Looking at National Portfolio Orgs, and some questions from a friend

In my continuing quest for a bird’s eye view on the arts & culture landscape, today I poked at the current data on the Arts Council’s National Portfolio Organisations (NPO). On the Arts Council website, there’s an Excel download of all the NPO organisations for 2018-2022. So, I downloaded that, and made a Google spreadsheet version: Copy of all NPOs and funding 2018-2022.

Copy of all NPOs and funding 2018-2022

I found this useful to help with grounding amongst all the big numbers flying around. It helped me realise that the £1.57M relief promised to the sector is a big amount, since that’s just below the total funding across all NPOs for 2018-2022, which amounts to £1,622,621,636. The difficult part is that there are 840 organisations listed here, and — even though I’m not sure anyone actually knows — there are lots more than 840 arts orgs across the UK.

The disciplines listed are:

  • Combined arts
  • Dance
  • Literature
  • Museums
  • Music
  • Theatre
  • Visual arts, and
  • Not specific

When I sorted the sheet by Column 0 (% change in support from one period to the other) + Column D (Funding band) + Column N (Total Funding 2018-2022), you quickly see:

  • 187 orgs have been added for four-year period, adding £147,487,464 to the funding pot
  • Without Walls and Arts & Heritage Plymouth City Council are the big new NPOs in terms of £, each with over £1,000,000 investment each year – yay!
  • 526 orgs have retained the same level of funding across both periods, 0% change
  • You can see little blobs of new NPOs at round funding figures; like seeds

Some other facts I didn’t know before poking at this data:

  • Royal Opera House is funded to the tune of £24,028,840 annually (and that’s about 20% of its income normally)
  • There are 36 “Band 3” orgs, which receive a minimum of £1,000,000 per year, and have other requirements around diversity, international collaboration, education, digital etc, per Page 41 of the NPO Relationship Framework.
  • There are 58 Sector Support Organisations (SSOs), including 24 new ones in this period. SSOs are great.

I found this table not very helpful in the ACE-produced NPO info, perhaps because it doesn’t connect with the overall list of NPOs or show crossover, for example a BME+LGBT+Female-led? Or, am I missing something blindingly obvious here?

ACE NPO Investment Factsheet PDF

What are the big juicy questions?

The questions from my friend, and long time advisor and conversator from afar, Eliza Gregory, has been chatting and emailing with me about all this… and she’s sent me questions that I like so much, I’m just going to copy them in here.

  1. What are the social implications of entrenching cultural wealth in terms of endowments, grants and artifacts?
  2. What social problems are connected to these practices?
  3. And on the other side, what might society be like if we changed the way a portion of that wealth is held or distributed?
  4. In what ways do these practices uphold the colonial project/the colonial/Victorian legacy that actually holds the entire society back?
  5. In what ways do these practices continue to explicitly support white supremacy?
  6. And what would it mean for all people to be liberated from that structure?
  7. Can we picture ourselves freed from it?
  8. What does that look like?
  9. What does that feel like? (So, so good.) 

Again, rough stuff, comments welcome, suggestions for direction or collaborators who are doing similar things even more welcome!

Arm’s Length Data?

I’ve spent today looking up the 2019 Annual Reports of all the Arm’s Length Organisations that DCMS gives grant-in-aid funding to. I’ve put some figures I think are involved in my learning about Who Needs It Less?

I’ve made a Google spreadsheet called DCMS Arm’s Length Orgs snapshot – 2018-2019, and anyone can view with this link. Please tread carefully! THERE MAY BE ERRORS. This is rough work, comments welcome!

These are big numbers. I’ve collated a few different fields per organisation I think are interesting:

  • Total income (for that year)
  • Total expenditure
  • Net income (which may be in the red)
  • Fixed assets (which likely include tangible, intangible, heritage, and certain types of investments)
  • Current assets (like stocks, debtors or cash)
  • Grant-in-aid figure if I could find it in the Annual Report (and there’s a second sheet in the spreadsheet that gets that number per org from a doc I found from Parliament, which is linked as the source)
  • Endowment if that figure is noted separately

From this basic by-hand aggregation, you can see stuff like the BBC’s Total Income in 2018 was £4,889,000,000 or National Gallery had the highest Net Income at £15,400,000.

