John Tusa’s Arts Management Anti-Lexicon


The need to find and use language about the arts that belongs to the arts is as great as ever… The language of the arts must not be the language of management, business or the civil service. We need our own words to define our needs and activities, not an externally imposed lexicon of objectives, outcomes and deliverables in which a sense of purpose becomes a ‘direction of travel’, a difficulty always becomes a ‘challenge’, a dilemma mutates into an ‘issue’, serving your audience becomes ‘maximising stakeholder value’, and clarity and meaning dissolve into fogs of evasion or obfuscation.

John Tusa, Pain in the Arts

Just as I’ve finished to read Engaged with the Arts: Writing from the Frontline, a 2007 series of essays by John Tusa reflecting on his experience as an arts leader after a decade at the helm of the Barbican Centre – a lucky find in my local Oxfam bookshop – he’s already published another book, titled Pain in the Arts, to add his two cents to the debate about the future of arts funding.

The Arts Desk has published a few extracts, from which I’ve borrowed the following anti-lexicon – a damning take on recent developments in arts management lingo.

  • Assessment: “Employed as a justification for excessive intrusion and attempts at supervision.”
  • Benchmark: “A reductive notion that eliminates creative differences and variations.”
  • Customer: “Gone are ‘audience’, ‘listener’, ‘viewer’, ‘passenger’, ‘patient’, ‘traveller’, or any of a dozen different activities and relationships that define a myriad of distinct and particular transactions. ‘Customer’ is literally a one-size-fits-all concept, diminishing particularity and difference.”
  • Discourse: “A pretentious, poshed-up kind of word to describe discussion, debate or any kind of extended intellectual exchange.”
  • Engage: “Why not ‘get involved’?”
  • Holistic: “A grand-sounding word inviting approval of an elevated underlying concept but meaning less than ‘taking many things into account together’. Speakers who use ‘holistic’ are usually trying to bolster a threadbare argument.”
  • Impact (as in “impact studies”): “Here intellectual or artistic activity must demonstrate its case for support by proving in numerical terms that it yields a real ‘impact’ for society, usually social or economic.”
  • Legacy: “Increasingly deployed as a wrap-around word to demand support for a long-term project that it usually failed to deliver.”
  • Narrative: “When I heard an interviewee saying he had been advised by his HR director to improve the way he ‘edited his personal narrative’ – that is, ‘talking about himself at interview’ – it was was clear how far this rot had gone.”
  • Synergy: “A purely hopeful, pre-emptive word, inviting support for actions that claim to deliver hyped claims of success. Whether ‘synergies’ are delivered is rarely examined after the event.”
  • Transformational: “It very rarely proves to be.”

And this is – already – how John Tusa concluded, 7 years ago, his “New ABC of the Arts” in Engaged with the Arts, an update on his 1999 “A to Z of Running an Arts Centre”:

Maybe it’s just me but the shift in the alphabet towards a much fuller, more rigorous, more comprehensive, more demanding set of administrative and managerial criteria is real enough. Some are nonsense. Some are needlessly onerous. Some can actively distort the core purposes of the arts. But they won’t go away. The skill of arts management is to turn the awkward, obfuscating and bureaucratic alphabet into a language that truly serves the arts and their audiences.


Funding for the arts in Canada


TAC, OAC, CCA, CADAC: in the 3 years I spent in Canada, I have accumulated a nice collection of new arts acronyms. Now that I’m back in the UK, I want to spend some time reflecting on what I’ve learned, as I already started in a previous post on shared spaces and coworking, and I’m following up with an overview of the funding landscape. This is not exhaustive by any means, and it’s based on my personal, Toronto-centric experience of researching funding sources for various projects and organisations, mainly in music, media arts, community arts and multidisciplinary festivals.

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At a glance

3 different levels of government funding: one federal granting agency, Canada Council for the Arts; one funding body for each provincial government (full list); and several separate municipal Arts Councils (such as Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton).

A vast range of foundations: their status varies from government agencies (like Ontario Trillium Foundation), family foundations, corporate philanthropy funds or community foundations. They must be registered charities. Some clearly display their remit and assessment process, others don’t even have a website and don’t accept unsolicited requests; some operate on a national scope, others have a provincial or local focus.

– Registered charities can also conveniently receive tax-deductible donations through online platform Canada Helps (at a credit rate of up to 29% of the gift depending on the province).

