The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which provides essential funding for many of the UK’s arts organisations, is to have its budget slashed by 15% between 2011 and 2015.
The department’s funding is to be reduced from £1.9 billion to £1.1 billion with savings also being made through a 41% reduction in administration costs.
As a result, Arts Council England, the organisation through which governmental funding is distributed to 850 regularly funded organisations, including 200 theatres and theatre companies, has had its budget cut by 29.6%. In real terms, its budget will drop from £450 million in 2010/11 to £350 million in 2014/15.
Speaking about the announced cuts, Nica Burns, West End producer and President of the Society of London Theatre commented: “The British theatre is an extremely well run, lean, highly successful industry, creatively the best in the world. It makes an essential contribution to the cultural heart of the nation. For a current investment of £450 million via the Arts Council we generate over £3 billion for the UK economy. Whilst we accept the need for cuts like everyone else, 30% is very hard for us to bear and will undoubtedly cause long term damage. As we already raise large amounts in sponsorship and private investment, this public investment is not replaceable. Given the amount of money we return on investment in the theatre industry, cuts this severe are a poor business decision.”
The funding cuts decision, made as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, has been the source of much speculation and rallying in recent months and weeks, as arts bodies, practitioners and supporters made the case for governmental investment in the arts.
In a statement released by Arts Council England, Chief Executive Alan Davey said: “This cut will inevitably have a significant impact on the cultural life of the country. The Secretary of State has asked us to try to ensure that funding for arts organisations is not cut by more than 15% over the next four years – the tipping point that we identified to the Chancellor some months ago.
“Council had already indicated they will seek to minimise the effect of any cuts to the portfolio of arts organisations we regularly fund and will consider the overall position when it meets on 25 October. We will now be analysing the details of the settlement and the consequences for the arts in this country as a whole.
We will announce how we will be implementing the cuts shortly after, and will then get on with the job in hand. It will be a tough task but we are determined to manage the cuts in the best possible way for the benefit of the whole arts and cultural sector.”
As the news of the cuts begins to sink in, many of London’s most influential theatre practitioners have begun to speak about their possible effect.
Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theatre, commented: “By any measure, the 30% cut to the Arts Council grant is dismaying. A large number of immensely valuable enterprises will stop stone dead. Obviously, in the context of massive cuts to public spending across the board, we must put our heads down and work with a 15% cut to the Arts Council’s regularly funded organisations, if the Arts Council is able to achieve this. However, it would be foolish to underestimate how tough the challenge will be for many excellent companies.
“It is ironic that these cuts come at a time when the performing arts have blossomed so successfully after 16 years of sustained investment. The economic benefits of a flourishing arts sector are visible everywhere, from the South Bank to Newcastle, Salford, Birmingham, Glasgow and beyond. Immediately after the formation of the coalition, Jeremy Hunt promised he would lay the foundations for a future golden age of the arts. I hope he will be able over the coming weeks to mitigate the possibility that the current golden age will come to an abrupt end.”
Rachel Tackley, President of the Theatrical Management Association, responded: “The UK arts are a huge success story, a source of national pride and the envy of the world. Every pound of public subsidy invested in the arts is returned three fold back into the public purse. In the process of turning £1 into £3 the arts engage, entertain and enrich the lives of millions of people. As recipients of public money we must, of course, share the burden of reducing the budget deficit, but to disinvest now in a lean, well run industry that makes a net contribution to our national debt seems short-sighted in the extreme.”