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Sep 16 / Simon

Lost Arts

The Musician, Summer 2014
With funding failing across the board, what future is there for the arts in the UK? The Musician explores how the Lost Arts campaign is recording the losses…
Feature by Simon Tait

Sir Richard Eyre, the former artistic director of the National Theatre, was in euphoric mood at the recent Olivier Awards. He had every right to be. His production of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida had just won three statuettes. “There is something emancipating about doing a show outside the West End where you didn’t think you have to hit the jackpot every time. You’re not panicking about whether you can fill the theatre”.

But by saying that, Eyre betrays that he is living in a vacuum. Barely a month before the glittering presentation night at the Royal Opera House, Nottingham Playhouse, where Sir Richard cut his teeth as a director and artistic direct or of a theatre, was told that Nottingham County Council was scrapping all of its £94,500 annual grant despite a well-supported online campaign. It’s worth about 6% of its turnover, but it will mean something in the Playhouse’s offer can no longer happen.

Even inside the bubble of national London-based funding, the cuts are having their effect. In March at the National Theatre, where Eyre was boss for ten years, five musicians who had been the on-stage accompaniment for the smash-hit War Horse were fired i replaced by a recording. An injunction application on their behalf by the Musicians’ Union failed.

These two instances give a sense of the range of the challenge facing Britain’s culture, and the magnitude of the fight to keep to a minimum casualties in the fight to prevent the loss of art.

Lost Arts is a campaign set up in 2011 by eight unions whose members are directly affected by the cuts in cultural funding: The Musicians’ Union, Equity, BECTU, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists, UNITE, Prospect, the PCS and the Federation of Entertainment Unions, a who between them span every sector of the arts and culture in the UK.

Its aim is to inform the next spending review by recording and cataloguing the projects, events, initiatives, performances, organisations and companies that are being lost because of cuts in public funding. “When we get to the end of the three year funding round we can be pretty sure that we won’t get the money back that’s been cut,” said the MU’s general secretary, John Smith. “So we’re going to have to be in a position to remind government and the public just what the nation’s lost”.

Maddy Radcliff is the MU’s campaigns and public affairs officer who has nurtured and tended the Lost Arts website for the last two years. “We are facing an unprecedented attack on our artistic and cultural life,” she said. “Central government is cutting arts funding as well as local authority funding that supports arts and culture where we live. With less money, arts organisations are cutting down what they can do and hiring fewer people to do it. It’s proving tough for them to survive. The big ones might have the money and the time to hire fundraisers or re-train staff, but that’s not true of everyone. Smaller organisations are struggling, and from the list you can see some have already closed.

“Right now, the creative economy accounts for 1 out of every 12 jobs in the UK. Arts and culture businesses make up about half of that. These aren’t just statistics – it includes all of us as artists and musicians. That’s why feeding in to Lost Arts is so important. So that we can make a collective case for the value of arts and culture, to us and our communities, before government.” (

The Lost Arts website gives the latest reports of where the cuts hare being felt, starting at the top with just over £14m from the British Library and nearly £5m from the V&A, both directly funded by DCMS. The cuts to the British Library, many of whose staff are members of Prospect which also represents museum and archive staff, have seen staff members reduced by a third, salaries for those remaining frozen for four years so far, and acquisition and conservation budgets severely slashed. Meanwhile, the BL contributes £4 to the economy for every £1 in funding it receives, said Prospect’s national officer Sarah Ward. “Our research clearly demonstrates that Prospect members are absolutely passionate about the work they do, they’re committed to their museums and galleries, to archaeology and to heritage,” she said. “However, these years of government cuts have had such a detrimental impact that motivation is at an all-time low, and members are genuinely concerned about what the future holds.”

From the Arts Council’s national portfolio, English National Opera has lost £777,000, English National Ballet £581,014, and Opera North £915,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery has lost all its ££98,600 ACE funding as has Foursite, the women’s theatre company, whose £174,000 grant also went. For the gallery it meant a reformation, finding other ways of earning through, among other things, capitalising on its city centre property. For Foursite it meant the end, and the company closed after 25 years. Polka Theatre, the South London children’s company, has lost all of its £609,000 annual grant and so is having to rely heavily on the support of its audiences, and on top of its cut from the county council Nottingham Playhouse has lost £61,000 from ACE.

