So, as the fog of the Comprehensive Spending Review clears and we peer towards what seems to be a brighter horizon than we were expecting, what is the lie of the land?
While the likes of English Heritage and the BFI are staggering under yet another 10% hit against the DCMS’s 8% deal, the arts council and its clients are floating on a cloud of optimism, having got away with a cut of only 5%.
It’s still a cut, though, and all cuts hurt.
It seems a lot more than 15 months since the arts council changed its Regularly Funded Organisations format for the National Portfolio Organisations we have now. That was the response to the 30% arts cut delivered by Jeremy Hunt in 2011, turned into 15% for “front line” organisations; it meant that 849 RPOs became 696 NPOs. The current grant in aid to ACE is £956 million. Since then there has been another 3% that ACE has manipulated out of serious harm’s way.
For 2015-16, though, there is another cut, and that £956 million goes down by another £47.8 million, and that can’t be finessed: there will be pain, make no mistake, and in the next couple of weeks there will be bad news for some.
The arts council job now is to defray the hurt by bringing the National Lottery into play more evidently. As DCMS keep saying, there is around £40 million a year coming ACE’s way from the revitalised lottery and the reconfiguration that means more goes to the original good causes. And it needs to be used, in ACE’s word, “flexibly”. It would be easy to say that £47.8 million isn’t that much different from £40 million and it won’t be as simple as that, but the numbers are there and they only need a but of creative thought to bring them closer together.
Additionality – the use of lottery money where there is a government funding duty – is still verboten, but lottery money doesn’t have to be for capital projects any more.
What the arts council has to do is abandon its “demand management tactic”, as it’s known indoors: not encouraging too many applications for a small pot of money. ACE not only has to say that NPO status and core funding from that source is not the only, or even always the best; that there are other schemes, lottery funded, like Grants for the Arts.
Grants for the Arts is a long-standing stream designed to encourage more people to get involved in arts activities and, even more usefully amorphous, to “help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work”. You can get up to £100,000 over three years from it, and since the start of this month the threshold for the small GftA grants channel is up from £10,000 to £15,000.
The fact that ACE has had to cut itself by 50% – and this month its new framework, slimmer by 117.5 posts, has started work – means that more onus is on the arts organisations and artists to work out for themselves schemes that could qualify, meeting the government’s yearning for less quango meddling; the application process, which used to seem suspiciously obscurantist to discourage applications, is much simpler now and is supposed to work more quickly (we’ll see).
There are other areas already that lottery money can feed, like bridging schemes (to involve children and young people), community audience development and touring, but the arts council needs to be receptive to other new ideas that they should encourage from the sector with as few conditions as possible.
At the same time, ACE has to find a way to address the biggest problem that remains for the arts, and that is council funding: ACE cannot replace cut council grants, but it can negotiate and invent schemes workable and acceptable by all sides – like the one that saved Newcastle’s arts funding.
What must not be allowed to happen is a stealthy diminution of state funding against Lottery income. However useful that source might be now, there is no guarantee that it will always be there or even that it will be there for long. The arts are too valuable to be a hostage to fortune.