The Perils Of Funding And The Tyranny Of Scale

Heiner Goebbels giving his Keynote at TDS10I’ve just listened to an awesome keynote speech at Talent Development Symposium by Heiner Goebbels, in which he highlighted the creative attrition (my phrase) in the way that the structures around arts facilitation (education, production and funding) work.

One example he gave was that of modern orchestral work being commissioned purely to justify the existence of orchestras, not as an artistically-driven medium. The thought that modern composers would be writing for that combination of instruments being dismissed as nonsense.

Which raises the conflicting roles of expedient funding models (where the funding is on a body of performers for whom work is them commissioned to keep them in work, reliant on a perculiar circular self-justification ethos) vs ‘pure’ artistic facilitation, which may actually be a logistics/cost-reduction role to help art happen where there is no money, especially art that may or may not be ‘successful’, but which requires resourcing to even prototype…

It seems that funding is both a facilitator and a cultural prison to those who end up seeing it as the only way of making things happen. I see it all the time with musicians who still think that making an album is going to cost them a minimum of £10-15,000 because they see record labels as *the only* funding method that can work, and thus buy into the economic framework that the labels themselves exist within.

The problem is going to be even larger in artistic disciplines that require even more people, space, resources - Opera, Theatre – and therefor end up with even larger institutions (organisational or venue-based) governing the allocation of funding and resources.

There is, it seems, an inherent ‘tyranny of scale’ that needs overcoming. The larger the body, the greater the abstract potential they have to make big things happen, but the harder it is for them to be granular in locating, understanding and resourcing real creativity and value, and also to provide guidance in how to spend less. Sometimes, just acknowledging it will help us start to see disruptive ways round it.


So, what kind of new models, or tiered commissioning, funding, training and resourcing can we come up with that both recognise the need for some huge cultural arts projects to be resourced by those big structures, but also the desperate need for agile, devolved decision making in helping much smaller, progressive projects where the return on investment is MUCH harder to predict ahead of time?

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