Arts Council England ticks some Boris boxes

Arts Council England ticks some Boris boxes


norman lebrecht

January 27, 2020

Arts Council England’s new Let’s Create strategy for the 2020s is a mish-mash of millennial political correctness and post-Brexit shakeout.

The former is represented by such levelling statements as ‘We do not believe that certain types or scales of creative activity are inherently better or of greater value than others: excellence can be found in village halls and concert halls…’

The latter points to more ‘diversity across the creative industries’, a fairer spread of resources around the regions, a lowering of barriers between official and unofficial art forms and a redefinition of the terms ‘art’ and ‘culture’.

Despite a token splutter in the Telegraph, none of this conflicts with the vaguely stated aims of Boris Britain for fewer dinosaurs, more enterprise, less stuffiness.

I’m broadly in favour of what I’ve read.

Some will be quaking in their boots.

Between the lines, I understand, what the report means is more money for deprived areas – mostly Midlands and North – and much less for the London opera houses and orchestras, which will be told to get off their £200 seats and raise more charitable funds.

Not a bad thing at all.


Sir Nicholas Serota, ACE chair


  • Why should London opera houses and orchestras take the hit? I have no problem at all with the regions having more funds to develop their activities……but London is not a region. It is an international centre, our capital city, without a local audience in the regional sense of the meaning, but a continually moving one – by that I mean for example non-residents, whoever is in town on the day of a concert etc, international. It is a completely different working environment from the regions. Local sponsorship is practically nil for most of us and, contrary to what is implied in the above, we spend most of our time competing for the ever diminishing trust funds available and encouraging personal donors. If the regions need more investment in the Arts then Government needs to expend a little of the largesse they are offering post-election and provide more to address that purpose, not siphon (directly or indirectly) from the capital’s arts budget.

    • C Porumbescu says:

      Yes, but…assuming the overall pie isn’t getting any bigger, it needs to be distributed more equitably. It’s not “the capital’s arts budget”: it’s the nation’s. And scope for fundraising and premium ticket sales is infinitely greater in London. A flick through the programme books of any London orchestra or opera company will reveal adverts and sponsorship acknowledgements from any number of luxury brands and financial services companies. Try persuading Coutts, Chanel or De Beers to invest in Derby or Middlesbrough.

      In UK terms, the major London arts organisations are the 1%. If they end up getting four or five times as much funding as everyone else – instead of the current seven or eight times – I daresay there will still be those who claim that they’re being unfairly penalised. But I can’t imagine any politician with an ounce of perspicacity will pay much heed. Sensible, socially-responsible London organisations such as Opera Holland Park have already shown the way.

      • We are all ‘sensible and socially-responsible’ working in London, make a little go a long way and serve a loyal audience, adding schools and other educational work to our annual programme of work.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      The notion that the London orchestras have 200 pound seats is just risible; the top seating price is often between a quarter and a third of that. Even visiting international orchestras are often way below that level. And what all these anti-elitist and anti-metropolitan nerds frequently forget is that tourists don’t just come to London to see the Changing of the Guard. London’s cultural attractiveness depends on a wide variety and quality of promotions. The example of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie is a case in point: business in the city is booming and hotels often completely booked. People from all over the world want to come and enjoy concerts in a new setting. Geddit?!

    • Tim says:

      It’s not about London taking a hit. It’s about areas which have historically been underfunded catching up.

      Anyone can see that, right now, there is a vulnerability in having two opera houses and 5-6 symphony orchestras in the capital.

      I believe that the case for maintaining these is about to get harder, and that some of these institutions will have to fight for their futures. It’s going to be tough but if they make their cases well, they’ll survive.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        That’s a bit like the argument used by some economists to decry the need for more than five or six kinds of apple: why should we have hundreds of different kinds of apple trees? An apple is an apple, after all (Ronald Reagan famously said that when you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all). Let the customers in supermarkets decide which handful are the best, and then the rest can go to the wall. Ditto rare breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs. Thank goodness there are cities like Tokyo and Berlin with more orchestras than London currently boasts, and which celebrate that kind of diversity instead of giving in to penny-pinching accountants.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Stuff is located in London since London is pretty easy to get to for a wide catchment area. Think of how many people can get to London in one hour: that is the audience for the London orchestras.

      Moreover, the London orchestras perform regularly, and have residences, in the provinces.

      It really is not a “London subsidy”

  • NightFlight To Venus says:

    Very balanced analysis Norman.
    Hewitt’s hatchet job in the Torygraph is total piffle