By now many of you will have heard that non-profit arts organisation Ideastap will close its doors on 2 June due to lack of funding. Today there has been a steady outpouring of sadness and impending grief on Twitter, Facebook and their own website.
The news has come as a big shock for two reasons. Firstly, Ideastap has long been a reassuring and encouraging presence in the increasingly uncertain and vertiginous world of the arts. The organisation has been providing cross-disciplinary inspiration and support to emerging artists and creative industry hopefuls all around the UK, not just London, for the past six years. Membership stands at just under 200,000 people – anyone from actors, writers and photographers to puppeteers and aerialists.
Secondly, they've been prolific: running more than 8,000 Spa training sessions; producing almost 4,000 Ideasmag articles, blending answers and advice from established names such as Danny Boyle and Rankin with tips and tricks from alumni still making their way to the top (or "our go-to guide for not fucking things up whenever we have to do something for the first time" as The Human Zoo's artistic director Florence O'Mahoney put it); and providing more than £2.3 million of funding through open briefs, competitions and scholarships in partnership with the likes of Sky and Magnum Photography. Not forgetting a very useful jobs board stacked with full-time opportunities and more unusual paid internships.
In short, young people – and a few more mature types like myself – have been encouraged to develop new skills, get their own projects off the ground, learn on the job and become more business savvy. Ideastap makes you feel like you're not alone. Like the next step isn't so far off. And you don't need to be rich or pally with so and so to progress.
So how can something so cherished and beneficial cease to exist? Chairman Peter De Haan, who founded Ideastap to broaden young people's options beyond costly higher education in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, wrote this yesterday – "Despite our success, to-date IdeasTap has been primarily funded by my charitable trust. Our efforts to secure government or corporate support have failed – and my charitable trust, which was set up in 1999 to improve the quality of life for people and communities in the UK, will soon run out of money. The result, regrettably, is that IdeasTap will close three months from now."
Putting aside sentimentalism and the fact that the arts hold value far beyond revenue – and ignoring the millions all too quickly dedicated to bail out unscrupulous bankers – let's look at the business case. After all, only three letters matter in the modern world – ROI. Or return on investment.
- The UK creative industries generated £71.4 billion gross added value in 2012 – a 9.4% increase that surpasses the growth of any other UK industry sector according to the Creative Industries Council (CIC).
- For every £1 of output of the arts and culture in the UK, an additional £1.28 of output is generated in the wider economy, according to this Arts Council report from 2013. In addition, "The UK’s arts and culture are a very strong draw for international visitors, attracting at least £856 million of tourist spending."
Gross value added (GVA) for 2012-13 increased by 9.9% – more than three times that of the UK economy as a whole, and higher than any other industry (DCMS). GVA of the creative industries was £76.9 billion in 2013 and accounted for 5.0% of the UK Economy. For the fourth year running, the Creative Industries proportion of total UK GVA was higher than the year before, and is now at a record high.
The creative industries accounted for 1.71 million jobs in 2013, 5.6% of total UK jobs; and a 1.4 per cent increase on 2012. (There is a useful list of those industries here together with a breakdown of percentage increases per discipline.)
In a recent press release the government boasted that the creative industries contribute £8.8 million per hour, or £146,000 every single minute, to the national economy. They continue: "As well as entertaining us, the creative industries drive growth, investment and tourism, which is why supporting the sector is a key part of the Government’s long-term economic plan."
If that is the case then what are they going to do about closure one of the primary incubators for this growth? Obviously it would be wrong to wholly attribute success to Ideastap but a cross-disciplinary organisation and flourishing community of this size must have played its part and justified its existence.
If we are going to put the boot into the coalition then let's call in the reinforcements. In their policy review (Young People and the Arts) Labour accused the government of "devaluing creative education" by:
Cutting Arts Council funding by more than 35% since 2010
Imposing the biggest funding reductions in the public sector on local councils, and in an unfair manner. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the 10 most deprived areas will have had their spending power cut by 10 times the amount of the 10 least deprived areas, threatening smaller community arts organisations.
Reducing the number of arts teacher training places by 35% in 2012, resulting in fewer specialist arts teachers and fewer hours taught.
Removing film from the national curriculum and cut back on the content of arts subjects.
Abolishing Creative Partnerships, jeopardising benefits to pupils’ confidence, communication skills and motivation, and benefits to the economy of around £4 billion.
Raising tuition fees and axing AimHigher, making it harder for people from all backgrounds to study at university including the creative arts.
Abolishing the Future Jobs Fund which gave work to unemployed young people, including in the creative industries.
Downgrading the apprenticeship programme, leading to a lack of good quality apprenticeship schemes, including within the arts and creative industries.
Unfortunately, Labour has not pledged to reverse any cuts, according to this article. So what next? Count down the clock, say goodbye and move on? Hardly.
The arts community is a spirited bunch and already there are glimmers of hope. A #SaveIdeastap campaign appeared on Facebook late yesterday evening. A petition was raised for the attention of Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – and we know what can happen with these public power plays. There are discussions in progress regarding a rescue plan. Many members and admirers have volunteered to pay a monthly membership fee, a sensible suggestion although some question whether it goes against the principle of Ideastap – a level playing field. Ultimately, the organisation needs a new sustainable model of funding, comprising public funding, corporate sponsorship, a reasonable membership fee and possibly native advertising.
This organisation has been a mighty force for good – instilling pride, developing careers and enriching lives both directly and indirectly. On a personal note, it has helped me immensely in the transition from full-time to self-employed freelancer, and from words to radio and film. Our team is very proud of the podcast series we produced for Ideastap and I sincerely hope we'll work together again. For now, please get behind the #SaveIdeastap campaign. Sign the petition, follow on social networks, download the supporters' pack and spread the word. Artist Paula Varjack is even going to make a short film using public submissions. Simply send a clip of yourself in support, starting with the words "Ideastap is". See the Facebook page for more information.
Let’s fight for what’s right and true.