Remember the phrase ‘doing a Newcastle’?
It entered the local government lexicon last year when we unveiled our budget proposals and said we’d have to scrap the funding we gave to arts institutions across Newcastle.
It caused a tremendous row, even the likes of Sting and Bryan Ferry got involved, and I wrote about it in a previous comms2point0 blog that you can find here.
As I said at the time, compared to some of the choices we had to make – for example closing respite centres for children and adults with learning disabilities – you might think that arts funding would not cause us that much reputational damage.
But we hadn’t counted on the power of the arts lobby and its power to garner national and international headlines.
However, what hasn’t generated quite the same headlines – and believe me I’ve tried in emails and phone calls to journalists – was the solution. What did happen next?
The first thing was that we listened to feedback on all our budget proposals, not just the ones concerning the arts, and, where we could, changed the proposals to reflect what we’d heard. It was what some PR people call a ‘robust conversation’ but it helped us come up with something different and, in our view, better.
In the case of funding to institutions we put forward a radical solution. Arts and culture are vitally important to the social and economic fabric of Newcastle, we always said that, but we have to come up with other ways of funding them.
Put money for culture in the general revenue pot and the funding will always be vulnerable, particularly at a time of severe austerity. What politician worth her or his salt will fund arts and culture over potholes or dog dirt? It’s hardly a guaranteed election winner.
So the trick is to take it out, fund it from other sources and get an independent body to look after it. That is the premise of the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund. Put simply, we put in the core funding of £600,000 a year – from a complex mix of income from loans and some public health money - and then institutions apply to it.
Our aim is grow the fund through private sector and individual donations. We want to create a culture of philanthropy towards the arts and an idea that you give to a place rather than an institution. And institutions that do apply must tell us how what they do with the cash will help the council achieve its objectives and make Newcastle a healthier, happier and wealthier place.
You won’t get funding simply because you’ve had money from us in the past, you must prove to us that the cash we give you will make a difference to the people of Newcastle.
We launched the fund the other week at an event in Newcastle and it was praised by the Arts Council and some the arts institutions in the city as an innovative solution to funding the arts at a time of austerity.
That is what ‘doing a Newcastle’ should mean.
Will Mapplebeck is Senior Communications Advisor at Newcastle City Council
Image via Flickr Creative Commons