Arts Council cuts revealed
Manchester International Festival is in. Derby Theatre is likely to be out. And the South London Gallery has got a pay rise, going from the £394,000 they current receive to nearly £850,000 by 2015 (having doubled it size and tripled its audience). It’s still only 8:30am but the calls have been coming in to me shortly after Arts Council England (ACE) have made their outgoing calls.
It didn’t need to be like this. Arts Council England could have chosen to apply a 15% cut across the board and thereby avoid the inevitable hullabaloo of those who have had all their funding taken away questioning the decision. But as Alan Davey has just said on the Today programme, he felt that was not the way to go and would lead to a less vibrant sector.
I suspect that will be the fate for just over 200 arts companies who previously had funding, with a hundred or so new contracts being awarded to organisations not previously in the fold (eg Manchester International Festival).
Many have still not have heard. The bosses of theatres, orchestras and dance companies are still waiting anxiously by their phones, like politicians on election night; they await their fate. Has their bid for financial support been successful? And if so, is it with a reduced margin?
There are five possible outcomes for arts companies that have applied to ACE for funding:
- Total rejection – no money and not a member of the portfolio
- They still receive ACE funding but it is greatly reduced – an implicit warning that they need to do better
- Their funding is cut more moderately, within the 15% average set by the government – I think this will be the case with all the big national institutions ACE funds
- They get MORE money – as is the case with South London Gallery
- Or they receive regular funding for the first time and become part of ACE’s portfolio
I think "umbrella companies" - associations and advocacy groups that represent one group or art form but don’t directly produce content - will be particularly hard hit. And it seems likely that the visual arts will do well. We’ve already seen that with the South London Gallery, and you can add large increases to the Hepworth in Wakefield and Turner Contemporary in Margate into the mix, as they are opening for the first time this spring.
I don’t think the overall spending pattern across England will change much, but understand many of the agreements will be contingent upon local councils also stumping up. So where that leaves theatres and galleries in places like Somerset where all arts funding is being withdrawn remains to be seen.
I’ve heard from several sources that £10 million will be put towards a project to enable schools and arts companies to work together - this goes some way towards replacing the £50 million that went out of arts education when Creative Partnerships and Find Your Talent were axed last year.
Most will be three-year deals, but I think there will be some that are shorter - maybe two years - and some that are longer - possibly up to six years. All 840 organisations that are currently funded have a year to adjust to whatever funding decision they receive.
I think the theme ACE will be pushing is that they have supported adventurous programming. Risk-takers who have made it happen will be rewarded, while those they think are simply surviving will be the ones in the firing line.
A final point: Although these decisions have been made within the context of government cuts, there will be significantly more lottery money available than there was before, to enable ACE to cushion the blow for those organisations that find themselves out of favour and out of pocket.
The upshot, after an hour’s worth of press conference, is that there are 695 arts companies who have a multi-year deal with Arts Council England.
Some, like the Hampstead Theatre, have a three-year deal and others such as Artangel have an agreement for six years.
As I expected, Derby Theatre’s funding has been axed as has that for the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, the Dartington Hall Trust in Devon and the Riverside Studios in London.
The shock of the day was the withdrawal of all funding from the innovative theatre company Shared Experience. I saw their production of Bronte at the weekend and it seemed to tick all the Arts Council boxes: it’s collaboration with another company, gives opportunity to emerging talent, is a company which is for once mot male-dominated, and has secured a residency at the Oxford Playhouse to make it more financially secure. In a bizarre twist, the Oxford Playhouse actually received an increase in its funding.
But of course when such a comprehensive overhaul takes place it is inevitable there will be anomalies and that decisions will be made that will prove to be contentious.
I spoke to the Arts Council specifically about the Shared Experience decision and they admitted that it was a tough call and there would be project funds available to help the company survive. I would not be surprised to see them back as a RFO (regularly funded organisation) in three years time.
It was the umbrella organisations that took the brunt of the pain, with groups such as Dance United (which just happens to be one of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s chosen charities on their wedding list) finding their funding withdrawn altogether.