Tim Whitehead’s full report of his meeting with Arts Council England

By Tim Whitehead

13.5.15 regarding the funding of jazz 2015-2018

people present:
Helen Sprott – Director Of Music
Denys Baptiste – Music Liason Officer
Tim Whitehead – Jazz Musician

I’ll summarise the upshot(s) of the meeting ,and provide a more detailed report following that.

From my point of view, the most important result of our one and a half hour meeting , was:
1) a clearer view of ACE’s position re funding, and
2) a strategy for increasing the amount coming our way.

1) Helen, in response to my first question re the inequality of scale of funding between opera and jazz, first presented the (not unfamiliar) argument re the cost of staging opera, which I challenged with figures of the scale of funding of administration at The Royal Opera House, aside from the cost of staging, £10 million of which represents the portion of ACE’s £28 million annual subsidy of this institution notionally dedicated to administration, i.e. not to staging.
She also explained the difference in audience sizes by saying that because of the cost of staging (grand opera), it limited the number of possible performances, but that The Royal Opera House in ACE’s estimation represented an excellent return on its investment. I questioned this, as over a quarter of its total income was ACE money (and a further quarter is raised in sponsorship, etc, so that only half its income is actually earned), representing an ACE subsidy per seat of £35.34, compared to £1.20 per jazz seat. I also challenged that the increase in funding for jazz referred to by Helen (17%) reflected an intent to address the inequality when compared to the 22.5% increase for opera in the same funding period 2015-2018.

My conclusion from these discussions is that ACE does not think it unjust that 57.9 % of the music budget is invested in opera, and mostly “grand opera” as Helen referred to it, compared to 2% for jazz, and does not see this as a yardstick for measuring their homepage website statement: “Our mission is great art and culture for everyone”.

I think it would be fair to conclude also from this, that ACE don’t appear to accept any responsibility for taking action themselves on behalf of the jazz sector to even up the camber on the playing field between the capacity of opera to pursue funding and that of the jazz sector. 
However, I have to draw these conclusions from their above statements, as Helen was unwilling to respond to the direct question I put to her, whether she agreed or disagreed with the statement contained in my email.
Her and Denys’s response to 2) may go some way to answering the question why.

2) Helen and Denys both explained that funds were not allotted by the Arts Council to art forms per se, but rather that ACE funds on the basis of individual applications, whether organisations are applying to be a National Portfolio Organisation for 3 years, or under the heading of “Grants For The Arts” on a one-off basis. So, for instance, my application to tour my quartet might be pitted against a theatre applying for a project, etc.

Helen confirmed that there was no limit, as such, to the amount of money that might be granted to jazz as opposed to another discipline, but it depended completely on the quantity and quality of the applications. They both expressed some long term frustration that neither enough applications for funding were being received from the jazz sector, and the quality of such applications was not reaching towards the development of a coherent infrastructure, which I had alluded to as being a prime necessity for the development of realistic funding support. 
I drew their attention to the realities of both how hard it is to pursue a career in jazz and how that impinged on any ability or resource to complete long and complicated applications, and noted again the difference between a well versed, well funded professional administration at, for instance, the Royal Opera House, embarking on this, and poorly funded professional jazz players and amateur promoters in the smaller and middle band areas of work competing in the same arena.

Helen said in response that there is at present work in progress at ACE , the “Grantium” scheme, which aims to make smaller applications easier to complete, and that their continuing dialogue between ACE area reps and promoters, organisations and musicians at a regional level is ongoing on these and other issues.

More importantly , they both stressed that the way forward was for consortia of musicians, promoters and others in jazz to put forward applications for seed funding to research and develop “infrastructure as well as activity”, ie  plans and schemes, organisations as well as events, gigs , tours, etc, including using professional help to then put in larger scale applications to develop and expand infrastructure alongside music promotions, etc, so that networks can be built which can attract larger scale funding on a long term basis.

I asked if ACE had studied other European funding of jazz. Helen said very little had been done in that area, and I put to her that there are some good examples of excellent practice abroad that might further inform the Arts Council. Helen in response said there was nothing to stop anyone applying for funding to do that research to inform ACE better in that area.

