Arts must continue outreach work despite budget cuts, says Hunt

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has told theatres that they must resist axing their education and outreach programmes, despite the cuts to arts funding which are expected this autumn.

Speaking at the Media Festival Arts event at the Roundhouse in London, Hunt said that he wanted the arts sector to move away from ‘tick box’ targets based around ethnic and social data to using digital media to promote wider access.

However, he said that while the government would move to introduce super-fast broadband to help enable this, arts organisations had to make sure that they did not cut back on education programmes.

He said: “The arts world has to deliver on its share and that is – in particular in very constrained financial times – that they have to sustain their commitment to an education agenda and sustain their commitment to a participation agenda. It will be very tempting, as budgets are cut, to draw back from some of that outreach activity, but I think it’s incredibly important and I’m hoping to engage constructively with the arts world to make sure that we can do that. Because I think it is that commitment to outreach that will drive the engagement in the digital agenda, which is so important.”

However, arts leaders have questioned whether this will be possible, if the proposed 25% to 40% cuts are made at the comprehensive spending review.

National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter told The Stage: “Many organisations will be bending over backwards to ensure that they retain as much of their education and participation activities as possible – after all, encouraging, growing and developing the next generation of audiences is important to our members. It would be helpful to know how the government defines ‘outreach’ and ‘access’. If Jeremy Hunt thinks these can be delivered solely by digital means, then I can sort of understand why he believes this can be done in spite of swingeing budget cuts.

“But let’s get real – effective education, participation and outreach programmes require careful planning and real investment of time, skills and resources and, most of all, people. Some very hard and unpalatable decisions may have to be taken in the coming months – most probably about cuts to staff. It will be harder to deliver these programmes with fewer people.”

Hunt’s announcement came as he revealed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has begun negotiations with the Treasury over its spending allocations for the next four years. The results of the government’s comprehensive spending review will be announced on October 20.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster