Arts Council England – a broken bucket

Arts Council England – a broken bucket


norman lebrecht

March 29, 2011

Arts organisations across England will learn between 0700 and 0930 tomorrow what they can expect to receive over the next three years. 

At 1000 the ACE will announce its decisions at a press conference, having prepared the softer parts of the media to expect the toughest call since Sophie’s Choice and the most revolutionary overhaul in arts funding since the fall of Rome.

Insiders who have seen the documents say it is neither. Not by a long chalk.
The decisions have been made under five bureaucratic criteria (published in November 2010) among which artistic excellence is often bottom of the pile. The others include access, resilient and innovative management, social diversity, children and young people.
As an artistic exercise, the process is a mountain of paper clips. It’s a bucket of equivocations, a basket made of wet straw, a sheaf of deskbound compromises. 

The phrase to look for in the small print is ‘balancing the portfolio‘. By these weaselly three words the ACE will cover its own back, ensuring that no interest group is left unfunded, no matter how poor its contribution. Many organisations will do much better than they deserve for socio-political reasons that have nothing to do with art. Many of the most deserving will be consequently deprived. The process lacks intellectual credibility and artistic validity.
And some of the decisions, I hear, were taken on the flimsiest grounds.
I shall be dissecting early leaks here from 0800 tomorrow. Meantime, remember that phrase – ‘balancing the portfolio‘. It mocks the Keynesian principles of excellence and nurture by which England has achieved 65 years of artistic renaissance.