Then I added two % calculations:

  1. Current Assets as a percentage of the Total Income for that year, and
  2. Grant-in-aid as a percentage of the Total Income for that year

Now, I’m not stating anything resembling an approach to trying to figure out which orgs to support and how, but, I’m wondering about these two percentage figures… could they be some measure of health or stability? As Frankie rightly commented on my previous post about this, the Fixed Assets held by our great institutions are probably basically irrelevant, since they’re practically priceless. But maybe if you can say something like the Imperial War Museum has Current Assets that could cover about 64% of its annual income, does that get us anywhere? Or that Royal Armouries has 12% coverage from its Current Assets?

What if we look for orgs that have current (or, more fluid) assets that cover less than 20% of their annual income for 2018 and help them first? Or 50%? Better yet, we could filter that list to deliberately favour BAME and LGBT and disabled-led orgs.

What if the government (and our society) is able to seize this moment to actively work against the preferential structures in its own system? It could actively generate assets for littlies. Grant them 1-3 years equivalent to their 2018 income, and give them an endowment equal to the average of the Arm’s Length orgs, which by my rough calculations is 47% of 2018 income in the bank. That would be a reflection of the healthy situation DCMS has built with their Arm’s Length program, would it not?

I thought I’d have a look at NPOs next, poking at that Current Assets idea. It can be enlightening to see who has no wealth, when that’s such a marker of systemic exclusion.

Notes on data creation:

  • I’ve left comments on cells if something odd or there’s extra info or detail
  • Sources are individual org’s annual reports, linked in Column B
  • If there’s an overarching group, I’ve used that number
  • Director’s Pay is the total package, salary + pension etc
  • DCMS grant in aid is as noted in the annual report
  • I’ve basically looked for what appears to be the same numbers across all the annual report documents – that’s mostly the Balance Sheet and Financial Statements
  • If I’ve left a cell (or row, in the case of the BBC) blank, that means it’s too hard for me to find or process or put into this structure

Looking at UK Arts & Culture funding

Introduction

This post is a branching off from my (George) personal blog, where I have been writing throughout lockdown about various things. I am interested to try to teach myself more about the Arts & Culture funding landscape in the UK, especially as the government has just announced their £1.57M grant, and because I’ve been trying harder to see where systemic racism and sexism live. I want to know how the funding will be distributed. I’m curious to see if I can draw the overall arts and culture funding picture a bit more clearly for myself, and thought others might be interested.

I would love for this to a be a conversation, especially if I’m really missing very important aspects as I explore. Comments are welcome.

Assets vs Need?

Today I haven’t been able to stop thinking of something that struck me when I first moved to the UK in 2014. One day, fairly soon after I’d moved here, I happened to have a coffee with Ed Vaizey, with my friend Wolfgang. He was very pleasant. I was not at all prepared as well as I should have been, and nothing came of it, which is one of my few regrets. But, the thing I noticed and remember most was that Mr. Vaizey’s shirt collar was frayed. How strange, I thought, that the Minster for Digital and Creative Industries couldn’t afford a shirt that wasn’t frayed. I mean, he has his own coat of arms.

Ed Vaizey’s coat of arms

I remember mentioning this to a new English friend who informed me that this was an ever so subtle class marker. That upper class people like to wear things out instead of buying new replacements. Very, very wealthy people apparently don’t have much actual cash, since all their wealth is tied up in things that are difficult to extract their wealth from, like a big house, or, say, most of the real estate in Bloomsbury, as is the case with the British Museum, whose total net assets were listed as £1,001,693,000 in its 2018/19 Annual Report on the Consolidated Balance Sheet, as at 31 March 2019. How hard it must be to see all that money listed as a line item in a balance sheet and not be able to use it.

I’ve been thinking about that £1,570,000,000 cash injection offered by the government to the arts sector, and trying to think about Who Needs This Funding The Least? It’s early days for my data gathering and poking, and sadly, the decisions have likely already been made about who is going to benefit, although I understand there will be some form of application for some. I’ve found it easy to let the various giant numbers flying around wash over me… 1 billion here, 120 million there so step one is to try to see some of these numbers, and particularly to see them against other comparators, to get a sense of the scale of the situation.

