Arts Council England to spend £170m more outside London

Plymouth, Tees Valley and Bradford among winners, at expense of National Theatre and Royal Opera House in 2018-22 funding

A more diverse and regionally balanced arts landscape in England has been promised in a series of funding announcements that saw rises to smaller arts organisations at the expense of large ones.

Arts Council England (ACE) revealed details of its four-year national portfolio funding decisions on Tuesday, investing £409m a year of public and lottery money in 831 organisations across England.

At a briefing in Leicester, ACE gave the full details of its decisions, which had been anxiously awaited by arts organisations for months.

The big picture shows that, after repeated criticism that not enough money was being spent in the regions, ACE has increased funding outside London by 4.6% – or £170m from 2018-22. There is increased annual investment in places such as Plymouth (£3.99m), Tees Valley (£1.99m) and Bradford (£1.77m).

The regional shift was in part-funded by smaller settlements for the big four arts organisations, considered more able to sustain drops in cash. The National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Shakespeare Company had all been asked to submit applications for 3% less money. For the Southbank Centre that amounts to £826,000 a year and for the ROH, £750,000.

It was a particularly good day for organisations applying for the first time, with 183 new recipients of funding, ranging from dance companies, such as Ballet Black in London, to theatre companies, such as Newcastle-based Unfolding, to the British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble for disabled musicians.

In a tweet the orchestra said it was “delighted and a little overwhelmed” at becoming part of the portfolio. Its artistic director, Charles Hazlewood, called it “a major moment for our work, and the significance cannot be overestimated”.

Other winners were a new Bristol-based theatre company called Wise Children created by Emma Rice, who fell out dramatically with her board while in charge of Shakespeare’s Globe.

In numerical terms, one of the biggest winners was the new Factory arts venue in Manchester, which will receive £9m a year and be a “flagship” for the area.

There were inevitably losers whose number included the north-east AV festival, Greenwich Dance Agency, Canterbury festival and the Leeds-based Blah Blah Blah theatre company. All were turned down for funding.

The Arnolfini contemporary arts gallery in Bristol, which has been mired in financial troubles, was one of the most striking losers, judged not viable with its current business model.

The money lost is, however, being ringfenced to spend on the visual arts in Bristol. ACE’s new chairman, Sir Nicholas Serota, said the Arnolfini, opened in 1961, was one of the great visual arts organisations in the UK “but nothing stands still and since Arnolfini was created there are a whole range of other arts organisations in Bristol engaged in contemporary visual arts”.

Serota said he doubted the decision meant the end of the Arnolfini. “What we are saying to them,” he said, “is you need to look again at the whole programme, the way in which you are running your organisation. They have a new director [Claire Doherty] in whom we have great faith.”

The decision has echoes of English National Opera (ENO), which was a big loser in the last funding round when it saw cuts of £5m. That precipitated a string of crises which resulted in it losing its national portfolio status.

To ENO’s relief, there were no further bombshells on Tuesday: it was readmitted to the portfolio with the same level of funding, £12.4m a year. Its chief executive, Cressida Pollock, said it was the result of a huge amount of work to stabilise the company.

“Only three years ago we were facing a very real risk of closure,” she said, “and it is hugely significant to see the work of the whole company celebrated through this show of confidence from ACE.”

ENO was one of the majority of organisations whose funding stayed the same. In total 45.8% of applicants maintained the same level of funding, while 8.4% received uplifts and 1% received reduced amounts.

One of the few to be told they were getting less money was Hampstead theatre in north London, which saw a cut of 14%.

Overall, Serota said it was a record investment in arts organisations. “It is a declaration of how important we believe the arts to be at this particular moment in our nation’s history,” he said.

“This national portfolio is going to reach more people in more places, giving them the chance to have the life-changing experiences and opportunities that the arts bring.”

Another big shift was including museums and libraries in the national portfolio for the first time. Of the 183 new entrants, 72 were museums and seven were libraries. They included SS Great Britain in Bristol, the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland and St Helens library service.

Contributor

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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