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Arts cuts: An 'interesting situation'

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Will Gompertz | 09:18 UK time, Thursday, 21 October 2010

The immediate response from the arts community to the government cuts in arts spending is interesting.

Arts masks


On the one hand, the museums appear happy. They feared a blitzkrieg and ended up with a much-better-than-expected 15% cut. They had in their darkest moments contemplated 40%. The tone of their statements has been magnanimous - one of acceptance that they too must share the cuts pain and of thanks to the government for recognising their work.

On the other hand, they're quite cross. Particularly Arts Council England (ACE) and the arts bodies it funds, the funding body having taken a cut of nearly 30% with an additional stipulation to reduce its administrative costs by 50%.

Alistair Spalding, the CEO and Artistic Director at Sadler's Wells said it was "bad news for the arts". And this from the National Theatre's Nick Hytner:

"By any measure, the 30% cut to the Arts Council grant is dismaying. A large number of immensely valuable enterprises will stop stone dead. Obviously, in the context of massive cuts to public spending across the board, we must put our heads down and work with a 15% cut to the Arts Council's regularly funded organisations, if the Arts Council is able to achieve this. However, it would be foolish to underestimate how tough the challenge will be for many excellent companies."

As he says, the government wants ACE to mirror its decision with museums and impose only a 15% cut on the "Regularly Funded Organisations" it oversees. By doing so, it will fulfil the government's ambition of capping the cut to all "front-line" arts organisations at 15%.

The request raises two issues. First, it leaves the ACE pot for projects such as the Manchester International Festival truncated while putting the organisation itself under severe pressure. Second, it calls into question the "arm's-length" principle that has long been held between the government and the quango.

So is the government asking or insisting? Some within the DCMS are saying that they have asked but not insisted that ACE does not cut front-line arts organisations such as subsidised theatres, orchestras and dance companies by more than 15%. And I understand that is the basis on which conversations have taken place between the two parties.

But when I was talking to Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey yesterday afternoon, he said it was contingent on their settlement. When asked what would happen if ACE disobeyed, he replied it would lead to an "interesting situation".

He was also quick to stress the high regard in which he holds the leadership of ACE, and that the demand to cut 50% in administration costs did not reflect a belief that the place was being badly run.

But it's hardly a vote of confidence and it will no doubt require yet another organisational review for ACE at a time when it seems likely the government will want the organisation to inherit some of the duties previously undertaken by the abolished Film Council and Museum and Libraries Council.


  • Comment number 1.

    Will Gompertz.

    "He [Vaizey] was also quick to stress ... that the demand to cut 50% in administration costs did not reflect a belief that the place was being badly run."

    that may even be true, the government cuts are driven more by ideology than realities.

  • Comment number 2.

    The 'interesting situation' sounds like a close relative to 'he has our full support' and generally means clear your desk. Quite worrying.

  • Comment number 3.

    Should we (the handful of people who read this blog) take the lack of response to indicate that nobody really cares about arts funding?

  • Comment number 4.

    No, only that:
    - the depth and perceptiveness of BBC arts coverage in this area is woefully lacking
    - Will Gompertz has little or no credibility in the arts sector outside of the visual arts.

    What astonishes me is what is going unsaid.

    The CSR cuts will mean the withdrawal of regular ACE funding (and therefore the almost immediate closure) of roughly 1 in 8 arts organisations. That's not me - that's the Chief Exec of ACE saying this.

    Also, in organisational moves announced by ACE 6 months ago, probably half to a third of those that remain will be moved on to short term project funding. This destabilises them, and also makes them easier to cut in future without too many political ramifications.

    And because there is a rump of "uncuttable" arts organisations (regional flagship companies, national/big name companies), the axe will fall disproportionately (by money terms and by headcount) on smaller, non metropolitan companies).

  • Comment number 5.

    ArtsLover1969 is spot-on but omits one salient piece of information.

    Rather than being 'moved' to short-term project funding, all current regularly funded organisations (RFOs) will have to apply to be included in the new three-tier funding structure that has been proposed by the Arts Council to replace RFO status. This application process will begin very soon . . . and allegedly it will be open to new applicants too. Previously, the process by which an organisation became an RFO was a slightly opaque one. It seems that in future there will be an open application process with published criteria.

    If this turns out to be so, it will be one of the most significant changes to the way the Arts Council provides funding to the arts since its inception. However, there are still a lot of (as yet) unanswered questions about how this change will be effected. If the process is to be open to new applicants (and let's face it there are plenty of deserving arts organisations who are not currently RFOs) yet there's already a lot less money to go round, then it's clear that some current RFOs will not be funded to the level they are now - and some may well not be funded at all.

    And what is to become of that 'rump' of regional (and national) flagship organisations - the symphony orchestras, the theatres and companies, ballet and opera? Will any of these find themselves short-term project funded? Or, will they be cushioned, or perhaps exempt? Surely, if the process is to be truly fair and equitable, they can't remain 'uncuttable' - particularly as many of them have income streams and income-generating assets that the greater number of arts organisations do not enjoy?

    Whatever one thinks of the Arts Council, they're in quite a bind here - damned if they do and damned if they don't. It will be interesting to see what contortions of justification they will adopt in order to explain themselves if they do not slaughter some sacred cows here and there.

  • Comment number 6.

    See the following announcement from Arts Council England, dated 26 October 2010, particularly the final section on the new structure.
    The process will be open to new applicants but the timetable for application, assessment and decision is extremely tight, which will put pressure upon organisations who don't have dedicated fundraising and development personnel.
    It is not yet clear whether there will be a single application process for all applicants with the Arts Council subsequently deciding which tier of the new funding structure successful applicants will be slotted into, or whether applicants will self-select and apply for the funding relationship they feel will work best for them.
    All will soon be revealed . . . hopefully.


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