Arts funding: What next?

Arts funding: What next?

By Eleanor Turney 25/03/11

Arts Council England is holding its National Portfolio Funding announcement next Wednesday, 30 March. Meanwhile, the arts world waits with baited breath. Eleanor Turney reports back from the Young Vic's "What next?" event, where the great and good gathered to talk about funding cuts...

“What next?” is the question on the lips of all arts practitioners, arts professionals and audiences at the moment.

Ahead of Arts Council England’s funding announcement on Wednesday 30 March, about 500 people gathered at the Young Vic theatre this morning to discuss what’s next.

David Jubb, Co-Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre, who was chairing the event, set the tone: “It’s not about next week, it’s not about next month, it’s about what’s next in the longer term”.

This is all very well, but the problem is that no one knows. ACE currently funds about 850 organisations as part of its RFOs (regularly funded organisations, which receive three years of funding). However, it has received just under 1,400 applications for funding, and has the money (after cuts to its budget of around 30%) to fund roughly 750. That’s a 50:50 chance of receiving funding.

Perhaps this explains some of the navel-gazing that pervaded the first half of the event: there was a real sense of preaching to the choir, as various luminaries of the arts world stood up to say their piece about the power the arts have to change lives and enrich society.

Timi Jogunosimi-Raji, who is part of youth arts organisation SE1 United, outlined the potential problems in real terms: “When it comes to art, I see that a lot of young people have a sense of home. If arts get cut down, then where do all the young people go?”

A lot of people answered the question “What next?” with questions of their own. David Lan, Artistic Director of the Young Vic, asked “Does our government get how people’s lives are profoundly enhanced by continued public investment in the arts?” A cynic might judge this to be a rhetorical question, along with, “Do these cuts result from pragmatism or ideology?”

For Jude Kelly of the Southbank Centre, “Our ‘what next’ is: how do you – inside generous national spaces – make sure they are made of many stories and not of the few?” Others agreed, but no one had practical solutions to offer.

It is difficult to plan for an uncertain future, and there was a strong sense of frustration at the lack of control. Theatre director Richard Eyre made the most convincing, and depressing, prediction of what might be next for the arts: “Cultural life is going to be eroded by a perfect storm... Little by little, the already large gap between those for whom the arts are part of life and those who feel excluded from them will widen. We ask ‘What’s next?’ and I reply, ‘Cultural apartheid’.”

David Lan raised the important question about cuts: “Is this the policy for now, or for the future? When the deficit has been halved in four or five years, what next?”

Without a crystal ball, it is impossible to predict what’s next for the arts, and given the magnitude of the shake-up that is likely to happen on Wednesday, the arts world could be forgiven for being unwilling to look beyond next week.

So, the answer to the question “What next?” cannot be more than some educated guessing until Wednesday; and after that, only time will tell what shape the arts world might take in the future.


Eleanor Turney works for ArtsProfessional magazine by day, is Web Editor of A Younger Theatre by night, and is a freelance journalist and editor in-between.

If you need funding for your projects, check out our briefs – none of which are affected by coalition cuts!


Image courtesy dnnya17 on Flickr.

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