What are arts funders for?

What are arts funders for?


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2010

Ahead of today’s austerity Budget the Arts Council of England, which distributes government subsidy across the lively arts, has cut £19 million from its purse. Half of the money is being dredged up from ‘reserves’, but arts organisations have been strimmed for the rest.

All 808 receipients of ACE grants receive a 0.5 percent reduction, spread evenly across the board. That means the Royal Opera House will lose £142,000 – that’s about two-third of its chief executive’s salary, not that he will be taking a pay cut – while your local ethnic arts centre may be down as little as £200. Fair’s fair, right? Everyone must have prizes, and everyone must share the pain in equal measure.

Wrong. The Arts Council was set up by Royal Charter 1945 to nurture creativity by supporting promising start-ups. It was designed to favour excellence and shun mediocrity. Its unstated motto was along the lines of: the best is the enemy of the good.

Today, it delivers equal shares and pain to everyone, regardless of merit. A London orchestra notorious for its minimal rehearsals receives the same grant as a world beater. A theatre in Hampstead that should never have been publicly rebuilt is pumped full of subsidy while little startups like the Broadway-storming Menier Chocolate Factory get nothing.

Given a challenging opportunity to make choices on where it should cut, the ACE simply shut its eyes and spread thin gruel across the board. This is institution that has loss all will and right to exist. Its chief executive, Alan Davey, a former Culture Department bureaucrat, said limply: ‘there really is no more to save.’  

Really? He could start with his own six-digit sinecure and work his way down through an eight-person executive that has proved itself incapable of making decisions, big or small.

The ACE is presently advertising a vacancy for an officer in Corporate Communications. Have they lost all semblance of plot? The ACE is a government welfare agency. It has no corporate function and it can barely communicate the time of day. It should be cutting itself.   


  • Derek Warby says:

    London orchestras are ‘notorious’ for their lack of rehearsals because of their players’ freelance status and their lack of reasonable subsidy, which means they are paid by the day or session. This makes rehearsals too expensive to conduct on well-subsidised European levels, especially when one considers the exorbitant costs and scant availability of decent rehearsal venues.
    ACE has always seemed to conveniently forget one important thing in its disgraceful dealings – that they are a public body spending OUR money. Yours and mine! That they make controversial decisions in secret and with no justification (just try questioning them on the merits or otherwise of one of their funding decisions). Every taxpayer in the country is a stakeholder in ACE – something they have trouble in grasping.