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Safeguarding Per Cent for Art in Health and across the Public Sector

Tuesday 13th November 2007 at 5pm 0 Comments

In case it has escaped your notice, the principle of Per Cent for Art is currently being reviewed by the Department of Health (DHSSPS). In August the principle was the subject of some public debate and negative coverage in the media. Per Cent for Art ring-fences up to one per cent of capital budgets for the commissioning of new integrated art in building and public realm projects. Health Estates (DHSSPS) formally adopted the principle in 2005 and a commitment across all government departments to it was given at Objective 5 in the Architecture & Built Environment Policy in 2006 (issued by DCAL). In the view of the Arts Council, both of these commitments were most welcome and made not before time, especially as Per Cent for Art is long established, widely adopted and accepted across the world, and notably in the Republic of Ireland.

This is a comparatively very small but crucial injection of funds to provide the opportunity for artists to work in our public buildings, professionally and with design teams, to improve the quality of our public buildings. In the healthcare setting, in particular, much good work has been delivered over recent years, transforming often dull and/or intimidating environments into welcoming, stimulating and reassuring ones. While many projects have been funded by Trusts, sponsors and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through the National Lottery, now, as Lottery funds are under increasing pressure and the ability to support public art projects limited, and as the new public buildings for this and future generations are being built, the need for Per Cent for Art from the government departments is needed more than ever.

The Arts Council has written to the Ministers for Health and Arts and made extensive comment to those carrying out the review within Health, making the following important points:

• Per Cent for Art’ is vital because it is ‘one-off’ (and not a rolling) investment. New facilities for health are designed for this and future generations: rather than building dismal, ‘bare minimum’ facilities, we have the opportunity now to build public buildings which will become civic beacons to be proud of. A relatively small budget for integrated art allows these public buildings to speak of civic and cultural aspirations and of collective well-being. It is time and cost-effective to have art designed-in at inception stage, with artists working alongside the design team, Trust and Department officials and staff and user representatives to ensure that the building is fit for contemporary purpose.

• Integrated art is strongly connected to positive democratic engagement: encouraging creativity amongst patients, staff and users, both at the commissioning stage and for years to come. Integrated art is sensitively considered and contextualised during commissioning – it is not akin to simply acquiring an art ‘collection’ to be hung on walls or placed in courtyards.

• Integrated art improves the quality of life for staff; there is a huge workforce in healthcare and a related issue of losing staff through poor working conditions. Integrated art also improves the quality of life for users, perhaps especially long-term users of facilities. Artwork plays an important part in giving a sense of ownership to otherwise alienating surroundings.

• Without ‘Per Cent for Art’ the chance to commission new integrated artwork is severely limited. With heavily diminished National Lottery funding for the arts, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is not in a position to support new projects as it has done in the past - or not to anything like the desired level. If priorities change, there is a danger that new-builds will be deprived of the art that staff and users alike have come to rely upon.

• Clear DHSSPS Guidelines for the deployment of ‘Per Cent for Art’ should be produced (work has been done on this already within Health Estates), then speedily and publicly launched, with the benefits of art in health – and art within the context of the good design of public buildings -- promoted.

It is crucial to correct the misinformation that ‘Per Cent for Art’ is at the expense of frontline services: the monies are capitalized and under Treasury guidelines can only be used for those purposes. It is not a case of medicines or beds versus commissioned art within the context of good design. It is also important to consider that while there may often be a good case for displaying the work of students etc within public buildings, as some have suggested in public debate, it should not be at the expense of commissioning the carefully considered and properly and sensitively managed new work of professional artists.

If you wish to safeguard Per Cent for Art, please do make your positive views on it known to the Ministers for Health and Arts urgently at this time of internal review within DHSSPS.

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