Arts Council England’s “Ambition for Excellence Fund” and a twenty five year vision

In the Guardian on the 28th May 2015 “Arts Council boss promises more of a two way street”. The new CEO of the Arts Council Darren Henley was at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards at the House of Commons on the 10th March 2015 when I made an acceptance speech. I drew attention to the appallingly low levels of funding received by the volunteer network of jazz promoters in the UK and jazz musicians having to subsidise their music with disgracefully low fees that would be untenable in classical music and opera. I also drew attention to the fact of two opera houses cheek by jowl in London receiving £38 million per annum of revenue funding.

Darren Henley gave an inaugural speech as Chief Executive of Arts Council England 28 May 2015, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. In this speech he announced:

“Today, I’m announcing a significant shift in how we invest our Lottery income. Arts Council England has already increased its investment of lottery revenue outside London up to 70%.

But I want us to do better still. So, by the end of 2018, we are committing to increase this by at least a further 5% points. At least 75% of Lottery revenue will be invested outside London. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ll make this investment by targeted use of our Strategic funds, so that we can be confident that we don’t harm London’s arts and culture sector. And let me be clear – I’m committed to maintaining London’s status as a world capital of the arts. A flourishing London, with its arts and cultural organisations that

serve the whole nation, is essential. As the first part of this national investment, I can today announce the launch of Arts Council England’s brand new Ambition for Excellence fund.

This three–year £35.2 million fund will be one important vehicle for the distribution

of our Lottery money. We will spend close to £31.7 million of it outside of London.

It will develop talent and leadership in all regions, support work of increased

ambition and help build ‘cultural capacity’………… So as a nation, we need to join together and to join up our thinking about talent and talent development, to have a long-term vision.

At Arts Council England, we are uniquely positioned to help make this happen because of our national and local expertise and relationships. So, I want us to build a brand new twenty-five year vision for developing creative talent across our country.

It’s ambitious. It will require us to build lots of bridges – and to blow up lots of barriers”.

Full speech available at:

The trumpeted “Ambition for Excellence Fund” is a total of £35.2 million of lottery funding over three years, of which £31.7 million is earmarked for outside of London; the accompanying document regrettably is the usual “arts speak” of egregious humbug and cant. The Arts Council is like the optimist who hurls himself off the Empire State Building and as he hurtles past the first floor thinks, “All right so far”. The facts are the two opera houses in London, within spitting distance of each other, will receive £114 million over three years.  The building of a twenty five year vision is as deluded as it impractical. What is required is a costed policy for the arts in England which asks where are we now and where do we want to be? The policy should ensure equitable distribution of funding across the regions and art forms and should have simple measurable objectives. “Ambition for Excellence” trots out the usual twaddle on leadership in the arts. The leadership vacuum is not in the arts in England it is at the Arts Council of England.


Attached documents (click to download)

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