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The Column icon The Column: Issue 21

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Creative Gamble
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Arts funding in the United Kingdom has been transformed by the injection of over £2bn since the launch of the national lottery ten years ago, however progress towards a more enlightened culture in which people value their creative potential and appreciate the creative efforts of others continues to evade the cultural elite.

Redefining how creativity is stimulated in the general population is inextricably linked to the strategies of funding and the principle of inclusivity.

Life's a Lottery

Around 70% of the adult population in the UK play at least one National Lottery game regularly (up to once a month).

The National Lottery was established by the UK Parliament to raise money for 'worthwhile causes'. The original 'Good Causes' were: arts; sports; charities; heritage; and celebrating the millennium. The millennium category is now no longer supported, and three additional categories have been added: health, education, and the environment.

Sixteen bodies are responsible for giving grants to these 'good causes', and of the 28 pence from each lottery pound, the 'good causes' receive the following percentage shares:

Percentage Good Cause
New Opportunities Fund and NESTA

Revenue for charities, the voluntary sector, health, education, the environment, and large-scale regenerative projects. NESTA "supports and promotes talent, innovation and creativity in the fields of science, technology and the arts".
The Arts Councils of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland
The Sports Councils of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland
The National Lottery Charities Board
The National Heritage Fund

A Numbers Game

£2bn (US$3,700,000,000,000) is a very big number and evens out to around US$37,000,000,000. This vast pot of money amounts to around £90 million that's spent on the lottery in the UK every week.

People are encouraged to participate in the lottery because they are presented with a chance of becoming very rich for a small payment and little effort.

The chance of winning the UK National Lottery with an average prize of £2.1 million is 1 in 13,983,816 - each six ball combination is unique and there are 13,983,816 combinations. For 5 plus a bonus ball your chance increases to 1 in 2.3 million with an average prize of £102,000. For five balls it's a 1 in 55,550 chance for a prize of £1,530. Four balls and you've a 1 in 1030 chance to win £62. Three balls, it's a 1 in 57 chance for the princely sum of £10. Two balls and below you'll get nothing. Whatever way you view it, the odds are against you.

10,000 lottery tickets are bought every week with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If these numbers came up as the jackpot, each winner would receive around £1,000.

The Split

Looking at the breakdown below it's clear that the lottery is used as a political vehicle to promote the support of good causes even though 12% of all the money made from the lottery is collected as general tax duty and used in any way the treasury sees fit. The lottery is further undermined as an efficient model to generate revenue for good causes by commission and profit costs:

Pie Chart showing lottery distribution

Simply ensuring the lottery is run along a non-profit model would increase revenue from 28% to 45% in one swoop.

A Rich Culture

There are serious consequences of running a lottery to fund 'good causes'. Gambling causes social problems in particular economic groups, and promotes a climate where people wish something for nothing. There are three kinds of people who gamble:

1. The 'Adventurer' is someone with an increasing desire to gamble for excitement, and who sees their winnings as resulting from their personal abilities.

2. The 'Loser' is the gambler who bets increasing amounts of money chasing the money they've lost.

3. The 'Desperate Gambler' is a full-time obsessive, increasingly gambling on credit, and taking greater and greater risks.

Rather than appealing crudely to our desire for instant prize money, it's far better to focus upon the support for good causes as that benefits the broader population. It's a matter of emphasis: your money is well spent for the advantage of all, and if you're lucky, you'll enjoy a generous payout.

There is however an equally concerning political issue around the use of lottery funding in the UK.

I've met Sir Christopher Frayling, the dynamic and gifted chairman of the Arts Council of England. He is unquestionably committed to furthering and supporting creative and cultural activities in the general population. Culture secretary Tessa Jowell has also stated 'Complex cultural activity is not just a pleasurable hinterland for the public to fall back on after the important things are done. It is at the heart of what it means to be a fully developed human being.'

Sir Christopher Frayling and Tessa Jowell view the lottery funding as central to the way arts and cultural activities and its infrastructures are supported. The rhetoric is explicit but rests on an illusory assumption. Lottery receipts are in decline and there's nothing to suggest that decline will cease.

A bold new vision of how to fund creativity and culture through taxation and voluntary contributions needs to be developed. It's as much about attitudes and policy, as economics.

Arts administrators and politicians need to recognize the core responsibility we have to support and encourage creative activity as a fundamental human activity. There has always been a reticence to counter the argument 'where should the money go? A new hospital bed or a painting for a gallery?'. We are not only physical, but spiritual beings. The present policy of lottery funding demotes the support of cultural and creative activities from 'essential requirements' to 'good causes'. My hope is that someone in a position of political influence, someday, somewhere, recognizes, then acts upon this simple but fundamental truth...


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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