It’s give back time

There was an interesting seminar on Wednesday at the Jerwood Space in London at which three private collectors made the case for philanthropy and for making matchless collections such as theirs open to local communities. They were Alan Grieve, founder of the Jerwood Foundation who opened the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings four years ago; Valeria Napoleone whose collection of the work of female artists was at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield for three months before opening tomorrow at Touchstones Rochdale till March; and Chris Ingram whose 450-piece accumulation of modern British art is mostly to be seen at the Lightbox in Woking, the 2004 Museum of the Year. It’s “give back time” said Ingram, who made his fortune from advertising. It’s “all about assisting regeneration of communities” said Grieve – shopkeepers around galleries and museums all benefit. It's about “thinking big and being bold” in bringing art to the community said Napoleone.

They are stirring sentiments, sadly not universal and especially not shared in some areas of local government around the country. A week ago one of the landmark Millennium lottery projects, the New Art Gallery Walsall, was the subject of a dramatic plea for support by its director in the face of the local authority’s decision to cut its grant to zero, and inevitable closure. AD:UK estimates that local arts finding in England and Wales will fall by 13% or £26m in the current financial year, even though most councils think the arts “deliver better public service outcomes”.

The councils say, of course, that they are being forced to take such insidious and counter-intuitive decisions by the government’s cutting of its subvention to local authorities. Culture minister Mike Hancock snipes back by saying councils are merely making “politically motivated cuts” – if that’s so, it says something about how high in the public reckoning the arts have risen in recent times.

Elsewhere the story is different, a different “give back time” at the Barbican. In a childish swipe at a George Osborne enthusiasm Mrs May has demanded back what's left of the £5.5m grant given by the Treasury to the Centre for Music that Simon Rattle called for, the best reason they could think of being that it wouldn’t give value for money. However, the Corporation of London, perhaps the richest local authority in the country, knows the value and is four-square behind the development , which goes ahead leaving central government looking petty and foolish.

Everyone is anxiously waiting to hear what comes out of next week’s Autumn Statement about local authority funding and what it might mean to more arts graht decisions, as if what Philip Hammond says is going to bring about a change in understanding about the importance of culture to we ordinary folk. The Arts Council’s outgoing chair tells us that funding now is all about partnerships – isn’t it time for central and local government to get together with Napoleone, Ingram and Grieve and the scores like them lifting spirits in Hastings, Woking, Sheffield and elsewhere around the regions to piece together a proper funding structure that sits outside this childish political squabbling?

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