Will Arts Council England give funding power to the people? | Richard Brooks

Two new reports suggest the arts still have a inclusivity problem. But Gateshead’s Baltic shows how it can be done

The arts are a problem. That’s worrying for a culture columnist like me. A survey among 5,000 people for Arts Council England (Ace) concludes that many are uncomfortable with the term “the arts”, associating it simply with opera and ballet. Around half the population also never enters a theatre or gallery because they are intimidated by the buildings themselves (“walled barriers”).

Tomorrow, Ace will try to address these problems by publishing its strategy for the next decade. Let’s Create will, I gather, place emphasis on people’s own creativity, with a particular push for young people, rather than Ace’s historic priority of putting money into cultural productions and institutions. It will now give communities, whether in villages or cities, more chance to influence culture offerings, following examples such as the Cultural Spring in Sunderland and a thriving arts bash in Efford, a deprived part of Plymouth.

To justify future funding, arts companies must provide more for their locality rather than staging, say, a play or art exhibition. The Royal Opera House, which has set up a choir in Thurrock, Essex, where it stores its props, is going to have to spread its wings further to justify its whopping £24m a year from Ace, which includes money for its sister company the Royal Ballet.

That figure represents a sizable 6% of the total dished out annually to Ace’s 829 regular recipients. No wonder smaller companies complain about unfairness. It’s also scandalous that the Royal Opera and Ballet hardly ever tour England, unlike the National Theatre, which does so extensively.

A counter report, Ace in a Hole?, will be published tomorrow by leading cultural academics. They will argue that the organisation talks too much in “vague generalisms” (I agree) and that its funding “still unjustly” favours those who already enjoy culture. It concludes that trust has been lost between the arts establishment and the people. Ouch.

The Baltic Centre.
The Baltic, Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images

Giving more to the regions does pay dividends. A decade back, Ace provided the Baltic gallery in Gateshead with £1.5m a year. Now it is £3m. Last year, the Baltic welcomed 500,000 visitors – and one third of those were under 26. You might have thought the pro-Brexit north-east would be more traditional in its cultural preferences. Not judging by the Baltic’s cutting-edge global contemporary art programme. Currently showing a retrospective of the feminist American Judy Chicago, coming up later in 2020 are exhibitions from the Anglo-Bangladeshi Imran Peretta; the Colombian Abel Rodríguez; Pakistani-American Huma Bhabha; and the duo known as Pakui Hardware from Lithuania – a real Baltic link.

A recent survey reveals that nearly half the paintings in the National Gallery are Italian. Greece has more objects on show in the British Museum than any other country, with just a tiny proportion from Britain. In the V&A, however, almost a third of its collection is British. Maybe not that surprising, but an interesting snapshot (from builders Barratt London, who commissioned their survey, they claim, because of their love of heritage). Other countries’ collections are less diverse: 31% of the Louvre’s works are French, 60% in Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum are from Japan, while Madrid’s Prado is 44% Spanish. Cultural nationalism reigns.


Richard Brooks

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Let battle commence over Bayeux | Richard Brooks
Two cultural behemoths slug it out over a relic of British history

Richard Brooks

20, Oct, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Will two Trojan horses prove more than the British Museum can handle?
There’ll be treasures, tall tales and protest at a new exhibition, while the BBC is under pressure again

Richard Brooks

03, Nov, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Philip Pullman and the watershed
Is the BBC adaptation of His Dark Materials suitable for children?

Richard Brooks

27, Oct, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
The Lebanese House; Shattered Glass of Beirut; Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime – review
In all their ruined glory a Beirut house and ancient glassware are recreated or restored, two years after the city’s devastating port explosion. Plus, a magnificent snapshot of postwar Britain’s industrial might

Laura Cumming

28, Aug, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
The bigger picture: should British museums sell to stay afloat?
As galleries auction off treasures to retain staff and plug cash gaps left by Covid, the art world is divided on ethics of disposal

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

15, Nov, 2020 @9:15 AM

Article image
Will funding cuts be good for the arts?
Nicci Gerrard and David Babani debate the fallout from Arts Council England's latest funding review

David Babani and Nicci Gerrard

02, Apr, 2011 @11:11 PM

Article image
Visits to world's top 100 museums and galleries fall 77% due to Covid
Institutions across globe could take years to recover from disastrous 2020, suggests survey

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

30, Mar, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Dreamers and disrupters: the best art and architecture of autumn 2018
Old and new masters reveal their radical edge, Assemble unveil their Goldsmiths galleries, Fernand Léger seeks utopia, and photography focuses on the facts

Jonathan Jones, Sean O'Hagan , Adrian Searle and Oliver Wainwright

27, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser review – a stupendous wonderland
The rabbit hole is just the start of this thrilling immersive exploration of Lewis Carroll’s enduring masterpiece

Laura Cumming

29, May, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
London’s new Centre for Music? Don’t hold your breath…
The delay to the London Symphony Orchestra’s new home is growing

Richard Brooks

19, Jan, 2020 @9:00 AM