Director's Blog: January 2019

Happy New Year to our national and regional networks! The days may still be a little short but January is a great time to think about the future. Our New Year resolution is never to lose sight of the opportunities the year may bring - and not just the challenges we're already all too aware of. CVAN is thinking about the future.

CVAN celebrates the many successes of our strongly embedded regional base delivering fantastic support to arts organisations through our regional networks but we also need to draw together and do more to promote our interests as a sector overall. So through the coming year CVAN will be looking at how we can work better together as a national network, how we innovate, how we engage across sectors and in creative partnerships regionally, nationally, and internationally, and how we promote diversity in the visual arts.

Our key priorities for 2019 will be:

  • exploring new models, technologies, and funding sources we might take advantage of to help make up for the dwindling pool of resources from more traditional frameworks

  • maintaining our visual arts sector's international reputation for vibrancy, innovation, and excellence

  • how we can become more diverse as a sector, both in our range of people, skills, and perspectives

Celebrating the Role of Arts and Culture in National Life

The Understanding Society report for 2018, Insights, features in Jeremy Wright's very welcome Value of Culture speech on 18 Jan at the Belgrade Theatre as strong evidence for the importance of arts and culture in national life, the wellbeing of communities, and the future of the UK economy. The Culture Secretary goes on to highlight government support for culture through government schemes such as social prescribing and the Industrial Strategy.

Briefing: Brexit and the Immigration White Paper:

As set out above, one of CVAN's priorities for 2019 is the international connectivity and reputation of the UK's visual arts sector for excellence. Brexit raises many issues for the contemporary visual arts but, most especially, presents us with challenges in maintaining and expanding our global connectedness.

The Cultural Sector contributed £29.5bn to the UK economy in 2017 and accounted for 1.6% of UK GVA. The contribution of the Cultural Sector increased by 7.2% between 2016 and 2017, and by 38.5% since 2010] [DCMS Economic Estimates]. Nearly a quarter (24.8%) of Cultural Sector GVA was accounted for by the ‘Arts’ sub-sector. This sub-sector has increased by 62.6% since 2010, from £4.5bn in 2010 to £7.3bn in 2017, and increased by 6.2% since 2016 (£6.9bn in 2016). The UK was the second largest art market worldwide in 2016, with a 21% share of all global art and antique sales by value [British Art Market Report]. The UK topped the global 'soft power' index in 2018 [Portland] whilst two of the top ten universities in QS World University Rankings for studying art and design are British. A recent British Council report describes the UK as 'perhaps the gold standard' in global soft power strategy.

In the wake of Brexit, recent research has been sounding an alert if Britain's visual arts sector wants to keep its place in an increasingly competitive global cultural economy. China, Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as Turkey and Gulf states are significantly expanding their investment in cultural and arts institutions whilst the British Council has been facing cuts. The British Council report calls for an 'open Brexit' with an ambitious international strategy backed by investment and a commitment to multilateral cooperation. British Council research with Kings in 2017 found that 'cultural diplomacy' is extremely important to the UK economy even if it is difficult to measure its precise impact and that 'soft power' is a resource, not an instrument - it lies in 'cultural capital' - in ideas and moral credibility. It is inherently multilateral and relational. CVAN therefore shares the concerns of many other creative industries bodies that the outcome of Brexit should not damage the reputation of the UK's visual arts sector as embodying an open, tolerant, and critically engaged culture.

The Immigration White Paper: summary of issues for VA sector:

Many of you will be aware of the Immigration White Paper published in December last year which accepts most of the recommendations made in last year’s Migratory Advisory Committee report which we reviewed last year.

The White Paper proposes a skills-based system which brings EU nationals into line with the UK's global migration frameworks (assuming this is compatible with any post-Brexit agreement). Before we celebrate a possible new global equality in UK immigration frameworks, it's important to note that the White Paper is explicit that not all countries will be treated equally and that the system will also be 'risk based' - which means increased surveillance. Otherwise, the system will remain much as before with some tweaks:

  • Tier 2 general work visas will be simplified (through more information sharing between Home Office, HM Revenue, Customs and DWP rather than requesting information from sponsoring organisations and the possible use of umbrella organisations to sponsor visas) and possibly a tiered system to bring in SMEs who rarely currently engage. The cap and the resident labour market test are to be abolished and the range of skills expanded to include mid-level skills (A-level).

  • The qualifying salary of £30,000 pa for intermediate skills will be retained and extended to EU workers but there may be negotiation around flexibility for skills in shortage to allow for migration at lower salary levels. The threshhold seems to be tasked with much of the heavy lifting around reducing immigration so it's debatable how negotiable it will actually prove to be but there does seem to be some space here.

  • The immigration skills charge will be reviewed. There will also be a review of the sponsor licensing system for small and medium sized businesses and the immigration skills charge. The government accepts there should be more consultation generally but, given the timescale of the transition period (assuming we don't crash out), there is little time for extensive consultation and negotiation. The shortage list will be reviewed at the next Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report.

