The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement – measures on arts and cultural industries

Some notes on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement today, in terms of new measures likely to affect the arts and creative industries:-

* The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will be extended for another year.

* Apprenticeship funding will be increased and expanded, there will be a total of “3 million apprentices” by 2020.

* “Every employer will receive a £15,000 allowance to offset” the apprenticeship Training Levy. Businesses with wage bills of less than £3m per year will not pay the Training Levy at all.

* “I am increasing the cash that will go to the Arts Council” (but there will be the expected 20% cuts in the “administration” budget at the Department for Culture).

* “We’ll keep free museum entry”.

* The government will be exploring “a new tax credit” for museum exhibitions. (Presumably for major touring exhibitions, so as to get around the EU rules?)

* Housing benefit payments will be temporarily stopped if someone leaves the UK for more than a month. (I guess this might possibly affect some touring musicians and actors, who are working for peanuts on tour – in expectation of a future profits share-out?)

* Help for museums… “we’ll help the British Museum, the Science Museum, and the V&A move their collections out of storage and on display”. New funding for military museums, also.

* “we’re increasing the funding for the BBC World Service”.

* The above culture and museum boosts are being “achieved without raiding the Big Lottery Fund as some feared”.

* Local councils will be able to keep 100% of sales of property assets… “Local government is sitting on property worth quarter of a trillion pounds. So we’re going to let councils spend 100% of the receipts from the assets they sell to improve their local services.” (I guess this might have an impact on arts/cultural use of old buildings?)

* Business innovation grants will start to become loans. (So, get them now).

* “We’re going to permanently exempt our Energy Intensive Industries like steel and chemicals” from global warming taxes. (I presume this also includes North Staffordshire’s potteries?)

* “Core adult skills funding for F.E. colleges – we will instead protect it in cash terms” (So… it’s protected, but funds won’t rise with inflation??)

* All “part-time students will be able to receive maintenance loans”. (A potential impact on the viability of arts/cultural courses at colleges?)

* On student loans, the government will “extend loans to all postgraduates”. (So, still no mention of barring arts students from getting postgrad loans – they’ll be available for all)

* The UK’s university research councils, which direct research funding and often very wastefully, are to be reformed. (Possible impact on the Arts and Humanities Research Council?).

* National Citizen Service is to be expanded to 300,000 places by 2020. (Possible impact on the availability of project volunteers?)

* The government will “re-orientate” the massive Overseas Aid budget to “help those in the fragile and failing states on Europe’s borders.” (Possible impact on arts organisations and universities involved with the British Council and in overseas partnerships?)

The Edge is where The Centre is

A book of essays and observations on the West Midlands’ film Penda’s Fen, The Edge is where The Centre is, in a new revised and expanded second edition.


Birmingham Science Fiction Group

Birmingham Science Fiction Group, with a focus on literary science-fiction…


Cat pubs

Cat pubs, hopefully soon to become as a much of a trend as cat cafes…

“Bristol’s Bag o’ Nails pub has over a dozen cats roaming around the establishment and they are all happy to join you for a convivial pint.”


Perhaps one could make a temporary ‘cat pub’, if a group all brought their cat along to a pub, for an afternoon? They’d all have to be fairly placid laid-back cats, though.

The online shop, or not

Do you ever fill up your online shopping cart with goodies, only to then abandon the site without buying them? You’re not alone. While the people of the West Midlands are the most prolific gift-givers in the UK at 2015 (an average of 17 Xmas presents, given to more than eight family & friends), we’re also notorious in the industry for our very high levels of online ‘shopping cart abandonment’. Retail Times has a news item today on how Stoke-on-Trent’s Emma Bridgewater pottery has mitigated this problem via an e-commerce plug-in, and has thus boosted online sales by 10%.

On a quick scoot around the web, I see that some of the many reasons for abandoning an online shop are:

* Your site provides no “Wish List” option, so people use the cart for that.
* They need to consult someone else before pressing ‘purchase’.
* They’re shopping on a mobile on a work commute, but will make the purchase via a desktop PC when they get home or at the weekend.
* They’re walking round a real shop, and using your cart to tally up and compare prices.
* They find that your cart doesn’t take PayPal.
* They find that you want to add silly amounts for shipping.
* They find you want to use what looks like a business courier for delivery to a residential address (endless hassle with missed deliveries).
* Their ad-blocker / anti-virus / browser security settings interfere with loading the final payment process.
* Your cart won’t let them get the items delivered to a work address, since it’s different from the one that the payment method knows about.
* The log-in on your cart ‘times out’ before the buyer can complete their order.