On my fourth point, re establishing a policy for distribution of funding for music, Helen said there is an overarching strategic plan and in a couple of months there will be a corporate plan for 2015-2018 published, which includes art form appendices in which jazz will be included. This doesn’t amount to a separate policy for funding music, but we will have to see what it amounts to.

I suggested that the funding of infrastructure should include dedicated jazz venues (Denys referred to proposals Chris Hodgkins had made on these lines in the past) who employed at least a full time manager and a marketing manager/publicist, and that infrastructure generally worked best when it was run by a combination of musicians and administrators (who could be professional and volunteer), and Helen and Denys agreed that this should be part of the picture of this infrastructure.

I asked Helen and Denys:
(TW) “Are there in your minds objectives that you hope will be achieved in this sector?”

(HS) “There is a lack of capacity in the admin side. I’d like to see a better join-up throughout a jazz musician’s career from the earliest stages – you know we are administrators for education funding and the national plan for music education. It’s very clear the expectation is a broad , balanced musical education for all – that every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument of their choice, to be able to progress in it and have the opportunity to play in ensembles,and that includes jazz. We are very keen that children should have the opportunity to play it. Once they get to conservatoires what are the opportunities, how are outstanding young jazz artists prepared for a life outside that and beyond it… do they know how they will make a living, do they know about how funding works, and what are the opportunities?… do they understand what the objectives of the Arts Council are… do they understand what their career opportunities might be?”

Both Denys Helen and I agreed there was a lack of “joinedupness” in the jazz world, and that working on building a network, particularly at the grass roots and middle level, including dedicated secure venues networking with each other, musician support and audience development are all key to achieving this, building on what is currently existing, and presenting and building applications for funding by stages embracing this, is the way forward.


(TW) “then once that’s up and running (ie the above), we can put the bigger picture together, then put it to you, then there is no reason in the world why that shouldn’t roll, that shouldn’t work…”

(HS) “It’s audiences, developing the sector, it’s supporting musicians, all these sorts of things. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be considered”.

(TW) “Then there’s no cap on the amount of money that might be awarded, given the quality of the applications?”

(HS) “Well there is a cap given that we have a limited amount of money from the treasury, and as our money is going down, so we are all under pressure.
But yes, I think what we have been waiting for, and hoping for, and encouraging, is strong applications. The number of applications for music is actually quite small. You’re competing with other art forms. It’s an open access……”

So I hope you can see from this, that the way forward is for all of us in this music to start /carry on collaborating ,talking about and organising what we want to see happen, and  then expressing it in ambitious funding applications to enable every aspect of our vision for the future of our music, starting with seed funding applications to enable the ground work and advice, and then the larger ones to get this infrastructure in place. We have to start thinking on a different scale, with the expectation that we will achieve it. I have Helen Sprott’s and Denys’s word on record that they will help us to achieve this (via Denys’s role as a liaison officer at ACE), that they have been looking for this scale of response, and are ready to respond to it. I’ve no reason to doubt it.

Lets start the blizzard of applications now.

Categories: Opinion

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10 replies

  1. Could have told him this a few months ago, if I’m honest. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but no one was listening. With luck, people will listen to a more respected musician like Tim! There is a real lack of infrastructure in jazz and improvised music and we need to work together to solve it.

  2. Arts Council equivalent of Catch 22. If you get lots of people together and organise to submit an application you can get funded to set up an infrastructure – but you can’t really organise and make a big application unless you already have an infrastructure.

    • But that’s only the difference between an infrastructure and a funded infrastructure. You can develop an infrastructure without money and then acquire money to improve the things you want to do. It’s not really a Catch-22.

  3. True – that’s exactly what the various collectives have been doing – but its really hard for an individual, and it relies on having someone willing to do the applications.

  4. Last year tried to get a consortium of labels together. Labels are interested in artists that work a lot and that sell product. Many labels also book artists’ live work. So artist development and audience development are key. Export is also key. As part of this I booked a stand at Jazzahead and invited labels to join me. With the exception of a couple of very small labels no one was interested on the grounds that they “want to do their own thing”. Even though I agreed to underwrite the cost of the stand and was willing to start the process of fund-raising through ACE from whom I had had very positive noises.

