Changing the way the arts and culture are supported: Who takes the lead and who makes the decisions?



Carla Delfos
Executive Director European League of Institutes of the Arts (Netherlands)

Goretti Kyomuhendo
Novelist, Director African Writers Trust (Uganda)

Helena Vasques de Carvalho
Vice President, Portuguese Cultural Diversity Coalition (Portugal)


Richard Russell
Chief Operating Officer, Arts Council England (England)


Sarah Dingle
Manager, Policy and Planning, Canada Council for the Arts

Key words: 

participatory grant making; collective decision-making; protean careers; precarious employment; transparency; trust; cooperation.





The panel speakers addressed the question of arts funding from a pan-European, a European (Portuguese) and an African (Ugandan) perspective, respectively.

Panelists shared their knowledge and experiences related to arts funding, pointing to a number of challenges in arts funding that connect with the idea of leadership. Carla Delfos spoke of the training needs of young artists and the growth and importance of creative hubs, networks and other new models of artistic production and collaboration. Helena Carvalho spoke of the precarious working conditions of young artists and put forward data and analysis describing trends in this area. Goretti Kyomuhendo gave examples of innovations amongst young Ugandan artists but also described their vulnerabiltiy vis-à-vis government funding. Panelists called for more work to be done to convince governments of the value of the arts, and the need to fund the arts.

During the discussion period, audience members and panelists explored the role of the public in decision making.  The discussion also included the relative merits of a number of funding models, including collective decision-making and participatory grant-making, as well as more traditional models such as peer assessment. There was a call for a more shared leadership in arts funding, and for greater levels of trust and cooperation between grantmakers,artists and the public. The importance of transparency was highlighted, as well as a greater diversification of funding.

A concern was raised about funding programs with high expectations of artists in terms of the societal impact of their work: there is a threat that art is inappropriately instrumentalised by politicians, as it has been done in the past. 



On Cultural Leadership in the 21st Century

The session tackled this question from several angles.

  • The notion of shared leadership was discussed in great detail and in a number of contexts.

  • The need to engage politicians, to speak their language, to educate them about the arts and culture and to lobby, was raised. One panellist proposed that since the arts universities are informed of the needs of emerging artists, they should prepare recommendations to policy makers.

  • In Uganda, young writers and publishing professionals are taking the lead in developing new collaborations and modes of production, such as Femwrite, Sarapa magazine and Cassava publishers. These artists used to look to the continent, the west as the “centre of gravity” in publishing. But now there is a reversal. These young people are establishing their own writing and publishing centres, owning the production processes of their literature.

  • Helena Carvalho put forward the notion of the artist as having a Protean career – one which is both empowering of artists while also increasing the burden they bear to make a living. This concept was developed by D. Bennett, and reflects what a growing reality is for this generation of artists. In the protean career model – the name is a reference to the Prometheus of Greek mythology – artists are their own agent, entrepreneur, job facilitator and opportunities activators, and performance is only one of the multitudes of the roles he/she has play. But she argued that performance is the most important of these roles.



Examples provided of leadership development 


  • At European League of Institutes in the Arts (ELIA) one of the concerns is, how will graduates make a living from their art, and in related areas? ELIA is educating these young artists. Teaches them in other sectors like business, etc. Entrepreneurship. ELIA has a project: NXT Accelerator: making a living from the arts. It’s a three-year, multi-partner project. Goals are to support the career development of emerging artists and facilitate their international mobility; connect young artists with cultural and creative sectors and (creative) business; make creative incubators and hubs more sustainable and build an international incubators network in Europe to facilitate international exchange and collaboration.

  • There are many examples of collective decision-making in culture in Latin America, where the population is able to decide, community by community, the projects to be done. The whole city gets together to decide what they will spend the money on. It turns out that community is much more inclined to fund culture projects than governments are.

  • Examples of participatory grant-making from Croatia were given.



Problems/obstacles to developing sector leadership 


  • There is an urgent need to map the needs of emerging artists – employment, training, etc.

  • A challenge in the arts education context is sometimes teaching methods and curriculum content. Courses rarely teach students about alternative sources of employment, whereas the students are often already preparing their businesses when they are in school.

  • Increasingly in grantmaking, there is a requirement for an alignment between the policies of the grantmaker and of the organization or artist supported. This raised concerns among some audience members and panellists about the instrumentalisation of art. Indeed, the validity of making art for art’s sake appears to be undermined. “After such a demanding education, young artists may engage in political activism etc., but what they really want is some money to make art and present it.”

  • In the Ugandan context, there are negative consequences to the increased agency being taken by young artists. Entrepreneurialism is taking away time and energy from the writing itself; there is a lack of adequate leadership skills and training. So how will these innovations be sustainable?

  • Funding that is too short-term or project-based inhibits the growth of leadership.

  Examples of culture sector leadership on wider community issues

Art was used to reach out to people of Uganda about HIV. Theatres would be completely packed when there was a play performed that dealt with this issue. But this only worked when the play was in local language. Not when it was in English.


  Recommendations for action to enhance sector leadership

These are some of the recommendations made during the session. Not in priority order – this was not discussed

  • Artists could be better prepared to work in the sector or develop their own businesses.

  • Would be good to compare funding systems to share best practice on decision making.

  • Campaign for a recognition of culture. Networks could join forces for this.

  • Here, we speak to our own constituency. But we need to go out of our comfort zone, speak to decision makers who don’t believe in culture yet.

  • Leaders should seek out economies of scale, collaborations.

  • Funding should be longer-term


  Key quotations


'Life is not as strict as the EU [funding application] rules are.'

'As writers we regard our art as our passion. We don’t want to be forced to become mini-entrepreneurs.'

'Society demands too much from artists.'

'Governments say: ‘There are more important, urgent issues than writing. If the population is not educated, how can they read [the artists’] work? So education must come first.'

'Donors fund the initiative from the roof, not the foundation. But when the roof is gone, there is no foundation, no art. So – fund from the foundation. We don’t need project-based, but rather more sustaining funding.'