‘We’ll keep a pipeline in the valleys…’

The Birmingham Post, on how a giant 60-year scheme laboured from 1893 to 1953 to bring only the purest Welsh mountain water to the people of Birmingham, myself included at that time. I always vaguely knew that the water came from the Welsh mountains, and it certainly tasted good gulping it down as a child, but never really knew the details of its conveyance until now.


Visit the British Museum using Google Streetview

You can walk through British Museum, using Google Streetview

“Built over 15 months with the help of a Google employee with a camera on wheels … completed by the Google Cultural Institute after hours, with special lightbulbs being installed to ensure the lighting remained the same through the galleries.”




The Design Economy

A new report from the Design Council, The Design Economy (only the executive summary is free)…

* Worth £71.7bn GVA to the UK in 2013.
* Provided 7.3% of exports in 2013.
* Increased in size by 27.9% during the great recession of 2009-2013.
* Design employs approx. 580,000 people directly in the UK, with a possible further 1 million non-design jobs clustering around it.
* 78% of designers are male.

There’s also some regional data, though it basically states the obvious: London and the South East dominate activity, the rest of us “have potential”.

Irish Studies South

The new open access journal Irish Studies South opens well, with a large special issue on poet Seamus Heaney


Birmingham’s new Cultural Strategy 2015-2019

Birmingham’s new Cultural Strategy 2015-2019 is now open for public consultation. Stripped of Council-speak it might be boiled down to…

* integrate culture with new developments and the city’s big infrastructure / transport projects.

* integrate culture with the more mundane and everyday type of public services.

* promote the Jewellery Quarter as a centre for contemporary making.

* a “Birmingham Prize” – a major international cultural prize.

* “explore the potential” for bringing back production of film and television.

* continue the usual support for small creative industries firms, including low-cost starter workspace.

* closer links with universities, diminish the local skills gap, create an “online skills hub for employers”.

* offer creative industries workshops and summer schools for “young people from diverse communities”.

* support residents to design their own cultural provision, and improve their access to news of opportunities.

* small festivals in city districts, with local business sponsorship and international links.

* better and more creative use of media to reach residents.

* encourage arts and cultural organisations to boost their income generation, rather than rely on grants.

* lobby nationally, to ensure that the West Midlands gets a fair share of cultural funding.

* give kids a structured ‘ladder of culture’ up which to climb, to develop their cultural lives.

* high quality creative careers advice, and also give the most talented kids work-experience and industry mentors.

* better links between schools and local arts organisations.

New book: Archaeology of Sutton Park

Thirty-five years in the researching, a new book on the Archaeology of Sutton Park, an ancient semi-wild park a few miles to the north of Birmingham.


Reclaiming the Rowley Hills

Reclaiming and preserving the elevated grassland of the Rowley Hills, an unregarded outcrop near Tipton/Dudley, in the Black Country.


The lost genre of ‘great race’ comedy movies

I remember greatly enjoying comedy ‘great race’ movies on TV, back in the day, but I only realised the other day that the movie industry doesn’t really seem to make them any more.

Those Magnificent Men in thier Flying Machines Quad

Here’s the handy list of those films that have been made, many of them rather good if judged simply as entertainment. The last one, Safari 3000, is apparently the best so-so representative of the tailing-away of the genre (exemplified by the dire Cannonball Run sequels).


Genevieve – 1953 (London to Brighton, in 1900s cars in the early 1950s. Fore-runner of the genre.)

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – 1963 (USA cross-country money chase in the early 1960s.)

The Great Race – 1965 (New York to Paris in the 1900s.)

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines – 1965 (London to Paris in the 1910s.)

Monte Carlo or Bust – 1969 (across Europe in the 1920s.)

[ Wacky Races – (famous TV cartoon series, partly based on ideas from The Great Race) ]

Gumball Rally – 1976 (USA in the mid 1970s.)

