Arts Council England has been delivered a ‘vote of no confidence’ at an emergency meeting organised by Equity and attended by leading figures from the UK theatre industry including Ian McKellen, Peter Hall and Kevin Spacey.
The meeting, which was held at the Young Vic and attended by ACE chief executive Peter Hewitt, was called in the wake of the arts council’s latest spending review, in which almost 200 organisations face the threat of total cuts to their funding.
A number of the threatened companies – including the Bush Theatre, Eastern Angles and Derby Playhouse – attended the event and questioned Hewitt as to the rationale behind the proposed cuts. Many speakers claimed the process by which ACE had arrived at its proposals was unclear and the timing of the announcement, just before Christmas, was unacceptable.
Others in attendance included Joanna Lumley, Caroline Quentin, Richard Briers, Prunella Scales, Samuel West, Miriam Margolyes, Roger Lloyd Pack, Harriet Walter, Jonathan Pryce and Ben Miller.
Speaking at the meeting, Equity general secretary Christine Payne said: “We have a right to know how that money is being spent. We are extremely concerned about how these decisions are being made. Who are the judges? And what criteria are being used? There appears to be a distinct and perhaps deliberate lack of involvement from professional theatre practitioners in the decisions process currently used by ACE. The process is not open, it’s not transparent, there is no dialogue with the theatre community.
“Unless ACE not only listens to the concerns of people here today but actually takes action to respond to them then the credibility of ACE could be fundamentally and possibly irreparably damaged. We demand a thorough review of the process and procedures used by the arts council in reaching funding decisions, and until that review is completed the status quo should apply and the current funding process should cease.”
A vote of no confidence in ACE was called by veteran actress Miriam Karlin and was passed unanimously by the almost 500 theatre practitioners present at the Young Vic.
ACE chief executive Peter Hewitt said: “The vote clearly reflected the feeling in the room – which we acknowledge and understand, given that most people who attended were those unhappy with our proposals.
“Important as those opinions are, we do not feel they are representative of the theatre community as a whole and most certainly not the wider arts community.
“We must remember that 75 per cent of our funded organisations are getting an increase in line with inflation or above and their voice was not heard at today’s meeting.”
For more on this story, see next week’s print edition of The Stage.