Music suffers in the latest Lost Arts reports, too. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia – joint residents at the Southbank Centre – have each lost £92,000, the LSO £100,000, the North Music Trust which runs the Sage Gateshead and with it the Royal Northern Sinfonia, £164,000, the London Sinfonietta £47,000 and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment £19,000. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has lost £986,000 in its revenue funding, but has been awarded £240,000 from the Arts Council’s Catalyst Fund over three years to enable to raise its fundraising operation.

The nationally subsidised arts are at the point when the Lost Arts data will come into play, with Arts Council England to announce on July 1 how it will spread £271m in grant-in aid and £60m in National Lottery funding for National Portfolio organisations for 2015-2016 – the government has only confirmed ACE’s funding to 2016, not for the full cycle to 2018. The investment, as ACE prefers to call its grant-giving, has been £1.4 billion between March 2012 and April 2015 and the projected settlement for 2015-16 represents a further cut.

So far since 2011 national arts subsidy has fallen by 33%, meticulously meted out by the Arts Council to avoid major casualties, but casualties there have been. In 2008 the Arts Council had 880 regularly funded organisations on its list, that is cultural concerns in receipt of annual revenue; from 2011, and renamed national portfolio organisations, there were 696 after a 30% cut to its grant in aid.

Since then, ACE says, the arts have been resilient under the pressure of cuts, they have been inventive, open, and consultative, prepared to make partnerships with other arts organisations to not only save money but to expand operations. It has, ACE says, been a hard but uplifting experience. From now, though it is going to be much tougher and the uplifts more difficult to identify. Larger organisations and project are likely to find themselves without Arts Council revenue funding though ACE will not confirm that any of the eight major symphony orchestras it has funded for decades will lose NPO status.

ACE had had another cut for 2014/15 of 1.7% and for 2015/16 another 1.3%, and since the Arts Council itself was compelled to take 50% cut to its operations those cuts will have to be passed on, as sensitively as possible according to its spokeswoman: “We will look to protect the budget for funded organisations and will instead reduce our strategic budgets – the investments we make to support the wider development of arts organisations and audiences across the country”. IN 2014/14 ACE will also be able to use £28.3m of lottery money as revenue for the priority areas of touring and young people.

But the arts have been squeezed by a pincer movement of national funding cuts and local authority reductions, and the future in that quarter is even more uncertain. Business sponsorship and philanthropy have so failed to be the Seventh Cavalry, while according to the latest figures from Arts & Business trusts and foundations, such as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Esmé Fairbairn Foundation, have increased their support to a point where some are seriously depleting their endowments.

Local authority funding has traditionally been at least the equal of the national subsidy for the arts, but between 2010/11 and 2012/13 the net expenditure for cultural services went down £3.378 billion to £2.9 billion, or 10%. Looked at in more detail, however, we find that funding by councils on arts development went down in the period by 5%, on theatres and public entertainment by 7%, on archives by 10% and on museums and galleries by 15%.

BECTU’s assistant general secretary, Luke Crawley, wants a change in the law to protect local funding.
“We’re trying to get the Labour Party to make a manifesto commitment, and it seems to have some traction, that arts funding in local areas will be statutory, the same way as spending on schools is statutory, so that local authorities will have no choice but to spend money on the arts,” he said. “We think that would go some way to heading off the most vicious cuts, and the way to stop threats of 100% cuts”.

Martin Brown, assistant general secretary of Equity, points to “extremely alarming” developments, such as Cardiff Council substantially withdrawing from funding its theatres, but he also has sympathy for those local authorities. “The arts councils are there to support the arts, nothing else, it’s their job. It is not for local authorities for whom costs for essential services are outstripping inflation and their income is going down. We fear we may be seeing a backing out of arts funding by local authorities that can never be reversed. The structural shift to the way live arts are funded we believe is really alarming.

“The funded theatre sector is a massively important generator of employment, not only directly on stages but because the work of funded theatres goes into not only the commercial theatre but into film and television, creating more employment again. I’m not sure the government has got that.”