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Three levels of Arts Councils

Municipal level

Toronto Arts Council is a not-for-profit organisation that distributes public funds under a Grant Agreement contract with the City. Its two key operating principles are arm’s length funding and peer review.  It is governed by a 29-strong Board of Directors, 5 of whom are City Councillors, and draws on the expertise of 54 volunteer committee members who advise on grants for theatre, dance, visual arts/film & video, music, literature and community arts. Grants are assessed by a jury or committee of artists and arts administrators specialised in the relevant discipline.

TAC only funds artists and organisations based within the limits of the City of Toronto, or projects with a Toronto-based lead applicant, with an emphasis on partnerships & innovation (e.g. collaboration with other arts organisations) and public impact (outreach, audience development, participatory elements, especially outside the core & youth audiences). Funded organisations also must receive significant ongoing support from other sources, public or private. 75% of all support from TAC is for amounts less than $10,000, and ⅔ of grants are reserved each year to new projects and individuals.

TAC’s budget is currently set at CAD $16 million for 2014 and growing year on year, as the City of Toronto has committed to increase arts funding per capita from $14 to $25 by 2017 (via additional revenues from the billboard tax).

A parallel organisation, Toronto Arts Foundation, raises funds from donations and sponsors to further the goals of the Toronto Arts Council, through research, strategic networks and awards. It also manages an Arts Volunteer Network.

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Provincial level

Ontario Arts Council celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. An arm’s-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, OAC supports artists and arts organisations through 65 different granting programmes in arts education, Aboriginal arts, community arts, crafts, dance, Franco-Ontarian arts, literature, media arts, multidisciplinary arts, music, theatre, touring and visual arts. A board of 12 volunteer directors, appointed by the Government of Ontario for a three-year term and representing communities throughout the province, is responsible for setting OAC’s policies and oversees the organisation’s operations.

OAC’s strategic priorities are to support the lives, careers and work of individual artists, especially Aboriginal, francophone, culturally diverse, new generation (ages 18 to 30) and regional artists; enabling people of all ages and in all regions to actively engage and participate in the arts; and ensuring that the creativity, innovation and excellence of Ontario’s artists and arts organizations in all their diversity are seen and acclaimed locally, nationally and internationally.

In 2012-2013, OAC funded 1,793 individual artists and 1,076 organizations in 232 Ontario communities, for a total of $52.1 million. Grants, both operational and project-based, are allocated through a peer assessment process.

Some granting programmes, such as Writers’ Reserve and Theatre Creators’ Reserve, are administered by third-party recommenders – publishers, literary organisations and theatre companies who may have an interest in publishing or developing the submitted proposals.

Additionally, OAC manages private donations and bequests that fund awards and fellowships; it also administers the peer assessment process of several awards, prizes and scholarships on behalf of the Ontario Arts Foundation, a public foundation with assets of $62 million.

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Federal level

Created in 1957, the Canada Council for the Arts is “Canada’s national, arm’s-length arts funding agency”. They provide funding to individual professional artists and arts organisations through a peer assessment process, award fellowships and prizes (from private donations and bequests) to about 200 artists and scholars and conduct research to further their mandate to support, promote and celebrate the arts.

CCA also operates the Musical Instrument Bank, a collection of close to 20 historical stringed instruments worth a total of over $36 million that musicians have to compete to borrow, and the Art Bank, “the world’s largest collection of contemporary Canadian art”, available for private space rentals, public loans and outreach programmes.

Peer assessors – nominated by other artists, arts organisations, the public or themselves – can normally only participate in review committee once every 24 months. The selection and assessment process is detailed at length on CCA’s website.

A few figures taken from the 2013 annual report:

– $181.2 million as total parliamentary appropriation
– $153.4 million allocated to grants, prizes and payments
– 629 peer assessors
– 11-member Board from across Canada

– 20,355 artists awarded $32 million to support a wide range of activities, including research, creation, professional travel, market development and payments for the presence of books in public libraries.
– Approximately 1,000 arts organisations received $93 million in operating grants, representing approximately 66% of the Council’s total granting budget.
– 1,704 organisations received $28 million in project funding, 20% of Council’s granting budget.


A dynamic sector that drives change

These are a few examples of interesting initiatives – active, recent or with a lasting impact – again based on my own experience, with no pretension to accurately reflect a whole national sector.

