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Friday, 1 April 2011

Folk, money and professionalism

Wednesday's announcement about arts funding nationally had its winners and losers in the folk world. EFDSS - the English Folk Dance and Song Society, based at Cecil Sharp House in London - was one of the winners, in the sense that it's getting more money: £300,000 in 2012-13, which is a 37 per cent rise. And Wren, which runs folk orchestras in Devon (though its website makes it hard to discover where it is based in that large county) had its Arts Council grant of £49,000 cut completely.

The criteria used to distribute the cash were, according to the Arts Council of England, partly to do with the quality of the output, which is the main difficulty in writing about this, since the outcome of the funding round is an implied judgment.  

Kevin Buckland, Wren's marketing manager, said that this was not the end for Wren, since the arts council's money is only 12 per cent of its overall budget. Devon county council and the lottery fund are also involved, plus Wren is a "record company" and music publisher.

"What we're concentrating on right now is a national tour, which starts tomorrow in Exeter and will be in London at Cecil Sharp House next Thursday, among other dates. It's about the founding of Canada as Britain's first colony," he said, checking rather pointedly that I'd heard of Cecil Sharp House and the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

He claimed for Wren part of the credit for the folky education of Jim CausleyJackie Oates and Sam Lee, adding that Wren has recently digitised the Baring-Gould folk archive and that several of Wren's administrators have been invited on a trip to Canada later this year, which will be paid for by someone over there. Wren also keeps a collection of traditional instruments, which it tours to schools, allowing the students to try them out and get a feel for whether they'd be interested in buying their own melodian or mandolin, for instance. With any luck this is just a bump in the road for Wren.

Quality is important. Although there is a lot of subjectivity in the kinds of things - especially in the arts - that people like, there are certain kinds of professionalism that are universally recognisable. After all, the Arts Council has to make decisions based on something. So having an up-to-date, well-organised website with functioning links, presenting the work of one's organisation to its best advantage more generally and knowing that pressing records is less important in music these days than making one's content available for download may be details, but they are details that grow in importance when you're trying to imagine what, practically, might separate EFDSS from Wren.

Egalitarianism is an important human instinct as it is the basis of many of the things that make people good. But part of being a functioning adult is knowing that one is judged incessantly and for many things, and that one's own view that this may be unfair is usually irrelevant. Come to think of it, it's the basis of humility. Moreover, if one wishes to promote something - because, for instance, one loves it -  putting all of one's skills and ingenuity to the service of that project gives it the best chance of being successful. Professionalism is not something that is always financially well rewarded - or indeed rewarded at all - but someone who is good at what they do may find that their reward is less tangible, if no less important. It is often hard to put a price on pleasure.

I've been dwelling on the link between professionalism and money. I recently had an unpleasant experience with a folky web forum, some of whose members decided that I and my blogs don't "fit in" there and told me so. The most solid reason given was that they thought that since I've been a journalist by trade I was getting paid for my blogging, which has never been the case, and also that, were this the case, there would be something disreputable in it. 

I think of these people as Roundheads, which I shouldn't imagine would displease them, and comfort myself with the thought of what happened when Oliver Cromwell died.

But my point is this. Funding comes and funding goes. The things that we love will last precisely because we love them and support them and although presentation is important, where it is less than fully powered it can also be fixed. I, for one, will certainly be buying a ticket to see Wren's Shore to Shore project at Cecil Sharp House next week, since I live in London, and hope that the event is a sell-out. I urge you to support it too - there are dates as far north as Birmingham and Hartlepool. 

If I ever hear back from the Arts Council about my request for a fuller roundup of what's happening to folk projects nationally - I first asked two days ago - I'll add an update. And, um, is there any chance of modernising the plumbing in Cecil Sharp House?

* The arts council pointed to two other major organisations in its "national portfolio" that do folk. Firstly, Continental Drifts, which is based in London and sends bands from world music genres including British folk to play at major festivals like Glastonbury and Bestival. Sophie Cammack, its marketing manager, tells me that it had a ten per cent cut in its funding last week, to £90,000 in 2012-13, although the money will increase again slightly over the following two years.

The second is The Sage in Gateshead, which runs Folkworks. Emily Taylor, its communications manager, said that there will be a slight uplift in The Sage's £3.5 million allocation, starting in the 2012 financial year to £3.516 million and similar incremental increases in the following two years taking it to £3.687 million in the 2014-15 financial year. "What we're really excited about, though, is that we were also included as recipients of a separate pot of money allocated for music for children and young people called Bridge Delivery Organisations," she said, adding that the amount The Sage would receive from that pot was't clear yet.

Paul Leather, from the arts council, also pointed to a series of arts-council-supported venues that show folk on a regular basis. These include Colchester Arts Centre, The Junction in Cambridge, the Southbank Centre, The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, Farnham Malting, Inner City Music (Band on the Wall), Brewery Arts Centre, The Met, The Stables, Turner Sims, Brighton Dome and Festival, Beaford Arts, Bath Festival and the National Centre for Early Music. Apologies for not knowing exactly where all of these are, but I guess if they're near you, you'll be able to fill in the blanks.

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