The Writers; Guild’s assistant general secretary, Ellie Peers, fears a freezing of playwrights’ careers because subsidised theatres, for so long the breeding ground for new work, are cutting their development programmes in order to continue to keep their theatres from going dark by putting on standard repertory. She points to the up to 25% tax breaks the government is offering for theatre production coming into effect ion September, but how it will work is still unclear. “”It may help the theatres that remain to stay afloat, but for those that have closed it will be extremely difficult to revive.

“The money the creative industries bring to the economy is massive, but if you have a scenario where people cannot be paid for gong into that industry, because they simply can’t afford to, it’s a false economy, and very short-termism. New writing is how our theatre flourishes.”

In April this year the National Campaign for the Arts, the lobbying group founded in 1985 by Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell, has launched a 50p campaign following the revelation that the contribution of local government to the arts has been steadily falling from 20p a head two years ago to 16p a head now. The NCS co-commissioned Ipsos/MORI to carry out a poll which showed that, even in these difficult times, local authorities should be investing at least 50p a head in arts , museums an heritage. It showed that nearly 90% wanted some funding for the arts, while in fact sewve4ral contribute nothing and others are considering 100% cuts to what they give to their cultural life, following the examples of Somerset County Council and the London Borough of Westminster.

The NCA’s chair is the actor and director Samuel West, son of two doughty campaigners for the arts, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. “Because investment levels are so small – less than half a penny in every pound – cutting them won’t balance the books,” he said. “Instead, it will make independent cultural organisations unsustainable and could make the UK cultural desert spread”.
Last year the NCA published its index, its annual health check for the arts (the next is published this autumn to chime with the party conferences), which showed how much harder arts organisations are having to work to get the funding they need. While subsidy has been sliding from both national and local sources, business sponsorship and individual giving are both falling, despite the government’s ambitions for philanthropy as a major source for cultural funding. The index also found that while employment in the arts is down, earning by the cultural sector is up – “This could suggest that arts organisations are working harder to produce great art with fewer people,” the report says.
The cultural sector has become adept at making its financial case for subsidy and for private funding, and it will become harder. While the economy appears to be reviving and coming out of the dark age of recession, the Arts Council warns that the cultural economy is traditionally three years behind the national situation, so that in practical terms the arts are where the country was in 2011. It means the campaign has to get even more urgent, said Sam West: “It’s difficult to put figures on the value of the arts to us because the government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.

Figures box

Arts Council England’s grant in aid

2009/10 444m
2010/11 449m
2011/12 338m
2012/13 360m
2013/14 352m
2014/15 350m

Regional breakdown of National Portfolio organisations

Region No of RFOs No of NPOs 2010/11 RFO funding 2014/15 Grant in aid Lottery funding for children and young people organisations Indicative Lottery funding earmarked for touring
East 34 30 11,017,813 10,714,731 1,295,189 875,000
East Midlands 54 42 11,326,007 9,939,532 947,408 566,000
London 277 250 178,853,242 164,851,588 1,626,878 6,517,000
North East 69 42 14,553,407 14,749,130 509,000 371,000
North West 109 85 24,643,339 24,298,468 1,423,000 435,000
South East 54 46 14,693,145 15,036,158 1,607,323 707,000
South West 78 69 17,248,321 15,489,543 926,355 1,294,000
West Midlands 66 51 48,955,631 42,348,396 1,183,208 4,383,000
Yorkshire 105 80 27,680,224 25,309,851 1,073,000 2,876,000

Top and bottom local authorities for cultural funding in pence spent per head of population
Top 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
1 City of London
2 Middlesbrough
3 Exeter
4 Kingston upon Hull
5 Eastbourne
5 Manchester
7 Maldon
7 Norwich
9 Cheltenham
10 Leicester
Bottom 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
309 Wealden
309 Adur
319 Selby
319 Bath and North East Somerset
319 Forest of Dean
319 Isles of Scilly
319 North Somerset
319 Wigan
319 Wokingham
319 Huntingdonshire


Samuel West, actor and chair, National Campaign for the Arts

“The government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.