    Looking around at Jazzahead one sees stands from every country in Europe and many beyond selling their artists. This year no British bands were selected for showcases and one gets the impression that the judging panels may see selecting British bands as a bit of a waste of time as there is so little support for British bands to get to Europe and other parts of the world. For many European bands, especially the French, Norwegians, Finns, Swiss and Germans and many others, touring support is normal. As a result promoters can hire musicians from these countries much more cost effectively. Export schemes of all kinds abound and the UK misses out. To be a successful UK musician you have to be exceptionally good or very lucky.

    In my view an organisation that could demonstrate to both domestic and foreign audiences the strength of our artists would be worth joining. It seems clear to me that labels who have invested in artists’ work have already played a role in a selection process that demonstrates to audiences and promoters that those artists are worth hiring. As a group, a consortium of labels is still something I would like to pursue.

    Tim wants to see blizzards of applications to ACE. If this is what he thinks after what he has reported from the meeting with ACE I believe he is misguided. ACE want to see joined up, well thought through longer term strategies from groups working in partnership together. They no longer want to offer handouts or small grants for bands “to do their own thing” for one tour. They want to see artists develop, to see the music flourish, to see audiences building and properly constituted organisations making a commitment to seeing this happen. Stakeholders in jazz need to think this through and see how best this can be achieved. Collaboration not competition is key.

    Christine Allen

  5. In my experience you ask the Arts Council for some money and they say yes or no. If they say no you can try asking again in a different way. If you don’t need the money in a hurry you’ll probably not be bothered with this. Most of the people I have met who work in ACE don’t strike me as big fans of Grand Opera.

  6. I think that most jazz musicians simply don’t believe that the arts council really believes in assisting projects which are primarily concerned with presenting great music alone, without dressing it all up with silly gimmicks & trendy peripheral mixed media nonsense. The ACE always deny this of course but it has certainly been my experience & that of many of my friends. I spent nearly two months filling in an application for a quintet tour involving a U.S. musician, seeking all kinds of advice from the ACE itself & lots of other people & when the application was rejected, although I’d been told that the application was excellent, I was given absolutely meaningless feedback about why it was not accepted. Luckily I managed to go ahead with the tour myself, thanks to some help from Jazz Services. Two of the live gig recordings from the tour became the basis for my previous album but all of it was ultimately at financial loss to myself which I’m still recouping from CD sales. It’s great that they fund promoters etc but as an individual musician I certainly wouldn’t waste time again trying to decipher their criteria & form unless I saw a lot more evidence that they are supportive of jazz of all kinds. I agree that other countries put the UK to shame with this & may well indeed explain the situation at Jazz Ahead this year.

  7. The issues are vast and go beyond funding.

    One can argue for advocacy in the media too, but we are really more than touching on the role of music in society, the aftermath of the loss of collective social repertoires (folkloric forms, music associated with mass organised religion), the impact of social identities being in constant flux and not least the intellectuals getting fussed about post-modern lassie-faire.

    Then there is the impact of mass media that has affected understanding and consumption of music on a scale equivalent to the distortion of our relationship with food/nutrition. I totally support the urgent need for artists to organise and achieve funding (and was very active in this arena in the 1990s though Jazz Umbrella) but this is going to be a long haul and we must look further and deeper than our instruments and our sense of entitlement.

    We have a responsibility to audiences, to people and desperately need to encourage more improvisers to teach in schools and to contribute to the long-term development of real-time (as opposed to recorded) music in society, regardless of adherence to one, single genre.

    So organise, but with appreciation of the big picture, the long-term and the place of music in society in mind.

  8. Many worms in this can!
    If I may select one, the route you follow to become a jazz musician, there are many so why prescribe the one above? Just coz you don’t go to the right college should not limit your ability to apply for funds as a musician and definitely not as a promoter.
    Whoever ends up organising the Jazz funding will have to be open minded, else we will end up in the same position as we are now.


  1. What happened when one jazz musician went to see the Arts Council | thejazzbreakfast

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