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Sustaining value creation through public art in times of austerity

Sustaining Value Creation Through Public Art in Times of Austerity

While the headlines in world news may continue to bring us doom and gloom, here at FrancisKnight we’re celebrating the fact that Series 2 of our Talking Public Art podcast is out now!

Published date: 28 November 2022

Our first episode features a conversation with Mark Osborn, Assistant Director of Housing at Gravesham Borough Council, aboutthe role of public art in giving a place an identity amongst other things.

Our discussion touches on the theme of value – something that is always front of mind for us when we’re working on projects as well as being particularly topical now. It was interesting to get Mark’s perspective on the role that public art plays in meaningful placemaking, influencing land value and stimulating public debate and imagination.

In previous podcast episodes and blog posts we’ve looked at a number of ways in which public art creates value in our lives. This has included thinking about the value of localism, outdoor public space, the natural world and communities amongst others.

In the wake of the government’s recent budget announcement and with the current cost of living crisis playing out, it seems particularly pertinent to be addressing issues of value creation head-on once again.

While many of the commissions that we at FrancisKnight undertake are funded by commercial housing developers, we do also work with housing associations, local authorities and other charities and we appreciate that financial pressures are affecting both public and private sectors as well as the third sector in different ways.

We also know that our colleagues over in the subsidised arts world have been experiencing a certain amount of anxiety and turbulence following Arts Council England’s recent funding announcements, which affect work that is paid for more directly by the public purse. All of this has prompted us to reflect once again on who pays for public art, and how investment can be sustained at a time when inflation and other costs are increasing to squeeze available budgets.

It is interesting to review how the funding landscape has changed over time and also to look further afield to see what other countries are doing with different funding models. In 1930’s America, the post-Depression Roosevelt era New Deal is often championed as a good example. The government established the Works Progress Administration to create job opportunities for artists that are still famous today for work they produced during this period.

While viewed by many as a positive intervention both at the time and with hindsight, for others this policy was seen to be controversial, and today there are still those who question this type of approach.

Of course, over the years there have been a huge range of grants, fellowships and residency programmes on offer to nurture artistic talent. And equally, a whole raft of campaigns and policies to champion investment in the arts and culture on a wider societal level, most recently with the #artisessential campaign that proposed fast-tracking the arts for investment at the start of the pandemic.

Back in the 80s, some artists in the UK were fortunate to benefit from Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance scheme which provided emerging talent with a way to fund their developing practice. In more recent times, this has been viewed by some as a precursor to the Universal Basic Income concept that has been gaining traction from some quarters. It’s interesting to see that Ireland are currently trialling a form of UBI support to pay artists at the moment.

While the world continues to grapple with a number of economic challenges: the fallout from Brexit, Ukraine, climate change, and rising inflation amongst others, we would do well to remember the benefit that art can bring to touch on all aspects of our public and personal lives. Also, to recall the recent impact of the arts through the pandemic and looking further back at other times of hardship, where art brings ‘soft power’ on the international stage, community cohesion on a local level and daily hope and wellbeing on a more personal level.

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