No salami slicing, but a chef at work …
Andrew Haydon’s coverage of the Arts Funding Cuts was an excellent exploration of what was good, bad and indifferent about them. It made me think that anyone who cares about the arts should be engaged in the debate about arts funding cuts, it may mean fewer (or different? even – better?) exhibitions and theatre and other cultural events on your doorstep.
Clearly severe funding cuts in the arts is not a good thing … or is it so clear? It is generally acknowledged that a shake up can be useful. It weeds out the complacent, the flabby, the stuck in a rut types. It is also true that in rough times, art produces new sharp shoots in different directions, that inspire and reflect the mood of society. In my home city, a digital arts festival has been cut. Weighing up the choices faced by the Arts Council and the city, I think this festival had, perhaps, had its time. Perhaps something else will grow up, with fresh roots, and spawn artists afresh?
The most obvious but least published point Haydon made in his article was that ‘the cuts aren’t really “Arts Council cuts”. But (sic) the Arts Council’s administration and allocation of the reduced budget allotted to them by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.’ So, rather than salami slicing an equal percentage off each organisation they had been funding, they have reappraised their entire portfolio of funded organisations as well as the structure of their funding model. And the result? The Arts Council have had to par down what they fund, but by extremely careful, thoughtful analysis they have ensured that a fine balance of ingredients make up the Arts funding pot.
Haydon dismembers the critics, one by one, who roundly condemn the arts cuts without examining the fine imagination of the Arts Council in coming up with a balance of arts funding: Charlotte Higgins exhorted in the Guardian on the arts cuts: ‘the whole picture is one of a vicious assault, on every front.’ It isn’t. The arts have never been well funded in this country, but we are set to do a fine job on the little we have to spread around in the next few years thanks to the care the Arts Council has taken in spreading the funding in a balanced way.
Why have an Arts Council?
Haydon first justifies the existence of the Arts Council neatly: by pointing out that personal preference goes a long way in the creative arts, so rather than relying in individual prejudice, having an official arbiter like the Arts Council is essential. In fact all the evidence suggests that arts funding is an excellent idea. Its a measly amount of our weekly tax bill that is spent on the arts: some 17p-a-week. Haydon points out that ‘the combined arts budgets of Berlin, Munich and Hamburg would more than cover the Arts Council’s entire national budget.’ What is it about Britain and the support for the arts? Without the Arts Council perhaps the Tories preferred model for funding the arts would prevail: Haydon says: ‘the root problem behind the Tories’ budgeting isn’t philistinism but philosophy. Current Conservative thinking has it that the arts would be best provided by extremely wealthy individuals sponsoring the arts out of the goodness of their hearts, having had their wealth subsidised by the taxpayer. Like in the middle ages.’
I agree with this analysis. We do need arts funding, we do need an Arts Council, but we certainly do need to think very carefully about where and what we fund and do so very very carefully. That is what the Arts Council have done. This country may have a philistine view of the arts overall, but those of us who do value the arts will see some interesting developments over the next five years I am sure.
Here’s a list of the big winners and the big losers:
• Royal Shakespeare Company: grant cut by 15% to 15.6m
• Zinc, disabled let arts organisation, loses grant after 16 years.
• ICA, London, grant cut by 42%.
• Pioneering contemporary dance company The Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs, loses grant.
• Almeida Theatre, London: cut by 39%
• Talawa theatre, London: cut by 22%
• Northcott theatre, Exeter, after clawing its way back from administration last year, grant cut
• Mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, grant increased by 143%.
• Yorkshire Dance, grant increased by almost £140k to £323k/
• Norfolk and Norwich Festival, grant increased by 87%.
• Britten Sinfonia orchestra, up by 30% to £416,649 – in contrast to most orchestras and opera companies taking hits of around 15%, except English Touring Opera, up by 9%.
• Kendal Arts International and the Lakes Alive festival, new grant of 890,000 over three years.
• Camden Arts Centre, London, up by 30%.
• London based Punchdrunk theatre, up by 141%
• Maltings theatre, Berwick, grant more than tripled to around £180,000 each of the next three years.
• Artsdepot, north London, which lost its entire local authority grant, keeps slightly reduced ACE grant.
• Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, grant increased by 22%.
• Standstill funding – effectively a cut with inflation running at over 4%: Bristol Old Vic theatre; Hull Truck theatre; the Arnolfini gallery, Bristol; Circomedia, Bristol; Eastern Angles, Ipswich; Salisbury Playhouse – with small increase from 2012/13; Spike Island gallery and artists’ spaces, Bristol.