Today I learned that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) gives funds each year to what’s called “Arm’s Length Bodies” which receive what’s called “Grant in Aid”. I found a DCMS Estimate Memorandum containing a certain Table 3: Comparing the Grant in Aid funding of our Arm’s length bodies in 2016-17 through to 2018-19, which I share with you below: 

Organisation2017 projected2017 actual2018 projected
British Broadcasting Corporation£3,156,700,000£3,185,400,000£3,255,500,000
Arts Council England£460,526,000£494,183,000£479,972,000
Ofcom1£72,295,000£123,039,000£106,300,000
Sport England£105,649,000£101,787,000£104,795,000
British Library£93,911,000£93,893,000£93,443,000
Historic England£87,806,000£87,912,000£90,734,000
UK Sport£53,536,000£60,890,000£61,431,000
VisitBritain£56,972,000£60,458,000£56,818,000
British Museum£53,569,000£53,473,000£42,046,000
Natural History Museum£49,115,000£41,815,000£41,815,000
Science Museum Group£43,343,000£46,903,000£40,428,000
Tate Gallery£40,251,000£38,066,000£37,566,000
Victoria & Albert Museum£40,257,000£37,726,000£37,176,000
National Gallery£24,092,000£24,092,000£24,092,000
Imperial War Museum£32,136,000£25,347,000£23,634,000
British Film Institute£23,965,000£23,587,000£20,878,000
National Museums Liverpool£20,050,000£19,761,000£19,761,000
Royal Museums Greenwich£16,019,000£16,019,000£15,869,000
S4C3£6,762,000£6,956,000£15,097,000
Royal Armouries£7,088,000£7,788,000£8,938,000
UKAD£6,096,000£6,046,000£7,998,000
National Portrait Gallery£6,637,000£9,734,000£6,634,000
National Heritage Memorial Fund£35,250,000£5,489,000£5,000,000
Horniman Museum and Gardens£4,549,000£4,320,000£3,820,000
Information Commissioners Office£3,790,000£5,740,000£3,750,000
The Wallace Collection£2,711,000£3,711,000£2,711,000
Churches Conservation Trust£2,749,000£2,738,000£2,604,000
Geffrye Museum£1,696,000£1,786,000£1,796,000
Sports Grounds Safety Authority 2£0£1,542,000£1,601,000
Sir John Soane’s£1,983,000£1,012,000£1,012,000
Table 3: Comparing the Grant in Aid funding of our Arm’s length bodies in 2016-17 through to 2018-19

Isn’t that interesting? That is a bunch of support. What robust affirmative action! A total of £4,613,219,000 projected to be granted to these 30 “arm’s length” organisations in 2018. There’s the British Museum up there in the list, which was projected to receive £42,046,000 in 2018. The BM’s annual report (linked above) confirms for us that indeed: “The British Museum received £39.4 million revenue and £13.1 million capital grant-in-aid from the DCMS in 2018/19” on page 16.

All 30 organisations who receive this Grant in Aid are required to sign a Management Agreement with DCMS, and report back in a standard way so DCMS can see how well the grants are being used and measure performance consistently. For example, here is the Total income of DCMS-funded cultural organisations 2018/19 report from DCMS.

Big numbers can be numbing

The government’s support package announced this week to be spread across lots more organisations is about 34.03% of that total annual “arms length” grant in aid dispensed in 2018. I hope my maths is correct, otherwise I’m going to look even more naive and foolish. I am very willing to be called out on this if I have made mistakes, so I can learn more. I have tried to not make mistakes. I found Will Gompertz’s analysis of the situation useful, and he notes the basic breakdown of the COVID arts and culture grant we know today:

The £1.15bn support pot for cultural organisations in England is made up of £880m in grants and £270m of repayable loans. The government said the loans would be “issued on generous terms”.

Funding will also go to the devolved administrations – £33m to Northern Ireland, £97m to Scotland and £59m to Wales.

A further £100m will be earmarked for national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust.

There will also be £120m to restart construction on cultural infrastructure and for heritage construction projects in England that were paused due to the pandemic.

The government said decisions on who will get the funding would be made “alongside expert independent figures from the sector”.

Coronavirus: Emergency money for culture ‘won’t save every job’ 7 July 2020

I am definitely glad to see that the cultural sector has been recognised as having value and need for support. This is unequivocally good. The very early point I am trying to make is that there might be a way to look past and around and through the giant nationals with the loudest voices and ongoing DCMS support in the millions and with vast assets (many of whom as speaking to us via that 5 July government press release to say how happy they are) to see if it’s possible, finally, to illuminate the smaller players, the dynamic and struggling groups, the covens of freelance talent, the support companies, and basically everyone else who isn’t one of the biggies.

Staring into the status quo

I chatted about this with a few arts-related friends, and Clare directed me to a report called The Art of Dying written in 2005 by John Knell. I hope everyone who’s dispensing funds has studied it and can recite it from start to finish. It’s a response to a conference held the year before, where these three main insights were born, and I quote:

1. That the portfolio of arts organisations in the UK has become too fixed

2. That there are too many undercapitalised arts organisations, operating at near breaking point organisationally and financially, whose main preoccupation is survival diverting their energies from the central mission of cultural creativity

3. That we need to provoke a more challenging public conversation about the infrastructure supporting the arts in the UK, and the strategy and modus operandi of arts organisation

The Art of Dying

I really like what Mr. Knell is writing in this paper – it’s definitely worth your time to read it. It’s important to be able to look at each other and agree that an organisation with £1,001,693,000 worth of assets is stable. Or bloody well should be.