Governmental level

At federal level: CCA just released a paper and launched a blog to open up dialogue on public engagement in the arts. They also provide a Leadership for Change funding stream (previously Flying Squad) to enable organisational change.

At provincial level: OAC runs Compass, a programme that supports both organisational and professional development.

At municipal level: TAC is piloting new initiatives, such as Space for Art (spaces for administration, programming and exhibition at below-market rent), special grants for projects in selected heritage sites and libraries, and a partnership with the Toronto District School Board to to provide opportunities for artist residencies, mentorships and performances in school as part of a new festival.  TAC also supports a Research Fellow, currently Jinni Stolk from Creative Trust.

Online reporting

All governmental arts funding bodies have teamed up to create a shared online reporting platform, the CADAC, for financial and statistical information on operational grants. Since 2008, instead of reporting separately for each governmental grant they received, organisations can upload their audited statements and enter their budget projections; funders have access to this information to assess funding bids and are now able to analyse sector-wide data.

Arts service organisations

Creative Trust was a capacity-building organisation that wound up its operations in 2012, when its mission was achieved. Over 10 years, they ran the Working Capital for the Arts programme, assisting over 50 mid-size and small companies to eliminate deficits, create working capital reserves and improve their governance, planning and management skills; helped companies undertake capital projects to upgrade and repair their aging facilities; and engaged companies in a comprehensive audience development programme.

Business for the Arts – “Canada’s national association of business leaders who support the arts since 1974” – runs ArtsVest (a “matching incentive and sponsorship training program”), ArtsScene (a “network of leading young business professionals who support the arts through volunteerism and patronage”) and boardLink (“a  matching program connecting business professionals with volunteer board and committee positions within the arts organizations in their cities”).

Agenda-setting foundations

Metcalf Foundation supports capacity-building and organisational innovation in the performing arts (as well as projects and initiatives in the environmental and local economies realm). Through the Creative Strategies Incubator programme, it supports 3-year development plans to address self-identified issues on a theme changing every year (in 2014: engaging audiences and building communities around your work). It also funds full-time internships to support the next generation of arts managers. Professional development grants from $500 to $10,000 are available for performing arts professionals (who have to be affiliated with a registered charity), and selected Innovation Fellows can propose and develop the research of their choice. Recent Fellows include Jane Marsland, examining fiscal sponsorship models in her Shared Platform report, and Shannon Litzenberger, dance artist and author of Choreographing our Future.

– As well as providing funding for what they call Vital Initiatives, Toronto Community Foundation publishes an annual Vital Signs report and recognises Vital Ideas and Vital People. Donors can choose the field of interest or even designated charities they want to invest in.

Ontario Trillium Foundation, “Canada’s leading grantmaking foundation”, is a government agency that works with over 300 community volunteers to review more than 3,000 grant applications each year, of which about half are successful. Their focus in the arts cover heritage, participation, leadership and social and economic change. Through their granting priorities, they encourage collaborative projects and youth engagement.


A wide range of corporate foundations

Operational funding mainly comes from governmental sources, and while some foundations support organisational development, others, especially corporate philanthropic bodies, are solely focused on providing financial support to projects that match their specific remit – “signature cause”, target demographics, type of impact.

Here are three examples of philanthropic foundations from the financial sector:

Royal Bank of Canada runs an Emerging Artist Project, providing “sponsorships and donations with organizations whose programs bridge the gap from academic excellence to professional careers in all forms of art.” Their commitment is mainly for the visual arts – for example with a nationwide painting competition in partnership with Canadian Art Foundation – and film – their support of TIFF is highly visible in Toronto.

–  Scotiabank’s Bright Future programmes cover education, health, social services and arts & culture in 29 countries. They are title sponsors for the municipally-run Nuit Blanche and the CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto, and nationwide for the 20-year-old fiction award Giller Prize.

Manulife Financial has chosen volunteerism as its ‘signature cause’ and fulfills its CSR in three different ways: by providing financial resources to volunteer programmes (Luminato Festival is a recipient); by encouraging its employees at all levels to volunteer, with paid community hours (not restricted to the organisations it funds); and by running a matchmaking website for individuals looking for a volunteer opportunities and organisations,

Choreographing Our Future

The Long Read

In the post-institution-building era, how is art created and supported? Should – and can – public funding be as innovative as the contemporary practices and experiments it is meant to enable?

These are questions addressed in a recent report written by Shannon Litzenberger, a practising artist (a dancer, as the title might give it away) and arts policy researcher during her Innovation Fellowship at Canadian private foundation Metcalf.

