Examining the funding of 'Art for Reconciliation': challenges and possibilities. Presented to delegates attending the first Exchange Forum at The Brian Friel Theatre, Queens’ University Belfast, 8 June 2019.
From the outset of this research, it has been clear that although much activity exists that could be labelled ‘Art for Reconciliation’ (AfR), offering a census of this activity would not be possible due to a range of challenges in the field, including differing perspectives on what ‘reconciliation’ actually is, whether a practice which some would define as ‘reconciliatory’ is necessarily defined as such by those carrying it out, varying practices in institutional record keeping, differing levels of accessibility to such archives as exist, and so forth.
Why look at funding patterns?
In part due to an interest in questions around the issue of the ‘peace dividend’ which may arise in post-conflict societies, in tandem with a concern for the question of which activities are deemed ‘worthy’ of support by funding bodies whose concerns overlap with the space in which AfR may operate, an initial strand of ‘Phase One’ of the research programme involved a consideration of funding patterns around AfR.
Briefly put, before entering into more detailed considerations of the nature of AfR, its specific contributions, and the ways in which these may be best captured and disseminated, it was seen as important to try to establish:
Any such patterns could then be used to inform future phases of the research project.
Where to look for information?
Attempts to locate funding bodies proceeded along the 2 ‘axes’ of AfR – i.e. i) those bodies and funds concerned with funding artistic practice, some of which may also be concerned with reconciliatory outcomes, and ii) those concerned with achieving reconciliatory outcomes, who may fund artistic practice towards this end. In collaboration with the Research Advisory Committee, a shortlist of ~30 funding bodies was drawn up, including organisations such as Arts Council Northern Ireland and the Community Relations Council, government departments such as the Department for Communities and funds such as the European PEACE programmes.
What information is available regarding funding patterns?
Firstly, it should be noted that the funding landscape is a complex one, changing over time and involving a range of actors of various kinds (e.g. government bodies from local to international level, private charitable funds, specific time-limited funds, and so on). Some bodies may also administer funds directly, some via third parties, or some a mixture of these.
For the organisations on the research shortlist, publically available information was gathered from reports, records and databases, and direct contact made to request relevant available information. Organisations were then located on a ‘continuum’ of detail based on the following criteria:
• Was any information available re: funding? • Could funding information be broken down by target area? • Did AfR seem to be a target area for the organisation? • Could a level of funding be attributed to AfR activity? • Could the specific nature/content of AfR projects be identified?
This continuum ran from those organisation where no information was publically available (or made available on request), to those were information was available only on some isolated case studies, through to those where, for example, arts projects were clearly being funded but reconciliatory aims were less clear, all the way to organisations where funding goals were clear, relevant to AfR and there was sufficient detail on individual projects to enable an understanding of the resulting practice. What can the funding information available reveal about AfR?
The final position on the ‘continuum’ outlined above where both the extent of AfR funding and the nature of AfR practice is clear, is currently rare. One question we have, therefore, is whether this situation can be improved so the value and nature of AfR can be better captured in future. Here, for instance, are some key examples of current practice:
Example 1: Government Funding Database
The Government Funding Database ‘Grant Finder’ facility provides “information on grants available from Government Departments to voluntary and community organisations”. At the point of analysis, this database contained information on over 50,000 grants, covering funding of £3.3bn. The majority of these grants, however, were below £4,000 and grants of over £100,000 were rare. Most of the funding information available covered grants made by the Department for Communities. Whilst some ‘branches’ of funding were clearly more likely to be relevant to this research (such as the ‘arts and creativity branch’), the main details available giving an insight into the practice funded are the name of the organisation funded, and a title for the project funded, often of only 3 or 4 words. As such, even projects that are clearly of interest to this research project (such as Kabosh Theatre’s ‘Green and Blue’, provided with funding from The Executive Office in 2016/17, via the Community Relations Council), could not be identified from this database, only recognised once they were already known about from other sources.
Example 2: Atlantic Philanthropies
Atlantic Philanthropies distributed over $8bn over its 40 year lifespan, with the grants awarded in Northern Ireland between 1991 and 2014 amounting to over $500m. Within Northern Ireland, information is publically available on the level and nature of grants devoted to ‘protecting rights and promoting reconciliation’. These 191 grants amounted to £79m. A fair amount of information is available on these grants, and as such it is possible to ascertain that although reconciliation is clearly identified as a goal, artistic practice is unlikely to form any major part of the projects funded under this strand.
Example 3: PEACE funding
Information provided by the Special EU Programmes Body who implement the PEACE funding programme (first introduced in 1995) “designed to support peace and reconciliation”, identified artistic practice supported under this fund’s remit. This information suggests that under 5% of total PEACE funding has been received specifically for the support of artistic practice. The detail given on projects funded increases with each iteration of the PEACE funds. For instance, for the PEACE I fund, a record may tell us that a “community arts exhibition” has been funded, whereas for PEACE III, a record may tell us that an arts project aims “to develop and build lasting relationships across interfaces in North Belfast by creating and supporting a web of innovative arts and culture projects that address sectarianism and division”, and provide further details on how this is to be achieved.
Example 4: Community Relations Council
Annual reports from the Community Relations Council provide detailed information on activities funded, sources of funding, location of funding, and so on. As such, once digitised, it was possible to search for arts-related keywords in funding data (e.g. ‘art(s)’, ‘music’, ‘theatre’, ‘dance’, etc.) to establish that arts-related projects accounted for around 6% of total CRC funding in the period 2000-2018. Whilst not all ‘community relations’ activity may address reconciliation directly, or in the same manner (separate work from the project considers the conceptualisation of ‘reconciliation’ in more detail), we can nevertheless establish the contours of the field with greater clarity using sources such as this.
Funding information alone can currently provide only intermittent clarity on the nature of the AfR landscape. What this exercise did reveal, however, helped the research to direct its attention to more detailed case studies which aim to establish a richer sense of the possibilities of the field. Based on the above, though, we are interested in thoughts on how record-keeping in this field may ‘ideally’ proceed, or develop in future, and recommendations that could be offered around this.