I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels drained and uneasy after the ACE NPO funding announcements yesterday. Plenty of people have written good analysis and commentary on it, and I don’t have much new to add in terms of analysis, but I do have a few thoughts.
On the whole, I think ACE did a thoughtful and decent job given the situation they found themselves in; that is, obliged by a political decision to remove £100m of funding from the arts per annum. It is always a shock to see just how much public money goes to the big London organisations – £17m a year to the English National Opera, £2m plus to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the same to the Rambert Dance Company – and then notice the other end of the scale where some organisations are coming in at around £40k. And there are some decisions it’s hard to see the sense of – for example, removing core funding completely from Artsway, a visual arts organisation in the New Forest that has consistently punched above its weight.
But the big London companies are working in expensive forms and delivering world-class productions, providing significant opportunities for artists, musicians, dancers and many others, contributing to London’s reputation as a world class cultural city with all the added-value benefits that brings. And there are a surprising number of organisations who have received significant uplifts in funding too; delivery on ACE’s promise to fund the chosen organisations properly in order that they can remain ambitious and maintain quality.
But my uneasiness remains, and it stems from what still seems like the wholly unnecessary political context behind these cuts. In Government spending terms, £100m saving a year is peanuts. It really will not make any difference to the national debt, while it is very likely to harm the sustainability and development of the arts in this country.
We seem to have the money to intervene in Libya where apparently one missile costs £250k or so. We appear, as a nation, to be happy to spend a whopping £9.3bn on the Olympics, a figure that includes blatant profiteeering from the companies and landowners involved who have done very well indeed out of this public spending, for an 18 day festival of sports – 18 measly days! – that personally I have absolutely no interest in, will not be buying tickets for and will not be watching on TV (probably along with millions of other women). In the meantime, various Surestart centres, a fantastic resource and help for young families, are at risk of closure.
Here’s an idea: arts lottery money was diverted to the Olympics to help pay for it; maybe now it’s the turn of the Olympics to divert some of the massive wealth in its coffers to art?