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Arts Council to deliver knockout punch

Will Gompertz | 11:27 UK time, Monday, 28 March 2011

It's a big week for Big Al. Arts Council England's (ACE) heavyweight boss spent Friday working out, getting ready to deliver knockout blow after knockout blow on Wednesday morning. His targets will be theatres, arts centres and assorted musical outfits from Cornwall to Carlisle. They will fight back.

But it could be the making of Alan Davey, a quietly spoken aesthete trapped in the body of a nightclub bouncer. His tenure as the CEO of ACE has been steady if unspectacular, as this morning's report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee appeared to conclude. His announcement on Wednesday morning - outlining which arts organisations will receive funding from his quango and which will not - is his big moment.

As the select committee report says, it is "inevitable" that rejecting approximately half of the 1,350 arts organisations that have applied for funding will lead to widespread complaints. Alan Davey and his Chair, Liz Forgan, will come under intense scrutiny. The report's authors are concerned that ACE's process of whittling down has been too quick. Maybe it has.

But Davey, Forgan and the rest of the ACE board will weather the storm if they are able to demonstrate a rock-solid rationale for their decisions. No flim-flam, no management speak, no "it's not our fault", just a clear and coherent intellectual argument that makes their decisions understandable - if not palatable - for all concerned.

In doing so, they will have spelt out an arts funding strategy for England that has fairness, rigour and accountability at its heart - something that by their own admission has been missing.

It won't be easy. How, for instance, do they deal with that tricky issue of audience development? The select committee report says they shouldn't "relentlessly pursue people who are not interested in the arts". But if they don't, they will be criticised for being elitist and ignoring whole swathes of the population who contribute to their funds. Added to which, both Davey and Forgan have talked about the arts in evangelical terms; that a painting or a play or an opera can be redemptive and more broadly of the arts as a catalyst for regeneration. "Do gooding" is part of the council's DNA.

And what will they do about The Public in West Bromwich? The report criticised ACE for wasting money on the arts centre in the past, but does that mean they should not invest in it for the future? They'll probably get criticised either way. And that's just one of 1,350 decisions they have to make.

So, whether he likes it or not, Alan Davey is in for a fight. On Wednesday we will find out which companies he has picked on. Will it be just the little guys? Or does he fancy his chances against the big boys? Will the likes of the Royal Opera House and the Southbank Centre take a big hit?

The select committee and many others will be watching...


  • Comment number 1.

    Depression will become the most widespread mental condition for all those in the arts. The choice has been made by the electorate to vote for austerity and (economic) Depression. The question was only of degree and timing.

    There was, and is, another way and that is that the profligate and imprudent in our society (and indeed the country and the banks) default or declare themselves bankrupt. (It is the debt that is killing us all!) This will be quick and nasty, but this will (could) prevent many decades of a emotionally depressed artists and economically depressed country. But the country has chosen Depression so get used to it!

  • Comment number 2.

    Whatever the outocme the Arts Council will be sure that it is the right one. As Alan Davey says "We will have used our expertise to make sound, effective judgments" So if there is an outcry and some uturns where will the responsibilty lie. If the choices made are flawed the damage done to Arts Infrastrucutre could be worse than the goverments cuts!

  • Comment number 3.

    Kings row.

  • Comment number 4.

    " How, for instance, do they deal with that tricky issue of audience development?"

    You can lead a horse to water...and all that. So their most important function is to facilitate the production of art and to present it. They become irritating when they begin to say: "It's good for you."

  • Comment number 5.

    Having seen first-hand the *incredible* sums of money that some large arts organisations can waste on projects which could and will never show any ROI, I would fully expect the ROH, Southbank Centre, et. al. to be rightly worried tomorrow- and ready to buck up their ideas!


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