The report is introduced as such on the foundation’s website:

As our cultural expression evolves, there is a need to re-look at some of the fundamental assumptions regarding how the arts are supported and sustained in Canada. The environment in which we are operating is radically different than in decades past. New technologies, changing demographics, global interconnectedness, and the evolving nature of public engagement in the arts have transformed our industry. Consequently, the working practice of the emerging generation is increasingly misaligned with current arts funding policies.

The author spent three years investigating industry trends in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia, meeting over 100 cultural leaders and reflecting on context and process. Her report is full of ideas and examples from artists, arts organisations, granting agencies and strategic consultants in the 4 countries of research – from Arts Council England’s project-based, continuous-intake funding programme Grants for the Arts to Toronto’s leading collaborative platform and shared workspaces Centre for Social Innovation and Artscape, via insights from DEMOS associate John Holden and WolfBrown’s consultant Alan Brown.

Litzenberger is careful to mention that “the recommendations contained in Choreographing our Future are not intended as prescribed solutions. They are designed to trigger a more informed debate within the sector about new ways to address future arts development.” The debate was there right from the launch event, where three Toronto-based arts advocate – a granting officer, an independent theatre creator and a consultant – presented to a full room their own views and reaction to the findings. What emerged from the public discussion was a strong desire to go further – but where?

The report conclusion contains clues to a possible direction: towards collaboration, between genres, generations and even industries.

It is not our intellect that will propel us forward, but our courage. We must be willing to erase the line that separates artist and institution, that polarizes the traditional from the contemporary, that pits disciplines of practice against each other, and isolates generations and cultural groups. In this new age of the arts — this newly celebrated creative economy — I am optimistic about the possibilities for artists, arts organizations, and funders to work together as creative innovators, as facilitators of engagement in creative life, and as ambassadors of a healthy, thriving, vibrant arts sector.

Take it away


In the midst of the Arts Council England funding cuts, I wanted to check if a brilliant scheme that they used to run was still in operation, but I couldn’t remember the name of it, so here is how I went about it (a feeble attempt at network mapping – for a more impressive example, see this Map of Jazz):

1. I remembered that video interviews with musicians were featured on the website, including one with clarinetist Arun Ghosh, a regular Manchester Jazz Festival guest.

2. Last time I spoke to Arun, in 2009, he was musical director for Something in the Air, a MIF Creative project with Oily Cart, described as “a stunning aerial adventure for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities or an autistic spectrum disorder.”

This brought up great memories but didn’t advance my search. However, checking Arun’s website, I noticed two noteworthy facts:

a. Arun has a new album out.

b. He is playing at a festival called Love Supreme, which, with such a name, could only be jazz, and turns out to be “the first 3-day greenfield jazz festival in the UK for over twenty years”, a few miles from Brighton.

Going slightly off-track, I investigated this new festival to glean a few more facts:

i. As well as high-profile international artists – Robert Glasper Experiment, Melody Gardot and Esperanza Spalding – and excellent local acts – Portico Quartet, Neil Cowley Trio, Gogo Penguin, Kairos 4Tet, Troyka – Love Supreme features Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame playing his own repertoire in a big band style (with a big band) and the intriguingly-named White Mink Vs Peppermint Candy, which turn out to be two hot electro swing club nights currently surfing the cabaret revival wave (for a French and live version of the genre, see Caravan Palace).

ii. To break a few more stereotypes about jazz, it actually has a nice website, with lots of Instagram-style photos and an easy navigation. It offers camping, glamping (glam camping, anyone?) and podpads (which look truly adorable with their candy-stripe beach hut vibe).

As this didn’t bring me anywhere nearer the object of my initial enquiry, I turned to the Arts Council England website and looked at their Initiatives page, and there I found it: Take it away. The link provided sent me to an 404 error page, but a quick search finally got me to the right website.

What is Take it away? A programme aiming to make musical instruments more accessible to children and young people by providing interest-free loans of up to £5,000.

How do I take it away?  Individuals must either be over 18 buying an instrument for a child under the age of 18 or aged 18-25 using the scheme in their own right. They also must be a permanent UK resident working at least 16 hours per week. They can apply by mail order or directly at one of the 300+ participating shops, then pay a 10% deposit, et voilà! They can take their new or reconditioned instrument home and practice, practice, practice.

