Skip to main content

Does 'Arts Funding Bring in £4 for Every £1 Spent'?

I was interested to see, in a moan about the Labour party's lack of intention to reverse Conservative cuts to arts funding, this punchy statement:

But does arts funding 'bring in £4 for every £1 spent'? And just what does 'brings in' mean? The website had picked the statement up from a Local Government Association Press release, which itself referred to a report called 'Driving growth through local government investment in the arts' which referred (keep up) to a 2013 Arts Development UK Report. (Phew.) And here we find that magic number - but it certainly wasn't about what I expected.

Saying arts spending 'brings in £4 for every £1 spent' and I suspect most people would think that if you spent £1 of public money on the arts, £4 would flow in either directly from ticket sales, merchandising etc. or indirectly from extra tourism to your town/city etc. That's certainly what I assumed it meant, as did a straw poll I did on Facebook - and as, presumably the ranty person with the headline meant. But it wasn't that at all.

Arts Development UK kindly provided me with their 2013 report from which this 'statistic' was taken. What the report actually says is 'For every £1 spent by local authorities on arts service, leverage from grant aid and partnership working brings in £4.04 of additional funding.' So, when a local authority spends £1 it gets that additional money from grant aid and partnership - which is largely partnership with other authorities and with bodies like Arts Council England. In other words, £1 of local government spend brings the local authority another £4 of public money. Excellent for the local authority, but hardly supporting the argument to spend more on the arts.

To be honest, this 'statistic', which I suspect we will see used plenty more times, is wrong on just about every count. What the numbers refer to is being misrepresented (accidentally, I'm sure). And it's entirely the wrong way to argue for funding of the arts.

We should fund the arts. But not because they're a good return on financial investment - they rarely are, at least in the short term. It's very difficult to show that there are significant financial benefits. The tourists may well have come even if that £1 hadn't been spent (most come for the sights and commercial entertainment, rather than publicly funded arts). The money spent on the tickets, brochures, CDs, etc. etc. is likely to have been spent with someone else anyway. As one of my straw pollers, Richard Carter put it 'I used to assess business cases for a living. You can get them to say pretty much anything you want.'

Instead, we should fund the arts because they are important to what makes us human. You can argue about how much they need funding, and how we do that funding, and I would argue that it's a disgrace to spend so much on elite establishments like the Royal Opera House when regional arts funding is nose diving. There is also lots of money wasted on silly things. But one of the problems with the arts is that one person's silly thing is another's true artwork.

So here's the short version:
  1. Yes, keep some art spending (redistributing it with less to big London institutions) but 
  2. No, don't use misleading numbers and 
  3. No, don't argue it's a money spinner. It's not. It's more important than that.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou