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How are the arts funded in the UK?

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Will Gompertz | 08:27 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The government's Spending Review is due to be announced very shortly. As yet we do not know the details, but the arts sector is primed for cuts.

Man and woman watching art installation


It will take several days for the effects of any cuts to become clear, but in the meantime here's a brief overview of public arts funding in the UK. 

How are the arts funded in the UK?

The arts in the UK are funded from a variety of sources but a significant amount - around £900m - comes from central government via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport led by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The DCMS directly funds some of the bigger museums and galleries - such as Tate and the British Museum - with other money distributed on its behalf by quangos such as Arts Council, England (ACE).

What are the other sources of funding?

Many regional theatres and galleries receive funding from local government - the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also funds some university museums. Lottery money is distributed by ACE as well as other quangos such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. The BBC is one of the UK's biggest arts bodies, with several orchestras and a film investment arm - it's funded by the licence fee.

Are the arts funded differently across the UK?

The devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide how much money is spent on the arts from their settlements agreed by Westminster. In Scotland, for example, most money is distributed by Creative Scotland from a budget provided by the Scottish government - but projects in these nations are also allowed to apply for funding from UK organisations for projects such as film production.

Who decides how the money is spent?

In England the Arts Council decides how it spends its £450m but this has been more of a contested area under the coalition government with Jeremy Hunt questioning whether the government should take a more strategic role in deciding how the money is spent.

How do arts bodies bid for money?

The big organisations talk directly with the government before every Spending Review. Bids for lottery money are made to fund major projects such as the expansion of the British Museum. Smaller bodies apply for Arts Council money by bidding for one-off project funding or by becoming a regularly funded organisation (RFO). There are 850 RFOs which receive £350m of ACE's £450m budget - they range from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Compamy to small artist-led projects like Hofesh Schecters's dance company.

What could the planned cut mean?

The DCMS has pledged to cut 50% of its running costs - some of that cut could happen after the 2012 Olympics. Some quangos including the UK Film Council and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council are being abolished. The DCMS has asked all other organisations it funds to prepare for 25-40% cuts in the money it gives them over the next four years. Arts Council England has warned this could lead to a withdrawal of funding for the equivalent of 200 organisations - depending on the extent and speed of the implementation of the cuts - how much and how fast.

Will free museums start charging for entrance?

Unlikely - the government has stated that it wishes to retain free entrance to national museums and has asked those bodies to make their savings elsewhere.

Could I lose my local theatre?

Yes - regional bodies are particularly susceptible to the double whammy of reductions in both central and local government funding - which could lead to some theatres closing or going dark for some parts of the year.


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