Updated: 25 July 2012, 8:15pm
Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) is taking part in a live chat today. I submitted these three questions:
- How do ACE aim to ensure that the non-arts aspects of libraries is developed as much as the cultural and arts aspects? Areas such as (but not only) support for education & literacy, community & social aspects are as important as the cultural and arts focus of libraries.
- Will the ACE charter and mission statement be amended to reflect your new responsibilities that go beyond the arts, as indicated above?
- Once existing ACE National and Regional council members terms end will the opportunity be taken to increase numbers of representatives for libraries who are able to focus on libraries beyond their arts and cultural aspects?
I received the following reply to the first 2 questions:
To Gary Green: We are already working hard to ensure that we join up arts and cultural activity with the wider libraries agenda, mainly through the Libraries
development initiative announced in January. Areas such as education and literacy will be targeted through projects like the one led by the London Borough of Richmond, which tests the delivery of adult learning in libraries. The Books on Prescription project will also help libraries address health and social care issues by prescribing books from a list of high quality self-help manuals for people suffering from common mental health problems. It is also worth noting that most of the artistic activities going on within libraries will be used to support education and literacy, and will involve local communities. In answer to your second question, our mission statement has already changed to reflect our wider cultural remit and is very much embedded in our decision-making framework Culture, knowledge and understanding. Our charter has also been updated.
Another libraries question was asked by Silent Pete.
- What experience does the arts council have to oversea museums and libraries? This seems a sector where the expertise of the MLA is missed.
To which he received the reply:
We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors. We’ve sought to engage both sectors in a constructive way and have listened very hard to their concerns and needs. WE’re getting good feedback from the sectors about the way we’ve done this and so I think you cannot say we lack the right expertise.
Not directly related to libraries, but the following question about the rumoured end of the DCMS was also asked by nolarae:
- The Rumor Mill is pretty active at the moment, saying that the DCMS will be split up after the Olympics. What potential threats does this pose for Arts Council not having DCMS holding ‘holding back the wolves’, i.e. other Govt Depts taking funding away from the Arts?
Alan Davey’s reply:
Well, I’m not sure that wolves get much from DCMS budgets – it being the smallest department in Whitehall by far. Whatever happens, they’d need to protect budgets for arts and museums and there would need to be a place in Whitehall to represent their interests. In the past this has been the Cabinet Office, the Education department or even the Treasury direct. Some other countries such as Australia put arts and culture as part of the Prime Minister’s office, reflecting their importance. So if there is a proposal to abolish the DCMS there will need to be a convincing alternative so that the interests of arts and culture remain at the heart of government. And that is the case we – the sector and the Arts Council – have to argue as strongly as we can. It seems to me to be a false economy to abolish a body if you then have to reinvent it elsewhere.
It was good to get a reply that addressed some of the issues I raised. It was also good to be reassured that ACE still had staff to focus on libraries and museums, even though I’m not sure how many of these members of staff there are in comparison to previous MLA numbers and how many of them have a specific focus on libraries.
I didn’t receive a response regarding council members with specific focus on libraries, so I’ll be interested to see what happens in the future at that level.
However, I still have the nagging thought that the updated Arts Council England mission statement still focuses heavily on art. It’s led by the line:
“Our mission is ‘great art for everyone’ and we work to achieve this by championing, developing and investing in arts and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives.”
“We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections.
Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.
Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £0.85 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.”
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy art and the impact and benefits that libraries can have on this area, but I still feel it might be more helpful to have an acknowledgement in the mission statement that libraries (and museums) are more than just arts focused.