Is arts funding in St Helens unfair?

In an FOI to the Arts Council, we can reveal how arts funding was awarded in St Helens over the last 5 years. It shows how over 50% of the funding goes to one only one organisation. A local arts charity called Heart of Glass (HEART OF GLASS ST HELENS) LTD).

Out of £6,902,435 Heart of Glass received £3,583,105 (51.9%).

We have provided a chart to explain this, but it is important to note that we have grouped organisations getting less than 10K. For a full breakdown is click here.

In some ways, this doesn’t tell the whole picture as the council is an anomaly in the funding system. Local councils are both funder and provider, i.e. they can bid on funding from organisations like the Arts Council. However, they can also use their revenues to act as a funder themselves. Additionally, councils are often more regulated and operate in a very different way.

If we remove the council from the data, then it becomes even more pronounced.

What is Heart of Glass

Heart of Glass are an arts charity based in St Helens. On the Charity Commission website they state their mission as

“Heart of Glass is a St Helens, Merseyside-based collaborative and social arts organisation. We believe that art has the power to bring us together and create change, for the people of our community, and the place we call home. By working with artists and communities we support each other, and learn from each other, on creative journeys of enquiry and exploration.”

They employ 13 people, one of whom earns 60-70K a year. Their income ending March 2021 was £1,025,235

What does Heart of Glass do?

According to Companies House

a) Encouraging and developing public participation in these artforms by the presentation of artworks, commissions, concerts, performances, exhibitions and festivals in the borough of St Helens primarily, and in the North West region, nationally and internationally;
b) Supporting community well-being and capacity-building in St Helens through commissioning of collaborative arts projects addressing issues of place, community and equality and inclusion;
c) Promoting, supporting and developing the creative community of St Helens and the understanding of collaborative arts practice nationally and internationally.

It is the third part that is most relevant. In fact Heart of Glass explicitly stated in 2015 that

“the area’s lack of financial prosperity and high deprivation levels will benefit from the knock-on effects of a booming arts scene”.

The headline for this article in the Star literally reads “How the Heart of Glass is fuelling the growth of St Helens’ art scene”

The data would indicate it is not. This is assuming that “developing the creative community” means developing local independent local arts organisations that bid on similar funding. In fact, funding organisations often refer to St Helens as a “cold spot”. This means they aren’t receiving enough grant applications from smaller organisations. We will cover this in more detail, but it is a very persistent pattern in much of the data.

The council’s arts strategy has a related goal.

“Investment in business skills and talent development to support local creative industries is key”

Most worrying of all is that they state, “investment in professional artists” is “required” and

“Locally based professional and emerging artists should be paid for their work.”

This would indicate that much of the work in the arts is unpaid.

This does raise important questions, such why one organisation is getting so much funding when the artist community appear to often work for free.