Save The Conservatoire: Blackheath and the Arts Funding Climate | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Save The Conservatoire: Blackheath and the Arts Funding Climate
What can a local campaign tell us about the national arts funding situation?
As a south-east Londoner and a parent, I was overjoyed recently to discover the Blackheath Conservatoire and its range of family-friendly musical activities – and sad to realise that like so many arts institutions in the current climate it is under threat of closure. It is in fact in the very final stages of a fundraising drive to refinance its debt and prevent its demise – moving steadily towards a donation target of £175,000 needed by the end of this month.
Of course, The Arts Desk is happy to support other arts organisations, but what made this even more worth reporting was a chance meeting with Sydney Thornbury, the Conservatoire's chief executive. Thornbury, an American by birth, has been a key driver in the Save The Conservatoire appeal, but also as a member of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations advisory panel on arts and culture, is closely involved in researching and promoting sustainable strategies for arts organisations.
From the moment Thornbury said, “Innovation and new things only emerge when we have problems to solve,” and directed me to her blog on the experiences of winding up a charity, it was clear she was serious and pragmatic about the topic and the wider challenges. “I think,” she explains, “that the arts sector has to accept the fact that the amount of statutory funding we have seen over the last 15 years isn’t coming back. We’re looking at probably another three years of recession and even when state funding and local authority funding does increase, it probably won’t be on anything like previous levels and also expectations will have changed.”
The Conservatoire's approach has been through American style “pyramid funding”, finding one major angel donor and a large group of mid-level (£5000+) donors, then trying to match this middle level with small individual donations raised in the classic manner: local appeals, sponsorship etc. “So far,” says Thornbury, “this model has mostly been used by larger arts organisations who bring in consultants from America and I think a lot of the smaller organisations have felt like they don’t have the expertise or the resources to take on the model. We’re demonstrating that small/medium sized orgs can do it; of course it doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly can be used by more than are employing the technique currently.”
As The Arts Desk's own contributors' opinions have demonstrated, arts funding is a polarising topic, and is likely to remain so as pressures increase and attitudes shift in coming years. No one approach is going to provide the solution. Though she promotes models formed in the red-in-tooth-and-claw American free market, Thornbury acknowledges, exposure to the market that comes with state funding cuts can be harmful: “organisations more reliant on earned income can give into the temptation to programme less adventurous work than subsidized organisations.” As the climate becomes harsher, and ideologues' voices become louder, listening to the experiences of those who have both succeeded and failed is only going to become more important.
theartsdesk is changing
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. In September we reached our fourth birthday and feel that the time is now right, in line with other media outlets, to start asking our regular readers for a contribution to help us develop the site further. Theartsdesk has therefore moved to a partial subscription model. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
Take an annual subscription now simply click here.
more Classical music
Classical violinist's seasonal crossover disc isn't without its pleasures
Cultured strings kicked into fuller life by mercurial Russian pianist
Modernism triumphant at Britain's foremost new-music festival
Two Hungarian octogenarians bring the house down
Dynamic piano variations, late romantic vocal music and a delightful meeting between two Parisiens
Distinguished broadcaster and documentary-maker celebrates the big birthday at home
The Swedish mezzo brings a taste of France to London's newest concert venue
You want to know what the future of music looks like? Read on
Sober choral concert from The Sixteen and a vivacious centenary photographic exhibition
Effervescent baroque keyboard music, sparky violin concertos and a gripping, sober documentary
The violinist Daniel Hope introduces Refuge in Music, his new film on the musicians of Terezín
Sprightly Schubert and weighty Mahler supply an evening of Austrian romanticism