Arts cuts may be widely beneficial

When viewed in the wider context, the recent cut in funding for Arts Council England (ACE) can only be seen positively. With public spending cuts affecting all services, including the NHS, and resources being stretched further than previously thought possible, the 14.9 per cent cut in the Art Council’s aid budget is a good start, and we should be encouraging further cuts.

Firstly, for any arts organisation to rely completely upon ACE funding is absurd. These organisations need to be financially viable in order to survive, just as with any other business. Would any entrepreneur worth his salt invest money in a business that has made a continual loss for several years running, with no sign of change? No, it simply wouldn’t happen, and this new lack of funding should force organisations to think economically about their accounts and investigate ways of procuring new income.

My own local theatre, the Derby Playhouse, repeatedly suffered funding cuts and faced closure in 2008, amid much protestation. It seemed a dark day for the arts, but the building was not abandoned. Derby University signed a 99 year lease, and began work converting backstage areas into classrooms and offices. The University then reopened the theatre, using these spaces for teaching, administration, conferences and other external events, still offering “a platform for local talent.”

Derby Theatre, as it has now been rebranded, is an example of a theatre that suffered cuts and closure before finding profitability under new management. These funding cuts are nothing new, and as is proven here, it is completely feasible to turn a dire situation around.

Widespread concern has also been raised around “grassroots” organisations, which many argue would not exist without financial support from ACE. However, these are often the most uneconomical and least successful organisations funded by ACE. By funding these organisations, we are often rewarding failure, as inexperienced productions suffer critical reviews and yield huge losses. Money invested here could easily be used to greater effect elsewhere, not only in the art world, but also externally. Again, we must look to cutbacks in the NHS and similar essential areas, and in a time of widespread cuts, this lavish spending on grassroots organisations is simply wasteful.

It is important to realise that cutting this funding will not result in a cultural drought that, at first, seems inevitable with cut funding. Through economical spending, heightened ticket sales, better use of resources, and external funding from philanthropists; it is reasonable that many organisations will weather the cuts and prosper as a result. Furthermore, the money saved through cuts can be used to greater effect elsewhere, as arts organisations learn to run independently, rather than leaning too heavily upon ACE funding when it is not justifiably available.

4 comments

  1. Oh yeah – we do always appear when the economy’s not doing well.

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  2. 16 Apr ’11 at 9:27 pm

    Champagne Conservative

    I imagine you’d be singing a different tune had things gone the other way for Derby Playhouse.

    I remember the campaign to save it. The situation was really quite touch and go for a while- 2007’s pantomime cast actually had to put on the show without being paid by way of protest after funding was cut.

    Being taken over by a benign local business or University isn’t always an option. In Derby Theatre’s case, it got lucky- as did the local community, given that its passing would have left Derby bereft of a large-scale stage beyond the acoustic void of the Assembly Rooms, and immeasurably poorer off as a result.

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  3. I work at Hereford Photography Festival, the longest running photography festival in the UK and until recently was the only annual photography festival in the UK too. They are supported by Arts Council England who have seen a massive cut and come 2012 will not be able to fund HPF.

    I can’t help but feel the government has carelessly scrapped funding. It makes sense to take from ‘less important’ organisations but the Arts Council England has now had to face scrapping investments in companies such as HPF which in 2010 showed 40 exhibitions across the region with over 75 Artists from internationally acclaimed photographers to recent graduates.

    When the government pays millions to go to war, I think it’s ridiculous to say we should be encouraging cuts to arts.

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  4. The idea that state subsidy is only worthwhile if the venture is economically viable and/or profitable is the opposite of why such grants exist.

    There is a difference between running at a loss, and how much things cost. Just because some arts organisations don’t make profit, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other equivalent benefits, for example enhancing a community, giving kids opportunities for curriculum enrichment etc. These aren’t generally things that carry quantative values.

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