  • The government intends to follow the MAC advice and avoid sectoral schemes - a blow for hopes of a 'creative visa scheme'. But the government will explore the possibility of widening scope of activities permitted on a visitor visa.

  • Proposed new short-term work visas at any skill level but these would be extremely restricted with no access to public services or ability to bring dependents, switch to another visa, settle, or even return to work in the UK for another 12 months. It's also seen as a stop-gap to fill low skills shortages - longer term, the government would prefer to extend Tier 5 to bring in low-skilled workers.

  • There will be no need for visitor visas for EU nationals which should reduce negative impact on the tourist industry (by reciprocal agreement assuming we don't crash out and a reciprocal agreement can be reached).

  • Tier 4 to Tier 2 switches for 2 years after graduating to be retained and the window widened - meaning that creative graduates may have longer to look for work or apply for a short-term work visa after graduating.

The UK has always been highly successful in attracting excellence in the visual arts from all over the world and we share concerns of many of our partner organisations that the White Paper and Brexit as a whole may send the wrong messages globally - giving the impression that the UK is becoming a closed and unwelcoming place to come to live and work

The proposed new immigration system would be skills-based - and we currently have relatively little clearly evidenced information about the range of skills needed by the visual arts sector. We are particularly concerned that the Tier 2 salary threshhold of £30,000 per annum is far too high given that salaries in the VA are known to be relatively low and that there are no specifically visual arts skills on the shortage list. At the same time, the Office for National Statistics is reviewing the way that industries and occupations are coded in economic reviews and we would also like to think about extending and modernising the very few occupational codes which refer specifically to the visual arts.

Time is limited but we need to start developing an evidence-based picture of how the movement of talent works in our sector and how Brexit and increasing global competition may impact it. This is not only about immigration frameworks but also about maintaining the global presence of the UK visual arts longer term and our reputation for excellence. However, in the current uncertainty it is difficult to focus so we will begin to gather evidence in Spring and run consultation events in early Summer - assuming that the Article 50 process is resolved by the end of March.

Artists' Livelihoods

ACE has now published the long-awaited research supported by a-n The Artists Information Company on Artists' Livelihoods. a-n intends to run a story linking to the reports giving additional and more nuanced information, and have agreed with ACE to run the survey again in 2020 with a view to updating the report in 2021.

Augar Review of HE

The Prime Minister has launched a review of UK tertiary education headed up by Philip Augar, a friend of the PM. Some of you may know that the UK HE system is already facing it's most fundamental reorganisation since WWII this year but the PM wants a yet more radical approach. One of the key issues is the relationship between technical and academic HE and for student fees to reflect graduate earning potential - and this is where arts education swirls into the eye of the storm.

The 2017 Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) statistics showed the median salary level for art and design graduates was £20,000 5 years after leaving university - at the bottom of the salary league. Another report by the Institute of Fiscal studies indicates that male creative arts graduates earn up to 14% less than non-graduates - a negative 'graduate premium'. Arts HE would argue that the way in which this data is collected disadvantages the cultural sector and does not reflect the true value of ‘portfolio’ careers and earnings - and certainly doesn't reflect what everyone agrees to be an unusually high level of career satisfaction.

Whatever the true value of an arts education might be, it seems likely that the report due in 2019 will recommend introducing differential fees for different subjects with lower fee levels for creative subjects in HE. Given the higher cost of provision of arts education infrastructure which is often met by 'cross-funding' (balancing funds derived from a 'flat' student fee across subjects which are more and less expensive to teach) this represents a significant challenge to arts Higher Education in the UK. Sandra Booth who heads policy at the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design has also called for greater uptake of on degree apprenticeships in the creative industries.

Put in the context mentioned above of cuts to the British Council budgets and increasing investment in emergent economies, it's important to remember the crucial role that our world-class creative education plays in the UK's reputation for excellence globally - two of the top 10 arts universities globally in are in the UK. This may underline an urgency to understand and advocate for the skills needs of the visual arts sector more effectively.

New round of BID funding

Communities across the country can bid for up to £50,000 in a new BID fund to help make local areas more attractive for business and help town centres and high streets thrive. There is up to £95,000 available for this latest round of funding, which DCLG estimates will be able to provide funding for up to 4 prospective BIDs. Successful applicants to the fund can receive up to £50,000. The average received by successful applicants has been £33,000. Expressions of Interest in the Loan Fund are to be received by 8 March 2019, with completed applications by 10 May 2019.

The Cultural Development Fund (CDF)

Five locations across England (Grimsby, Thames Estuary, Plymouth, Wakefield and Worcester) will receive a share of £20 million to invest in local culture, heritage and creative industries and help drive economic growth, in a new round of The Cultural Development Fund (CDF) announced by Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright on 18 Jan in Coventry - the next UK City of Culture in 2021. Each area has designed plans to strengthen the local arts sector, increase cultural access and provide greater opportunity for people to forge creative careers.

[photo: Can Stock Photo]