Funding gap, knowledge gap

May 20, 2008


I’ve been spending the day listen to friends twitter from NESTA’s Innovation Edge conference at the South Bank, and an Arts Council England summit on the future of literature just round the corner. NESTA was established by the government in 1998 with an endowment of £250 million. Just last week, ACE announced £16.5 million of Lottery funding for the Southbank Centre, the same week I discovered that my full-price membership of that institution no longer lets me take in a friend for free.

Meanwhile, the slash and burn of the literature sector continues (others too: film, theatre, visual arts, but lit’s what I know). Since launching London Lit Plus 2008 last week I’ve been hearing the same story from all over: we don’t have any money. They cut us off. It’s depressing, and frustrating. I’ve long been an exponent of using the internet and related technologies to bypass the need for huge investment, but real-world activities still need real-world money.

A tale of two literary magazines illustrates the point: The London Magazine, one of the longest-established literary journals in the world, has seen its budget drastically reduced, but they say “we are determined to continue, and to reach out to a wider audience.” Pen Pusher is a fantastic little magazine, only two years old, “publishing the best and most inspirational new fiction, poetry and features”. In that time they’ve proved that there is an audience for what they do, yet they were refused ACE funding on the basis of ‘insufficient priority’ (you can help by responding to their Sponsor-a-Page campaign).

I believe these audiences are better served by helping small organisations reach people directly rather than funding big-org beanfeasts so Gordon Brown can tell some of the countries wealthiest people that “innovation is the most important thing for Britain’s future”, not least because small companies use what they’re given better – they have to. I hope this year’s LL+ will be a show of defiance in the face of the bureaucrats who trade on our culture while contributing nothing to its economy.

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