Sunday, August 5, 2012

Emerging themes: culture sector funding

As I move towards the end of my data collection, I'm jotting down some of the themes emerging from my survey and interviews. This post has a quick look at how culture sector funding could change after the Olympic Games have finished in London:

A lot of people are enjoying the Olympics at the moment, and a lot of people in the UK will know that it was funded to the tune of over £9 billion. If you work in the UK culture sector you'll have also noticed that this portion of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) purview has seen cuts of up to 50 per cent, even for the biggest players in the sector.

But what happens after the Olympics are over? On the one hand, I've heard that this may be a period of optimism: inevitably, funding will drop off for sport and regeneration in London's east end, opening up much-needed funding opportunities for culture sector institutions to regain some momentum. This could well be the case, but it may not be that straight-forward.

Firstly, the culture sector will need to re-assert itself. Since I'm talking about digital initiatives in libraries, let's focus on that. With the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) scrapped, there's no obvious source of strategic direction for moving libraries forward on this front - JISC is mostly focused on higher education and the British Library is not proving to be a heavy hitter in this regard.

While a large degree of independence is needed to tackle digital initiatives at a project level, they still need funding, and to get that they need a voice. The culture sector, which mostly trades in intangible benefits, must now compete seriously against the very tangible benefits of 14 gold medals (and counting) and third place in the medals tables which investment in sport has delivered.

And that's not all. Lord Moynihan, Chairman of the British Olympic Association, after criticising that fact that most of Britain's recent gold medalists were educated at private schools, has called for an increase in funding towards the school sports curriculum in the UK. We're talking about legacy here, which is about as important for the Games organisers as the event itself; and anyone who watched Twenty Twelve will know that "legacy is not the same as sustainability."

So we're in for an interesting time post-Olympics. The amazing accomplishments of the Olympics deserve to maintain their momentum into the future, but there must be an opportunity here for the culture sector to regain a bit of ground. The argument for that may have something to do with posterity.

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