What might work? Making the case for a Cultural Endowment Foundation

November 5, 2013 by
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters 

Today the RSA and Arts Council England will launch Towards Plan A: A New Political Economy for Arts and Culture. This series of four papers which examine how the arts sector might play a full role in the UK’s economic and social renewal In the papers:

  • Martin Smith asks for a new industrial strategy for the arts, to make the most of ‘ the prickly, sometimes antagonistic but always necessary relationship between art and commerce’;
  • Alex Jones asks for cities to be more honest about their capacity to be so-called creative hubs – not all cities can be – and more intelligent about the way they understand the impact of cultural spending on regeneration;
  • Mandy Barnett and Daniel Fujiwara argue that ‘the cultural sector needs to agree a single framework within which to talk about value, whilst disentangling the social from the cultural in the process’; and
  • Sue Horner (chair of RSA Academies), in calling for a ‘grand partnership’ between education and cultural sectors, suggests how both sectors need to step up to harder-edged collaborations.

John Knell’s excellent introduction also offers recommendations to inform future policy and practice. This includes the idea that: “ACE should commission, in partnership with DCMS, DfE, AHRC, key trusts and foundations, and the sector learning network, at least one ‘high burden of proof’ study – involving if appropriate randomised controlled trials – which would explore the impact of particular arts interventions in a key impact area (for instance health and well-being, education or community cohesion).”

Having spent several years leading probably the largest ever ‘high burden of proof’ study ever undertaken in the arts, the Creative Partnerships learning programme in thousands of schools across England, it would be tempting to show John my wounds and medals. As, over the years,the quality of our research, evaluation and outcomes improved, it actually became more difficult to make the case for continued investment. However, I think John is onto something, and his proposal could be even more ambitious.

Could the cultural sector create something similar to the Education Endowment Foundation – a body dedicated not just to commissioning rigorously evaluated projects, but also to improving the way that evidence is built and used across the education system? Importantly, the EEF exists and is funded through an endowment – from the DfE – which secures both its independence and its long term stability. Although it is too early to judge the impact of individual projects (and my prediction is that only a few will show statistically significant impacts on closing the attainment gap), the Foundation’s processes and toolkits are already informing school decisions. Many schools are finally moving from a culture of data use to a culture of evidence use.

A Cultural Endowment Foundation, perhaps funded through a small percentage from the recent 4G auction, should be entirely independent from Government and Arts Council England. ACE is too invested in demonstrating rather than understanding the impact of its spending. It should support programmes to be externally evaluated against cultural as well as social or economic outcomes, possibly using Mandy and Daniel’s single framework, so that the arts are not just the servants of other public policy masters. Finally, it should be prepared to go public when the cultural sector engages in poor quality, advocacy-heavy evaluation processes – I’ve got a few favourite worst evaluations, which I won’t name and shame here. Understanding value should not be a compulsory activity for all in the arts sector – some will just want to get on with making great art for everyone, to use ACE’s mission statement. A Cultural Endowment Foundation could help cultural organisations make the choice between either doing evaluation properly or not doing evaluation at all.

Joe Hallgarten   Director of Education     @joehallg