By now everyone will know about the reductions in funding that have been passed on to Arts Council England, subsequent to the Chancellor’s autumn statement. These cuts will have an effect over the next two years.
Cuts are never good news. I know that budgets will have been set, and this will be an unwelcome further disruption.
In the light of these cuts, there are a couple of points that I’d like to make.
First, as always in these situations, we have to focus on what we can do, and at the Arts Council we will continue to make sure the public know what an outstanding job arts and cultural organisations do for this country.
We know we got that message over to the Chancellor in the spending review, but the Autumn statement had this ‘small’ cut contained across the board, which to be honest the Treasury, looking at the big departments, probably assumed could be absorbed by the departments themselves. But the DCMS works on a tighter model, and all of their money is given out to its non-departmental public bodies, so they had no choice but to pass the cut on. I understand that. But it tells me that in making the case for the arts in the future we need to stress the difference between the DCMS model and the rest of Whitehall – it may seem arcane, but it is important.
If I sound downbeat, well, in some ways I am – another one per-cent sounds small. But I know what it means in practice.
But we’ve still got a lot of money to invest, especially from the Lottery, and over the next few months we will be investing it where it can support the best talent and the widest ambition.
At the Arts Council, it’s our job to see how your ambition can be supported – ambition matters, because if we lose it, our audiences will lose interest.
My second point is that I think the cuts have put some recent issues in perspective.
There’s been a proper debate about the national spread of our funding. The answer is not simple because the arts ecology of England is complex and interrelated. For example, while we want our funding to benefit all communities, rural and urban, we recognise that some of the organisations best equipped to deliver nationally happen to be based in London for sound logistical reasons. You can’t change that overnight.
Instead, we have to strengthen the roots of the ecology throughout the country – something that has by and large been happening in the years since Jennie Lee’s White Paper in 1965.
But progress has always depended on a balance between central funding and local government funding.
While our funding may be under pressure, local government is facing greater pressure, and our colleagues have to fight to avoid debilitating cuts. The Arts Council won’t be able to fill all the gaps, so we need to be careful that we use all of our funding – lottery and grant-in- aid, to support the ecology in a holistic way, right across the country and its many environments, urban and rural, north and south. That’s our job.
But it’s a sensitive process. We have to be fair, and recognise the contribution that everyone makes. And, for our part, we have to be able to understand and describe more clearly how the investment we make benefits all of the country - how the work an organisation does may have an impact far removed from its home base.
We depend on each other for shared resources and talent, and because we build audiences together. When we describe the arts in this country as an ‘ecology,’ we mean that from large to small, we are connected. If one part of that ecology suffers, we all feel the effects.
I hope the No Boundaries conference, funded by the Arts Council and British Council as part of State of the Arts will be just one forum next year where this conversation can continue. We’ll be releasing a whole lot of data there which we hope will give a richer picture of the effect of spending on culture in this country.
This latest cut also brings the issue of Lottery revenue to the fore. It makes us more determined than ever to deploy all the resources we have to ensure that the cultural ecology of our nation is diverse and resilient - and that the work we support continues to excite and challenge audiences.
So, in order to help support a thriving National portfolio we will use some of our Lottery revenue to fund National portfolio organisations. We are satisfied that we can do this and still fulfil the principle of ‘additionality.’ We’ve got to think of the greater number of organisations that can be included in the portfolio if we do this: under the circumstances it would be quite wrong for us not to apply this resource to help the whole arts ecology.
There will be some National portfolio organisations that are funded wholly with National Lottery revenue, while others will be wholly funded with Grant-in-aid. The Arts Council will decide which organisation is funded from which funding stream, but the source of funding will have no bearing on how organisations are regarded. You will be treated alike. You’ll be National portfolio organisations.
We should take courage from the growing support we have across the political and public spheres - and from the high regard in which the arts in England are currently held across the world. And instead of looking inwards, we should come together to make the case for sustained public investment in the arts, pointing out all the happiness, the social good and the economic benefits the arts give our communities - and how they should be a truly democratic resource for all people, everywhere.
We’ll be doing more work with the sector on this in the spring. Some of you may already have had the pleasure of seeing Baz and I talking about the ‘blobs’ that make up our holistic case for culture on which your views are welcome. These are the basics of the argument we feel we need to make across government in the coming year - never forgetting that in the end, it’s all dependent on the quality of the art.
The Christmas greeting we’ll be sending out will come with plenty of reminders of what art and culture can achieve; I hope it will inspire you to keep showing that what you do makes a real difference.
I’m always awed by the quality of art across our nation. In the end, that’s down to you; we will continue to do all we can to provide the conditions, but it’s your talent and ambition that make it all real.