This morning Art Review announced its ‘Power 100’, a list of movers and shakers of the international art world. Last year the list was topped by Sir Nicholas Serota who beat off the likes of Larry Gagosian, Ai Weiwei and Jeff Koons. The reason behind Serota’s position was Tate’s considerable international influence across Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Art Review’s editor Mark Rappolt says, 'it operates an institution as a network of patrons and interests that spread far beyond the limits of its physical building.' Serota has slipped down the rankings a little this year but he's been joined near the top by the dynamic directors of the Serpentine, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton Jones, with the former being regarded as one of the world’s leading curators.
Britain does contemporary art well, and these institutions get a fair bit of money from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for doing this. As one of the ‘National Museums’ directly funded by DCMS, Tate received £32,149,000 between 2013 to 2014. The Serpentine Gallery meanwhile is one of many regional museums funded through Arts Council England and received £1,193,725 in its Portfolio Funding scheme between 2014 to 2015. What's to come, however, is anyone’s guess. On 25 November, the latest funding review of the DCMS will be announced and museums have been told to model for cuts of up to 40 per cent.
DCMS of course is not just about culture. It also funds sport. Here funding is also split into two distinct ways, one that rewards Olympic activity (in the same way that the direct funding of national museums operates) and one that funds more grassroots activities. The former is administered by UK Sport, with an emphasis on its website on its role in funding world-class activities. The latter is administered by Sport England. Comparing sports funding figures with funding for museums is instructive. Tate, widely acknowledged to be the best museum of contemporary art in the world gets around £32m. Over on the sports side, UK Sport have committed over £27m to funding those well-known British specialities, Winter Olympic sports, specifically bobsleigh, curling, figure skating, short track speed skating, skeleton and ski and snowboarding. This is on the basis of Great Britain winning four medals at the last Winter Olympics and coming 19th in the medals table, a couple of places down from Slovenia.
Winter Olympic sports are relatively small fry though. It’s the summer ones that UK Sport get really excited about. Rowing gets around the same as Tate with £32,622,862 going into its coffers, sailing does pretty well with £25,504,055 and canoeing gets a healthy £20,043,618. This might be good news for the likes of Lani Belcher, Bradley Forbes-Cryans, Samuel Kirschstein-Smith and other leading British canoeists but perhaps not so good news for the rest of us who have never heard of them.
At the Sport England level, it is also instructive to do a bit of compare and contrast. The level of funding that the Serpentine gets is about the equivalent to what England Netball gets (£1,151,378) as a National Governing Body (NGB). The Whitechapel Gallery, another internationally recognised museum gets significantly less that England Hockey (£1,510,168 against £1,857,110). Badminton England gets a mystifying £1,834,262. BaseballSoftballUK with its unusual lack of punctuation gets £724,270. There is no international Sport100 list regularly published but if there was, it would probably be a surprise to see English Netball or indeed BaseballSoftballUK anywhere near the top 10.
Sports funding is largely based on the premise that excellence inspires participation. However since 2012, the number of people participating in sporting activity at a moderate intensity at least once a week has declined according to Sport England’s own figures. Moreover as another of England’s national teams exits embarrassingly early at a major tournament, it’s time to face facts. England, Great Britain, Team GB, Team England are not very good at almost all sports. We are a country that regularly punches below its weight at sporting events and chucking money at this is probably not going to work. We are however very good at modern and contemporary art museums, and giving them more money to consolidate these achievements is probably a good idea. Go figure, DCMS.