Peter Bazalgette of Arts Council England – “Don’t Blame Me”.

There was an article in the Observer on the 15th June 2014 by Vanessa Thorpe  “Arts in crisis – blame lies with council cuts”.  For the chairman of the Arts Council to pin the blame on local authorities budgets is disingenuous at best. Finding a scapegoat  reminds me of the the young aristocrat expaining to his father the addition to the family of an illegetimate heir ” Honest pater it was all the maids fault”.

Local authorities have a wide remit of which the arts are a very small part. The Arts Development UK Local Authority Arts Funding Survey 2012 showed that the average local authority budget for arts spending was £384,987 which was consistent with the 2011 average of £381,605. Furthermore the findings demonstrated stabilisation in funding overall.

When Arts Council England announced its response to public sector cuts with the new National Portfolio of Organisations programme (NPO) back in 2011, a number of seminars were held across England and it was emphasised that a key priority was to address ‘cold spots’ – “the places where there was no provision; places in need and places that were isolated from mainstream provision” (mailout magazine June/July 2011)

However the excercise was flawed. Arts Council England  should first of all asked and provided the answers to two fundamental questions; Where are we now? and where do we want to be? The failure to answer these questions and to address the flaws in the provision for music and jazz in particular regrettably missed the one chance to ensure that the arts portfolio was balanced reasonably and fairly.For example, the 8 orchestras in England all received the same cut of minus 2.3% in cash terms (-11.0% in real terms).  This implies that all 8 orchestras were on an absolute par with each other in terms of the criteria for selection to the National Portfolio Organisations Programme or that they were processed without rigorous examination.

Opera needs to be placed in context with the wider landscape – in 2010 the Royal Opera House received £28.3 million (circa £15.3 million if you exclude ballet). 625 yards away is the English National Opera who received £18.3 million in 2010/2011. Within less than a quarter of a mile in London there is a concentration of scarce resources of £46.6 million. The audience for opera in England is 1.6 million people; for jazz 2.5 million people and for classical music 3.3 million people. Total Arts Council funding for opera in England in 2012/13 was circa £50.5 million, for classical music £18.9 million and for jazz £1.25 million.

The Arts Council appears to be run like a hedge fund – an investment portfolio of arts organisations replete with the slogan “Great Art for Everyone”. Whatever next Anne Summers – “Great Sex for Everyone”, or the Cooperative Funeral Care – “Great Funerals for Everyone”.

To add insult to injury Ed Vaizey says “All arts organisations need to encourage local philanthropy and private support where and when they can”. A visit to the Arts Council England website shows a woeful lack of information and training opportunities in fundraising. The Arts Council is very good at telling organisations to raise funds but this is not backed up with a programme of fundraising support, especially for small organisations.

There needs to be a complete overhaul of the funding system from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport down to the Arts Council of England and a re-evaluation of what and how organisations should be funded.

Attached documents (click to download)

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