”, a platform which considers children’s rights to culture and growing up.
The reason why I’m giving this "history lesson" is to put into context the relevance and the importance of the arts in our history as a multi-cultural, sophisticated inclusive nation, rich in humanity. Apart from music’s vital holistic importance, let’s never forget for a moment what we have in our keeping; a towering and deserved global reputation for cultural excellence in our theatres, art galleries, cinemas, ballet and opera houses, stadia and concert halls, in our performers, writers, poets and composers. It is a fragile inheritance: all this could be lost, permanently, if we don’t continue to preserve and provide an artistic educational journey for all, from childhood to university and beyond.
The classical music industry is a small part of the economy, but for the health of the nation it is critical that funding continues. For too long, financial support has been seen as subsidy: in fact it’s investment with clear financial return. The economic benefits however, are significant.
In 2012, 6.5 million music tourists spent £1.3 billion. In January 2015 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport issued for the first time more detailed estimates for the creative industries showing that in 2013, the gross value of the Creative Industries was £76.909 billion- that’s 5% of the UK economy. Music, performing and visual arts was estimated as being £5.453 billion, or 7.1% of the total. The number of jobs sustained by music tourism is just over 24 thousand not to mention the benefits to surrounding communities. Of the live performing organisations, the total income (roughly equal to expenditure) in 2013 was just under £550 million. Include dedicated music schools, broadcasting and recording organisations, and this total figure rose to approximately £785 million.
For the number crunchers among you, these are some interesting figures with significant returns on relatively meagre investments but as your illustrious forbear – himself a painter – stressed, the importance of the arts is immeasurable.
Nietzsche claimed that: Without music life would be a mistake.
Robert Browning said: There is no truer truth obtainable by man, than comes of music.
Many musicians work with hospices and hospitals. Manchester Camerata practitioners have been working alongside qualified Music Therapists since 2012 to deliver pioneering group music therapy sessions for people living with Dementia and their carers. A growing base of academic research shows that the projects improve quality of life, self-expression, communication, confidence and logic, enhance relationships with others, and reduce the use of medication. This is one example of social activism through the Arts, which has been a core consideration across all genres for many years.
As Michael Gove rightly said, “Music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition.” The coalition government’s well-thought-out National Plan for Musical Education based on the excellent Darren Henley review created 123 music hubs with funding managed by the Arts Council. Awarding the Arts Council £75 million for 2015/16, the Department of Education says, “Music services should now be funded through music hubs (which can cover one or more local authority areas) and from school budgets, not from the Education Services Grant”. 
Economic circumstances have put local authorities in a position where they will find it difficult and in some places undesirable to fund music education. Since music or ANY artistic subject is not planned for EBACC inclusion, a tragedy in my opinion, the only recourse to a musical education will be these music hubs which are not self-sustaining financially and highly unlikely to generate enough income to exist alone. If the government could find a way of ring fencing some local authority money for the Arts then these hubs can supply the critical oxygen to those who most need it, enticing young society into doing something worthwhile, creative and enjoyable. 

Another more feasible route would be if Ofsted was instructed to reward schools for their Arts achievements. An Outstanding grade cannot be given to a school with a poor Arts programme. Lower achieving schools can also raise their profile this way. It's a win win.
I was privately educated until my mid teens but without a doubt, I received the best schooling and musical training at a State funded sixth form college in Nottingham in 1980. My experienced teachers, all of them excellent performers were infinitely more qualified than those at my former school, and I would not be here but for their inspirational guidance. I speak for my fellow students too; one of whom is a multi Grammy Award winner as a classical music producer and another is a vocal coach to the stars in London’s West End. In the present climate, State funded schools are struggling to focus on the Arts and from KS4, curriculum based arts are set to vanish and we will lose an enormous tranche of influence, talent, comment and life-experience. I feel we have a duty to all children from all social backgrounds to share our rich artistic history and to think creatively. This is surely what Winston Churchill meant when he said “the Arts are essential to any complete national life”. Roosevelt said in his New Deal, “Art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land but part of the present life of all living and creating peoples”
What musicians want is a snowball effect, retro-education: when the child learns so does the family. It could be called the Billy Elliot effect.
We really are the envy of the world on many levels, punching so far above our weight in the Arts, Broadcasting and Entertainment that it is a source of puzzlement to us (and to the outside world) why there is not more recognition of this. Last week, Marin Alsop said, “It’s our responsibility as musicians and audiences to build bridges. El Sistema already has nearly a million kids (world-wide) playing music”. At the LNOPs she said, “the power of music is to unite us and to bring out the best humanity has to offer”.
Orchestras, theatres, opera houses, art galleries, festivals, like the Deal Festival in Kent, the Philharmonia, Glyndebourne, The Hallé, El Sistema-UK run by Julian Lloyd Webber, the Royal Northern Sinfonia “In harmony” projects based around The Sage, Gateshead, the BBC's successful and engaging 10 Pieces project and many others receive invaluable financial grants from the Arts Council. Musicians put their utmost into helping those who haven’t the means to pay for tuition or who struggle to rent an instrument. 

