In a new ASI briefing paper – Arts Funding: A New Approach – David Rawcliffe attacks the terrible wastefulness of the current system of arts subsidy in the UK, and proposes a novel, market-based alternative.

In the paper he argues that the distribution of arts-funding directly to producers generates four significant problems:

  • An expensive bureaucratic apparatus, composed of the national arts councils, and costing more than £50m/year.
  • Appalling variation in the funding received by different areas and income strata, from £24/capita in London to £2/capita in East England.
  • Enormous distortion of artists’ incentives: encouraging art that satisfies the arts council paymasters, not than the consumer.
  • An insurmountable barrier to entry for new artists, stifling innovation.

The author proposes that if we are to maintain subsidies to the arts at all, that they be distributed directly to consumers in the form of vouchers, redeemable at arts providers. Consumers would thus control how the subsidy is spent. Such a scheme would reduce overheads, rectify the unequal distribution, restore artists’ relationship with the consumer, and encourage competition and innovation.

As the author concludes:

The arts council system of government support for the arts is an outdated, centrally-controlled, bureaucratic nightmare, that is expensive, unfair, and ineffective. The objectives of arts subsidy would be fulfilled far more efficiently by a post-bureaucratic solution, that empowered citizens, and compelled the arts establishment to meet their needs. A voucher system is exactly that.