The Cannonball Run – 1981 (USA in the late 1970s. The sequels were dire.)

Safari 3000 – 1982 (Across Africa in the early 1980s.)

I guess its very very expensive to make a film today that features: a huge wardrobe of costumes; vintage cars / planes / trains; wrecking many vintage vehicles; and has a huge ensemble cast of big stars in small roles. I guess finding star actors who can also do good slapstick ‘physical’ comedy, at the drop of a hat rather than after months of training, would also be difficult. The movies of the 1960s and 70s had access to actors who had been trained and steeped in that tradition during the 1920s and 30s.

It seems a pity they’ve gone. I’d certainly pay to see an outstanding live-action $200m comedy movie that cheerfully re-invented the Whacky Races cartoon series. Maybe sent back in time a little, to a steampunk-themed 1908. But perhaps that’s just me.

World Map of Stereotypes

Amazingly detailed and complete, a new World Map of Stereotypes


Punk ‘posium


Local robo-journalism

A classic example of how not to do robo-journalism… wrong categories, no evidence of human curation (other than the appaling header graphic), several jobs are actually out of the area and on others the deadlines have passed.

Project Apollo Archive

Over 8,000 hi-res Moon Landing photos made by the NASA astronauts have been added to Flickr, at the Project Apollo Archive albums.


Furnace Journal

Furnace Journal from the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage (IIICH), University of Birmingham. Issue Two is out now, on “Cultural Heritage in a Digital Age”.

What is might cost to get a short graphic novel made?

A new edition of the What do Comic Creators Earn? table, this week.


So it seems like £130 per page for line-art + colouring would get art from a mid-range artist. I’m assuming that the writer is the one commissioning the artist directly and can do things like…

* the finished script
* provide the artist with rough indications of possible page layouts and desired viewpoints for certain key scenes.
* do picture research to clearly show the artist what’s needed, re: world creation and mood.
* offer the artist some basic reference sheets or detailed descriptions on how characters should look.
* use Photoshop + good comic-book fonts to letter the comic pages to a pro standard, once they’re complete.

A shortish 69 page (68 pages, plus opening splash page) graphic novel could thus be done for about £9,000, and distributed digitally to save printing costs. If one were charging $4.45 per download and making $3.80 profit on each copy after ecommerce deductions, one would have to sell about 3,500 copies to more or less get one’s money back. If one were factoring in some of one’s own time, and the total cost was thus £10,000, then one would be aiming to sell at least 4,000 digital copies.

Seems to me that would be a fairly cost-effective way of getting one’s ‘movie pitch’/script out into the world, in a form that’s sufficiently compelling it might actually create a fan-base and be picked up by a studio.

It also seems a very feasible way for a town or place to market and re-enchant their place, re: small arts grants — six local writers each write a ten-page comic-book ‘short story’ script set locally, perhaps re-inventing / refreshing local folklore/legend and other forms of local distinctiveness. £10,000 then makes an attractive graphic novel -sized anthology of those stories, helped along by a little extra voluntary effort on the ecommerce packaging and marketing side.

One could equally well devise a way for the stories to centre around a certain path — a long-distance footpath for instance. The England Coast Path (complete 2020) and the Welsh Coast Path, for instance, might have a programme where each of the 120 notable coastal settlements on the route each had a £12k grant to each produce such a work. That would need a £1.4m grant, but that’s the sort of money that the Arts Council dishes out to talent support programmes in theatre, dance etc on a regular basis, and the amount is surely not beyond the reach of being funded via the Lotteries. One would, of course, have to guard against ‘family friendly’ timidity and committee-itis at the local level — which, at its most extreme, might skew the book into being turned into a de facto unimaginative tourism promo for the local Tourist Board. Or steer it into being some naff way to promote youth literacy, the sort of thing that most youth run a mile from.

New Phyllis Nicklin exhibition in Birmingham

A new Phyllis Nicklin photography exhibition has opened in Birmingham, containing previously unseen pictures of the city in the 1950s and 60s.

terrace-demolition-aston-bham-1960sDemolition of terrace homes, Aston, presumably 1960s.

bromford-estate-tame-valley-1968-phyllis-nicklinBromford Estate tower blocks, 1968.