ACGB and Community Arts

The beginnings of the Arts Council’s recognition (however uneasy) of Community Arts as a ‘legitimate’ movement dates from the 1960s, a decade which saw an increasing number of new ‘Arts Labs’ and other such ventures come into being and begin to look for funding. Realizing that its existing structure was not sufficient to deal with this new type of client, the ACGB formed the ‘New Activities Committee’ in July 1969 to advise on applications for funding; it ran until April 1970 and ended with the production of the ‘New Activities Report’. The recommendations contained therein led to the creation of the ‘Experimental Projects Committee’ – which ran from November 1970 to December 1973.

By this time the projects being considered by the committee were deemed to fall mainly into two categories, ‘Performance Art’ and ‘Community Arts’. ‘Performance Art’ became the responsibility of the Art Panel and in 1974 the ACGB set up the ‘Community Arts Working Group’, under the chairmanship of Professor Harold Baldry. This Working Group convinced the ACGB that Community Arts should be funded and also that it needed its own committee; thus, in 1975, the ‘Community Arts Committee’ was formed for an initial two year trial period.[1] In 1976, an Evaluation Working Group concluded that ‘Community Arts’ was a success and should remain part of the ACGB remit but that clients would be better served if they were devolved to, and therefore funded by, their respective RAA.

The initial deadline for this devolution was set as 1982 but this proved to be overly ambitious — many Community Arts clients were not at all happy at the prospect of being transferred to their RAA. The general fear was that the RAAs did not have sufficient funds or manpower to maintain a separate Community Arts section, and that this would result in Community Arts having to compete with all existing RAA clients for a share of the available funds. While these difficulties were being sorted out, Community Arts became a sub-committee under the Combined Arts Section.

From its inception in 1979/80, Combined Arts was part of the Regional Department but, in the 1985/86 restructuring, it became a separate unit within the newly created Arts Division. Its brief covered Arts Centres, Performance Art and Community Arts, and it was dissolved in 1988 when all these activities finally fully devolved to the RAAs. In 1991, a new Combined Arts Unit was formed within the new Arts Development Division, with responsibility for the ICA, the Notting Hill Carnival, the South Bank, International Initiatives, New Collaborations, Live Art and Youth Funds. At the same time, the Advisory Committee on Combined Arts was also reformed. Of the series catalogued under the heading ‘Combined Arts Unit, only ACGB/88 (Policy and Information Files, 1986-1996) is of relevance to the researcher working on Community Arts.

In spite of the seeming success of its work with Community Arts, the ACGB remained unconvinced of what exactly constituted ‘Community Arts’ and therefore frequently debated whether or not it should continue to fund such indefinable enterprises. A draft of Baldry’s interim report, from March 1974, [ACGB/103/30 – folder 5] points out that ‘We have reached no satisfactory definition yet and it may be futile to look for one: but we can pick out certain features which together add up to a distinctive picture’. The report goes on to list and explain the key elements of the ‘Community Artist’ and ‘Community Arts’:

(1) […] an individual or group of individuals, perhaps best described as animateurs.

(2) Community artists are distinguishable not by the techniques they use, although some (e.g. video, inflatables) are specifically suited to their purpose; but by their attitude towards the place of their activities in the life of society. Their primary aim is to bring about change – psychological, social, or political – in a community.

(3) It cuts across the distinction between particular art forms.

(4) It cuts across the distinction between professional and amateur.

The report goes on to consider various possibilities for the more efficient funding and monitoring of Community Arts; a hand-written note on page 5 suggests: ‘perhaps the RAA’s should receive the original applications and forward them in priority order’. This was to become the beginnings of devolution.

Points 3 and 4 above encapsulate the unease the ACGB felt when dealing with Community Arts; after all, the Arts Council was committed to furthering professionals, not amateurs, and its structure was such that each art form fitted neatly into its own section. Throughout its history, although it tried, the ACGB never really came to terms with Community Arts and continued to debate whether or not they should be considered part of its remit. Another paper —Community Arts and the Arts Council (Council Paper 753) March 1980 [ACGB/113/18 – folder 1] — covers very similar territory, trying both to define ‘What makes Community Arts special’ and work out how the Arts Council should deal with the issue. Written by the Deputy Secretary-General of the council, this paper broadly concluded that Community Arts were not, in fact, special and therefore should be fully devolved to the regions and not be given any increase in funding. Naturally, this attitude incensed both the Community Arts groups and CoRAA (Council of Regional Arts Associations).

This ‘solution’ to the problem, namely devolution, was eventually agreed upon and by 1988 responsibility for all Community Arts had been devolved to the RAAs.

Series, and files, which the researcher may find particularly useful, are:

Policy and External Relations Division: 1942-1996

Policy and Planning Unit 1950-1996

ACGB/103 Regional Development Department, 1955-1987

ACGB/103/16 Community Arts Policy 1974-78

ACGB/103/20 Combined Arts Unit 1982-84

ACGB/103/25 Combined Arts Unit: Officers’ Correspondence 1981-85

ACGB/103/26 Community Arts Sub-Committee 1982-84

ACGB/103/28 Community Arts Advisory Committee 1985-87

ACGB/103/29 Community Arts Sub-Committee 1982-85

ACGB/103/30 Community Arts Committees 1974-79

(including a 1978 report on devolution)

ACGB/103/36 Combined Arts Unit Correspondence with Clients 1983-88

ACGB/103/120 Community Arts 1986-87

ACGB/103/122 Community Arts Sub-Committee 1984

ACGB/103/128 Combined Arts: Client Applications 1985-87

ACGB/103/139 Community Arts Committees 1982

ACGB/103/155 Council of Regional Arts Associations (CoRAA): Community Arts Officers Group 1984-86

ACGB/103/163 Combined Arts Unit: Officers’ Correspondence 1985-87

ACGB/103/168 RAA Community Arts 1977-81

ACGB/103/169 Community Arts: Devolution reports 1977-78

ACGB/103/182 Combined Arts Sub-Committee/Committee 1985-87

(the new committee after the Glory of the Garden)

ACGB/103/183 Community Arts: Devolution to RAAs 1986-87

ACGB/103/201 Combined Arts Sub-Committee 1982-83

ACGB/113 Combined Arts, Community Arts and Arts Centres 1970- 1986

ACGB/113/3 Training of Community Arts workers 1975-82

ACGB/113/71 Community Arts Committee 1975-82

ACGB/113/72 Community Arts Working Group 1975-82

Note: Researchers should be aware that ACGB/113 has not been catalogued in detail, thus requesting a file such as ACGB/113/39 (Miscellaneous Community Arts 1975-1985) will bring 46 boxes of unsorted material!

[1] The budget the Committee was given was £176,000 for the first year – from which it funded 57 projects, and £350,000 for the second year – which funded 75 projects.