“Artistic merit is a term that is used in relation to cultural products when referring to the judgement of their perceived quality or value as works of art“. Source: Wikipedia
Judgements may well be subjective, however we will strive to consider factors such as beauty, skill, inherent meaning, uniqueness, and fulfilled intent (though all may not apply to every artistic proposal).
The overriding intention is to generally promote artistic practice within the area of benefit, in line with our charitable objects. Insofar as this from time to time involves the promotion of particular individual artists – for example the selection of an artist for a commissioned work – the charity trustees will use their personal specialist knowledge of artistic matters and the public administration of artistic matters, and the opinion of experts (as defined within ‘contextualisation’ in this policy and as per Charity Commission guidance), to ensure that the artists are chosen on the basis of the merit of their art and having regard to the ability of their art to satisfy the fulfilment of the objectives of the charity, that is to say promoting the public appreciation of and access to the arts in Taunton Deane. At all times the requirements of the Charity Commission’s RR10 guidance on artistic merit in museums and art galleries will be taken as the platform upon which to make any decisions.
Artistic merit in the context of a charitable organisation:
In considering artistic merit, ArtsTaunton recognises that all decisions must be in line with fulfilling the requirements of our charitable purposes according to the memorandum and articles of association – this includes meeting the sufficient public access criterion.
In order to be judged as to the benefit of the public, all art must demonstrate artistic merit, provide sufficient (free-of-charge) public access; individual private benefit must be purely incidental and regulated; the art must not be used for non-charitable purposes eg trading; the use made of the art will educate the minds of the public or at least be capable of doing so, conveying an idea, emotion or experience, developing insight, perception or appreciation. Media for the communication of art may include multi-media, computer, and or video.
Free (ie uncharged) public access – where there is any restriction required to be imposed, it must enable the better achievement of the charitable purpose and may only be imposed to the extent necessary and no further, eg physical access may be restricted due to security of property, lack of resources or condition of and need to preserve the piece of art. Arbitrary restrictions on access are unacceptable. If physical access is not possible, ArtsTaunton will seek to satisfy the public benefit test in other ways eg via internet, publication of videos or literature, lectures, TV and radio coverage.
Evaluation – access details will be included in the evaluation section of our annual reports as per Charity Commission recommendations in A30 RR10.
If anyone makes a gift or loan of a piece of art, artistic benefit criteria will apply as will the tests around incidental private benefit and conflict of interest. (Cross-reference conflict of interest, partnership and donors policies.)
Art includes representational and figurative art, abstract conceptual and performance art, provided that it can demonstrate that it adds or enhances the understanding or experience in terms of promotion of the art for public benefit.
Ascertainable merit: merit criterion using expert advice/opinion.
Beauty is subjective and can be influenced by many factors including culture and social context.
Skill and technique
Technical skill is arguably a comparable and measurable aspect of art, by comparison with other works in that medium or genre, and with other artwork by the deliverer of the art.
The arts are powerful, not just for the talent needed for their creation, but because they may cause emotion, make statements, or challenge preconceived ideas. An art form may be simply for visual appeal, with no deeper intent; it may reference other art, possibly providing a fresh perspective; it may tell a story or evoke a specific emotion; it may make a statement, bringing attention to an issue that’s important; or it may be an allegory or metaphor with more than one meaning, and possibly several. It may use symbolic imagery or deal with more intangible human issues, yet the artwork should still work as a visually appealing creation.
This is the aspect of art which relates to not only what the artist is depicting but also how the artist is depicting it. It may explore new subjects, or old subjects in a way that hasn’t been done before.
What are the artists trying to say? Is their intent to make you think in ways you never expected to? Does it stand out in a crowd?
By academic qualification or relevant work experience or both relevant to the art in question the expert can show that they are competent to speak authoritatively on the art and its merit. They must be independent and impartial, able to speak authoritatively in a non-partisan way and have no material interest or family connection with the relevant promoter/organisation/collection.
