Arts column: There’s no easy solution to the arts funding problem

IT’S that time of year again, when arts directors find themselves buried in exactly the sort of paperwork that they went into their jobs to avoid.

But form filling is no longer the preserve of grey-faced office workers. Funding has to come from somewhere and instead of singing for their supper, which creative types have been comfortable doing for centuries, they have to answer questions for it instead.

So it’s out with the 10am starts and in with the crack of dawn get-ups as they try to fit in the red tape around creating the projects they need the money for.

With so little cash to go around, this process is a necessary evil and pity the poor person who has to decide between two projects knowing that without their backing the rejected party may have nowhere to turn.

Perfectly good ideas are kicked to the kerb simply because they haven’t ticked all the right boxes, and when there’s not enough money for every great project almost any decision can be seen as the wrong one.

As for those that do succeed – are they able to stay true to their creative vision or do they have to compromise between the ideal project and one that fits the application form?

Some organisations are managing to find a balance.

Two years ago a funding shortfall of £19,000 forced the cancellation of the Liverpool Shakespeare Festival.

Yet a year later, its organisers had more money than ever before from relatively conventional sources – doubling its record to £65,000.

Their solution? To find a way of manipulating its existing arts event around the requirements of funders.

Fortunately, Lodestar, the theatre company behind the festival, managed to do this without compromising its integrity.

As well as a professional production of Romeo and Juliet in St George’s Hall’s Small Concert Room (a venue choice that won it Heritage Lottery funding), it incorporated a youth strand.

By asking the 150 disadvantaged young people taking part to explore the themes of gang life and crime contained within the play, Lodestar gained support from the Police Protection Fund. Further cash came from the Arts Council, the Eleanor Rathbone Foundation and the Foyle Foundation.

Of course, this format would not work for all cultural projects and there is certainly a case for the creation of great art simply for great art’s sake – with any social or economic benefits seen as the icing on the cake.

So where else is there to turn? Many Liverpool businesses and individuals already give generously to the arts – just look at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s successful members programme – but in a region like Merseyside everyone is chasing the same pot.

One fix might be getting audiences to pay upfront, through schemes such as web-based Kickstarter.

Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman and his musician wife Amanda Palmer successfully used this to finance their recent tour of music and story-reading gigs.

Donations ranged from $1, for which backers received a digital download of the event, to $500 for the full VIP experience. The couple needed $20,000, they made $133,341.