Who runs Take it away? Take it away is an Arts Council England intiative operated by ​Creative Sector Services CIC, designed to help more children and young people get involved in learning and playing music.

The website is full of tips and advice, as well as some lovely customer case studies – such as 17-year-old multi-instumentalist Emma who dreams of becoming a music teacher or young sax player Omar who wants to be in a jazz band.

Professional musicians across all genres also share their career path and their thoughts about the scheme – here is a small selection, with links to the full interviews:

Frank Turner:

I think that anything that helps getting younger people into music is good. Although I think a little adversity is important too – Rock ‘n’ Roll is, and will always, at heart be rebellion music.

Courtney Pine:

In many cultures outside the UK music is an integral part in the development of the young. This has been a tried and trusted way of supporting positive growth patterns in young minds. From the beginnings of our existence in Africa repetitive reinforcement of social conduct, order and general safeguarding against danger has been reliant on songs or nursery rhymes which allow the young to ‘get the message’ in a very direct way. Playing an instrument is a further development of this, which gives (in my experience) the student an even closer attachment to personal development. I believe this scheme to be important and very relevant to our current society.

Joseph Arthur:

It’s amazing to give people the gift of access to their imagination. Apart from the basics of survival I can think of no  greater gift.

And finally, to close the loop, here is the video interview with Arun Ghosh that got me started on the Take it Away trail, where he talks about clubbing, improvising on the recorder and why the clarinet is a vastly superior instrument.

Arts funding advocacy toolkit

Tools of the Trade

Arts Council England is endorsing a grassroots advocacy approach to support its mission and is encouraging all arts organisations and artists to demonstrate the value of public investment in the arts. The Advocacy Toolkit, available for free download, contains infographics with key facts and figures on audiences, the economic weight of the sector, employment and public investment; primers on the government agenda, to help arts organisations focus on gathering evidence on how they meet current priorities (such as building communities, driving economic growth, boosting tourism and creating employment); tips on working with media and MPs; and practical steps to advocate for continued public investment in arts and culture.

From Culture Minister Maria Miller’s recent speech to this report commissioned by  Arts Council England, the case for the economic value for the arts is gaining momentum in the UK, as explains Alan Davey, ACE’s Chief Executive Officer, in his response to the Centre for Economics and Business Research report:

We fund arts and culture because they have the power to nurture and inspire us,  to ask questions and pose challenges, whether as a society or as individuals. The contribution culture makes to our quality of life and its ability to fire our imaginations always comes first. It is also right to consider all the benefits that investment in the arts and culture can bring, particularly at a time when there is severe pressure on public finances, so that we can argue for the most effective use of that contribution.

Whilst Maria Miller’s ‘culture-as-commodity’ approach is being heatedly discussed (and a bit less heatedly here and here), other valuation methods and criteria are in development, such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project, based on the “actual experience of culture and the arts rather than the ancillary effects of this experience”, or the Intrinsic Impact study developed by consultants Baker Richards and WolfBrown, aiming at “shift[ing] attention to transformative outcomes in the economy of meaning, not just the economy of money”.

Meanwhile, the heads of many arts organisations have come together in a movement called What Next? that has just held its first national conference. The objectives of the meeting are described as threefold in this Guardian article:

  • Engage every British MP in the work of their local arts organisations;
  • Draw in local councillors, business people and leaders of schools and colleges, treating them “like high-level donors”;
  • Come together to harness the voices of their audiences, visitors or members.

 This is where Arts Council England’s advocacy toolkit can come handy, with its detailed, practical steps to gathering evidence and communicating to different stakeholders. I have copied below an abbreviated version of these action points, also available on the ‘How to advocate’ section:

  1. Create a landing page on your website which includes the ‘why arts and culture are good value’ bullets.
  2. Put together some facts, figures and quotes to show the impact of your work and demonstrate the link between public funding and the outcomes of that investment. How has it helped to create jobs, generate revenue or positively supported your local community? Include this information in your programmes, on your press materials and on your website.
  3. Tell your social networking communities about the value of public investment in arts and culture and encourage them to share  your messages.
  4. Encourage your stakeholders to make the case to local and national politicians. Invite them to see your work and use the occasion to talk to them about the value of what you do.
  5. If you receive funding from Arts Council England ensure your work is branded with the correct logo and that it links to – their public-facing landing page, so everybody knows that public money has made a contribution.