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Leader - Cultural Project Funding

Auditors will never be able to measure the cultural impact of buildings. And unfortunately architectural quality means too little.

The funding of cultural projects by an agency dedicated to economic development should
make sense in these times of ‘cultural regeneration’. But the London Development Agency, one of the more generous quangos to public projects, is being subjected to an investigation to explain its criteria for funding six major arts projects, three of which appeared in these pages as new buildings in underprivileged areas. The reviewer, Deloitte, is concerned there is no proof that the projects provide value for money.
The LDA argues that Deloitte should concentrate less on methods of decisionmaking that it no longer uses, and more on the outcomes of the projects. But that is exactly what Deloitte says it is doing. ‘The LDA does not fund cultural projects simply for their cultural value,’ Deloitte says, and calls for ‘conclusive’ proof of the projects’ worth.
The AJ could throw in our tuppence about the architectural quality of the three buildings on the list. Herzog & de Meuron’s Laban Centre is among the greatest buildings built in London in the last 10 years. The Bernie Grant Centre was an appropriate job for David Adjaye to get, and he made a fine fist of it. Bottom of the pile must be the Rich Mix centre. A bland presence in one of the most interesting parts of east London, the Penoyre & Prasad-designed institution seems to have constant refurbishment work going on, and operates partly as a commercial cinema and conference centre – hardly the stuff of community integration.
The financial report (due in February) is unlikely to find anything conclusive. Is Deptford’sregeneration due to Herzog & de Meuron’s building? Of course not. Cultural buildings, if they are not for tourists, cannot conclusively prove their worth. But at least one of these three can claim to have brought world-class architecture to a rather dingy neighbourhood. If only that were enough for the auditors.

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