So interesting. 

Chatting further with more arts and culture colleagues, I was encouraged — thanks, Fiona — to reframe the question to: Who Needs It The Most? This is a much harder question. I’d consider myself to be a true friend to all museums everywhere, but I have to admit I particularly love the small ones that are super fucked, and definitely don’t have £1,001,693,000 hiding away in real estate or other investments that are difficult to access because there’s some form of governance in the way of deciding to release them. 

As I look at the big, open, reported numbers, I will also be on the hunt for the numbers hiding in plain sight, or not documented at all. And please, if you can direct me to good reporting on arts and culture networks and their funding, I would absolutely love the steer.

First Grant Application

After my initial hesitation (about needing a grant to apply for a grant), the team and I decided to go for it, at least to submit an application. Seems like an occasion to write your first grant. To mark it, I thought I’d copy the Nesta Heritage and Culture Open Data Challenge application into the Work Diary for posterity, because the service we had to use (Collabfinder) is a bit weird, and to add a few comments that came out in discussion with the prospective team. Thank you very much to Harriet, Tom F, Tom A, Tom S and Felix for your time, ideas and effort to help bring this idea together! I hope we get to make it.

Here’s the submission, which we called Two-Way Street:


The British Museum is incredibly popular, with around 6.7 million visitors in Bloomsbury every year. Online, it’s nearly triple that amount. These millions of visitors are mostly silent, and we’d like to make a project to change that to make new narratives about the collection, hopefully from diverse voices.

Today, there are three core views of the British Museum’s stunning collection:

  • Highlights, a curated selection of 4,937 objects,
  • A somewhat hamstrung collection search, and
  • An RDF data interface that only a handful of humans comprehend.

Building on two previous projects at Good, Form & Spectacle (Netflix-o-matic and the V&A Spelunker), we’d like to make a new, responsive interface into the vast British Museum collection. We will also provide a way for interested visitors to leave a note or comment or an opinion alongside it, as part of their visit, and hopefully, to provide a way for people to gather their favourite objects into their own collections.

We’d like to see the British Museum’s institutional philosophy — “A Museum of the World for the World” — manifest in the digital presentation of the collection. The current institution website feels very strictly controlled and curated, so we’d like to help fans find and explore content they feel connected to. Can we help people feel greater resonance with their own culture and others around the world through it? We believe that, by allowing open discussion, new contexts can form around objects. Part of being open means opening a space for alternate readings and discussion that will keep people engaged with cultural heritage for years to come.

Extent of the use of open data
We don’t want to build a bigger walled garden of cultural data. We’d like to create an entry point interface that’s timely, perhaps around the Defining Beauty exhibition. It’s not clear how many of those 19 million web visitors are also part of the 6.7 million in-person visitors. Even if it’s 6.7 million of them, that leaves about 12 million people who wouldn’t be able to witness it.

Having looked at the existing RDF/SPARQL interface to the British Museum, we’re considering making an open data product ourselves, something that’s more contemporary and accessible to more developers.

Potential market / ongoing business
This proposal is an iteration of an existing thread of research we’re already doing about “catalogues without search you can tumble around,” so this project can help us continue this work.

That said, we’ve thought of a few ideas to develop along sustainable lines:

  • Everyone pays £1 to comment, copying the Metafilter membership model.
  • Place a single advertisement to a single destination site for a single product being developed by Good, Form & Spectacle that is secret.
  • Consider the future reusability of the service for other institutions, particularly small ones, but specifically NOT emphasizing a bigger walled garden of cross-institutional data.

We need help with RDF & data acquisition.

Project Goals

  • Press on the opportunity of open data; you relinquish control when you truly open your catalogue
  • Help the institution see its own collection differently, maintaining the greatest respect for its staff and their work
  • Foster conversations; Introduce some fiction into the “catalogue of truth” by allowing the public to talk independently.

Project Tags

radical access, community development, open conversation, fact & fiction, fun


It’s now up to the initial review panel to decide our fate. In the meantime, I’m working on real cost estimates of how much it will take for us to put the work together. That’s a team of 4-6 working for a month or so.

I’ll be very curious to see how this whole process pans out.