Two posts in two days on arts funding…
News that Arts Council England is to require the organisations it funds to periodically reapply for their grants is most surprising for the fact that it should be news at all: the idea that such funding was simply rolled on, from one year to the other, without any formal process of re-application is bizarre.
ACE’s Chief Executive, interviewed on Today this morning, appeared to admit that there was previously no clear process for new organisations joining the funding roster. If this is accurate, then it is beyond bizarre, and raises serious questions about the manner in which his predecessors, and the board of ACE, have previously managed the public funds they disburse.
The introduction of a specified and transparent process for periodically reapplying for funding comes as Art Council England’s budget is cut. In this first year, reserves will be used to soft the blow, restricting the reduction to 0.5% for all but two of the funded organisations. Even this small reduction amounts to a larger real terms cut in funding (once inflation is factored in) and subsequent years will have no such cushion.
Against this backdrop, the distribution of grants given by Arts Council England is…interesting:
|Region||Budget before cut, £||% of total
|| E Midlands
|| North East
|| North West
|| South East
|| South West
|| West Midlands
|| Yorks & Humb
Frankly, “interesting” isn’t the right word. The specific adjective surely depends upon your political persuasion.
In the language of the
ConDemNation Coalition, this distribution is not “fair”.
In the language of the Labour Party and those of the left, it is not “progressive”.
In the language of anyone with half a modicum of economic sense, it is “moronic”.
Public sector funding is contracting, causing serious concern about the future prospects for those regions which are reliant upon public sector employment. At such a time, the idea that more than half of such funding should be directed to the capital is absurd.
Look beneath the headline numbers, and the situation actually gets worse.
The Royal Opera House currently receives £28,436,991 per year from Arts Council England. One single venue, delivering one art form, based in Central London receives 7.9% of all ACE funding:
- more than the sum of all the ACE grants to organisations in the North West.
- twice as much as ACE gives to the North East.
- significantly more than ACE gives to the East and East Midlands regions put together.
According to the Royal Opera House’s own figures, it issues slightly less than 800,000 tickets a year, about half of which cost in excess of £50 – and the tax payer is currently subsiding every ticket by about £36.
Just to really ram home the point, lets compare and contrast Arts Council England funding to the North West region (population c. 6.8 million; aggregate ACE grant £24,834,681.45).
The North West’s per capita grant is just £3.65.
I could make arguments about the demographics of the audience of the Royal Opera House, or about its outreach (or relative lack thereof) but when every ticket to the Royal Opera House receives a subsidy ten times the per capita grant to the North West region, I don’t think those arguments can add anything.
(Current Arts Council grant: £599,500; 2008 visitors: c.1,000,000; per visitor grant £0.60).
Arts funding will need to be fought for over the coming fiscal contraction. This will need cold, numerical facts, together with individual passion. It must be done in the full knowledge that the current distribution of Arts Council funding is not “fair”, or “progressive”, or even sensible. The kind of vague, politically naïve waffling against “the Cuts” which was offered on the Biennial’s blog earlier this week is the surest way to see funding for the arts cut further, and the current massive London-centric bias in distribution maintained.