We need audiences in the future, we need passion from politicians to lead by example, so come to our concerts, we’d love to see more of you and just ask us to help with any idea, however humble, because, "were it not for music," said Disraeli, "we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead".
Sarah Connolly

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Trouble with Sponsorship

More people these days are making their feelings known about where sport and the arts get their necessary lucre. And it's not a moment too soon. But where do we go from here?

Mark Rylance, probably today's finest Shakespearean actor, appeared the other day on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show (catch it here for the rest of the week) and didn't mince his words about certain fast-food chains that are sponsoring the Olympics and building their largest-ever outlets on location in East London. It shouldn't be allowed, he insisted.

As the Olympics approach, more and more Londoners are starting to find the surrounding morass cringeworthy: big money, black markets, shuddery transport, the alleged attempt not to remunerate performing musicians, and so on. Junk food is not the jewel in the crown. It's the nail in the coffin. 

After tweeting about Mark Rylance, I found I'd acquired a new Twitter follower called BP Or Not BP. "We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company," says its mission statement. "We cometh to rescue the RSC from the slings and arrows of outrageous BP." And considerable attention is also being drawn to the involvement of the oil industry with fine art.

I recently went to hear the Simon Bolivár Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel at the Royal Festival Hall, playing the Beethoven 'Eroica' Symphony. As the Venezuelan musicians took their places, a woman in the audience began shouting. I couldn't see her or hear the details of what she was yelling about; the assumption that it must be a human rights issue about Chavez’s government didn't seem unreasonable. But then, briefly, a banner the size of a tea-towel became visible and made clear that her protest was environmental, directed not at the performers, but against the sponsors of the series in which they appeared, which goes by the title Shell Classic International.

Only a couple of people appeared to be involved; they were quickly booed down and all was peaceful thereafter. A few days later, at an opera, I found myself surrounded by big-money types sporting interesting languages, sharp suits and trophy wives. Their exceedingly powerful company was sponsoring the event. It has a somewhat mixed history regarding both the environment and politics, but here there were no protests. Indeed, the company's personnel seemed to account for most of the audience.

Government subsidy is reducing. The latest dollop of extra money from ACE, 'Catalyst Arts', has been awarded to various entities - the Wigmore Hall and some top orchestras among them - on condition that they raise private funds themselves to match the amount. Arts companies, as well as sporting events, must court private sponsorship more actively than ever before. And sponsors with the inclination and spare dosh to invest in the arts are not as plentiful as they might have been five or six years ago.

I don't need to give you a run-down here about banking and LIBOR, or environmental disasters, or how smoking kills people, or the connections between the arms trade, organised crime and blood diamonds, and so forth. You can find it all with a few judicious Googles. Scratch away at the paintwork of many big events and you might well discover something lurking beneath that could justify unfurling a tea-towel. 

Now, there are wonderful people who practise philanthropy on a daily basis; admirable individuals who, having made money through hard graft, are devoting the fruits of their labours to supporting the arts that they love - for example, by helping young musicians, sponsoring recordings and financing good instruments. This needs real encouragement. No company brand is involved, no subliminal message designed to implant the idea that maybe if you eat this, you'll be able to do that.
 
But beyond that, arts organisations, along with international sporting fixtures, are sometimes having to cosy up to people they might rather not. They do have to be cosied up to. They have to be wined and dined and played to and publicly thanked. Sometimes they become power-hungry. The worst scenarios involve the whitewashing of public images and the cleansing of charred souls. 

Arts audiences - the ordinary ones who'd like to buy tickets to see and hear something inspiring – are people who care about Shakespeare and Mozart and talented kids, and they're likely to care about the environment, human rights and good health as well. With issues as high-profile as the Olympics and that recent Formula One event to prove the problems loud and clear, more are waking up. Will they begin to vote with their tickets? I'm starting to wonder.

If an organisation can please either its natural audience or its sponsors, but not both, chances are they'll plump for the sponsors every time. Are we to end up with a state of affairs in which our arts organisations are mere playthings for the super-rich? 

The arts need big money. The audience wants good ethics. Where do we go from here? Answers on a postcard, please.  

Meanwhile, a good proportion of the shoppers in our local supermarket are now so fat that they can only waddle. It couldn't be more obvious that Mark Rylance is right. 

UPDATE: LondonJazz has forwarded this story from Simon Tait's Arts Industry newsletter, describing the way that Jeremy Hunt is pushing the sponsorship agenda and pulling state support back. Look out for this bit, with JH saying “I hope the state will continue to be able to support the arts” - implying for the first time from him that it might not – and admitting in his next sentence that “the state has become a less reliable partner” in arts funding. The fear of the likes of Nick Serota is that it is about to become even less reliable, bringing forward the Comprehensive Spending Review a year to this autumn and piling still more cuts on the arts. http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a11ee4dbf1f30d899385efb31&id=6d0bda3e74&e=d8f9c6cad9