Consideration will be given to the artist’s or provider’s previous and existing work and reputation, and consideration of artistic merit may include any of the following:
comparing the quality and reach of engagement of one initiative against another with the same funds;
how it may foster new connections or exemplify creativity and innovation;
how it may be distinctive, bringing fresh insights into the arts to the general public;
how it may be shared or emulated;
how it may engender widespread public interest/debate;
quality and clarity of goals and design, the resources involved, and where appropriate the qualifications of the personnel involved;
where appropriate, having relevance to locality and/or heritage;
where it can be seen easily and be sufficiently accessible to the public free-of-charge, enhancing and improving the locality including green spaces and waterways and being for the benefit of the inhabitants of Taunton Deane and the surrounding areas;
wherever possible has the potential to reach underserved populations such as those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited eg by geography, ethnicity, economics, disability, or social circumstances;
innovation, cohesion and sustainability in the sphere of the arts;
where applicable, where an initiative specifically addresses the issue of inclusion.
Charity trustees’ skills and experience:
The charity trustees will be constituted on the basis of a combination of wide-ranging knowledge and understanding of the existing artistic provision within the area of benefit and of specialist knowledge across art forms and best practice of the public administration and delivery of the arts. They will use their personal specialist knowledge and professional experience of artistic matters and the public administration of artistic matters to ensure that the art the charity displays, presents, promotes or performs is of artistic merit. Where appropriate they will supplement this understanding with input from other experienced and knowledgeable individuals/organisations able to deliver expert opinion. (See process below.)
Expert opinion (as identified by the Charity Commission):
By academic qualification or relevant work experience or both relevant to the art in question the expert can show that they are competent to speak authoritatively on the art and its merit. They must be independent and impartial, able to speak authoritatively in a non-partisan way and have no material interest or family connection with the relevant promoter/organisation/collection. NB the Charity Commission reserve the right to verify the suitability of any expert chosen.
At the outset, the trustees may seek work samples (eg sketches or a maquette) and a short project description (anonymised where possible and appropriate) so as to engage in decision-making around artistic merit, followed up with an indication of the recipient’s understanding of reasonableness of budget and timeline and our requirement for public access and impact. Evidence required may also include references and press cuttings to demonstrate excellence in art making and a sound track record.
The charity will consider whether or not it is of a sufficiently high standard to be acceptable as promoting the public appreciation of the arts. Consideration will be given to the standard (ie quality and merit) of an applicant’s previous and existing work and reputation, and the trustees may seek to obtain references in respect of their ability to deliver.
Wherever possible, benchmarking against others in the relevant field will be undertaken to guide this decision-making process.
Decision-making will not be delegated, and will be taken within the framework of formal board meetings and the due process of risk assessment, and documented within board meetings.
Appropriate expert guidance (eg from those individuals and/or arts organisations whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of the relevant artistic practice and design) where required will be sought in identifying and selecting initiatives – however the board of trustees will have ultimate responsibility for all decisions.
The trustees may respond to approaches by artists or organisations wishing to use specific individuals (in line with our grant-making policy criteria and guidelines), or may proactively seek out artists or performers. This may be based on knowledge of their work or their reputation.
Also as an organisation which may leverage funding from donors and then provide grants to others in, or aspiring to impact upon, the arts sector, the charity will adhere to the principles as outlined in its grant-making and conflict of interest and partnerships policies. The trustees are mindful that this must be subject to the board satisfying itself that no existing or potential conflict of interest exists, that the proposed activities will be for public benefit and will be legal, will be in line with our charitable purposes, and that any equal opportunities and safeguarding requirements are met, all alongside consideration of artistic merit.
This policy, approved by the board of trustees on 19 Jan 2017, will be reviewed annually to include evaluation of any decisions around artistic merit during the year, and to ensure that it continues to meet the charity’s requirements and legal parameters.