The Arts Council’s magazine Create – vanity publishing in an age of austerity

On the 18th November the Arts Council held a State of the Arts debate at the South Bank, London to launch their publication “Create”, a journal of perspectives on the value of art and culture, at the Southbank Centre. The aim of the report was to start a “conversation” about the importance of public  funding for arts and culture This was an attempt by the Arts Council to persuade politicians of the intrinsic value of the arts. You can hear the chair of Arts Council England Peter Bazelgett’s speech at:

I made a freedom of information enquiry and the following facts emerged:

There were no plans to make “Create” a regular printed publication and it is intended to signal a long running advocacy campaign around the value of arts and culture. There will be more commissioning of esays or “provacations” for their website. What is a “provacation” when its at home?

The publication cost £16,999 to commission the essays. Nineteen contributors in all, of which only three contibutors gave their services for free. £1062 an essay – nice work if you can get it – and that is certainly a provocation to a journalist writing about jazz.The costs for the printed publication were £33,752. Three thousand copies were printed which works out as £11.25 per copy. At the time of my enquiry on the 22nd December 2014, they had distributed 2,345 copies and received a total of 12,920 unique views and 15,496 views. In addition the publication in ISSUU format  had 4,594 reads and 10,100 impressions.

Many staff at the Arts Council supported the development of “Create” including an Editorial Manager, a Digital Producer and a Director of Marketing. The Arts Council reported “Given these staff worked on the publication alongside a range of other duties, it is not possible to supply a cost for the work relating specifically to “Create”.

How will the Arts Council measure the impact of the publication? They “will be measuring the impact of the content via a combination of of tactical measures(number of downloads/shares, breadth and depth of engagement with the issues raised via social media etc)and impact measurements (attitudes towards arts and culture among a range of different audiences as measured by our ongoing stakeholder focus research”.

There was no advertising revenue raised from this publication.

The Arts Council puts their funded organisations through the wringer if they cannot raise funds and yet the Arts Council could not raise advertising revenue from its own publication. In an age of austerity £50,742  has been spent on a publication whose sole purpose is to persuade a bunch of politicions to put more money into the arts. There are no figures for how much it cost  Arts Council  staff to work on the publication. The only impact measurement worth measuring is an increase in the public funding of the arts and yet there is no mention of this as an impact meassurement. What will be particularly galling to those organisations who lost their funding in the last National Portfolio Organisation round, is that the Arts Council cheerfully spends scarce resources on at a best a dubious PR excercise with no concrete measurable outcome. If an organisation funded by Arts Council England undertook an excercise to persuade the Arts Council of the intrinsic value of an art form – let us say jazz – they would lose their funding.

It is time for the whole apparatus of arts funding in the UK to be rigorously evaluated  in terms of its funding decisions, its allocation of resources and its governance too. Finally it would be a lot easier on my blood pressure if the Arts Council stopped using pointless words such as a “conversation”; the words  that are required is  “public debate”.

Attached documents (click to download)

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