Arts funding: Where will the cuts be?
Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey have an unenviable job. They have inherited the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) portfolio at a time when the coalition government is demanding cuts to be offered up by all departments.
Once termed the Ministry of Fun, Messers Hunt and Vaizey might find it more like a Ministry of Glum as they preside over a period of cutting the funding of state subsidised arts bodies.
That won't be pleasant for them, the arts bodies or the public who have responded to what is seen as a golden age of British arts by attending theatres, museums and live events in record numbers.
In fact it must be galling for the new Tory pair as they have watched consecutive Labour DCMS ministers enjoy a period of staunch Treasury support based on a successful National Lottery and healthy public finances that they may regard as an inheritance from John Major's previous Conservative government.
Their heartfelt declaration of love of the arts prior to the election won them many friends across the sector who also appreciated their honesty when they said that cuts were inevitable.
They also strenuously argued that they would do everything in their power to make the cuts as painless as possible, that they would fight toe-to-toe with the Treasury to ensure the arts received a fair hearing.
And it is on that promise that they will be judged by the arts world. It may be bad luck that their time at the DCMS is going to be dominated by trying to solve problems that are largely not of their making but that does not absolve them of taking responsibility for the decisions they and their government are about to make.
My sense is that Jeremy Hunt will go for an early settlement with the Treasury, perhaps as soon as this week or early next week. In a recent letter sent out by the government to their funded bodies they have asked them to prepare for both a 25% and 30% cut.
Arts leaders are appalled by this possibility and are saying such a move could destroy not only large swathes of the successful British arts ecology but also the creative economy they feel the arts does so much to stimulate.
Speaking to the National Theatre's Nicholas Hytner yesterday, he said he was worried that the DCMS saw the arts through the prism of the Arts Council, who they perceive as being wasteful and bureaucratic, which he says is far from the reality.
According to him the vast majority of arts institutions run on a barely break-even basis, with staff that are paid handsomely in professional fulfilment but poorly in cash.
A 10% cut for them doesn't mean halving the annual champagne bill, it means deciding if the whole operation is viable or not. A 25% cut he says, probably does away with that problem, the operation closes.
Hytner says there is a way of cutting the arts that although damaging would stop what he feels could be a catastrophe. The answer he says is to "back load" any cuts, maybe start with 10% next year and only go beyond that in 2013 when Lottery money becomes available again after having been away on Olympics duty.
Meanwhile the government's hope of encouraging private individuals to plug the gap is being questioned by the country's leading philanthropists who warn that such a plan is overly optimistic. With this in mind they will know that they are under pressure to juggle the needs of the Treasury with an arts sector they have promised to protect.
Nobody expects them to stave off cuts, but the major players in the arts will expect them to at least deliver a settlement that doesn't cut too much, too soon - an outcome they say would cause unnecessary destruction.
The question being asked by the arts sector is will the culture ministers fight the arts' corner as they promised, listen to the sector's concerns and win the argument with the Treasury?