NCA and top directors defend arts subsidy against looming cuts for war

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Britain's leading theatre chiefs have joined forces with the National Campaign for the Arts to avert a cut in public subsidy, which they claim could be made to fund the war in Iraq.

The National Directors' Forum, formed under the auspices of the NCA, has already presented a supposition to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury, stating the case for continued arts funding in advance of the government's annual spending review, due to take place in June.

NCA director Victoria Todd, who set up the forum, said it was vital that the heads of the leading institutions worked together to make the case for continued public funding at current levels, particularly in light of the financial commitment already made to the war against terrorism and other pressing domestic issues.

"The first thing that goes when money is tight is arts spending and second is education," said Todd. "I began thinking last June there was going to be limited finance available and that the arts sector should work together, not whinging and whining, but to show to the government how positive the money they have been given has been and how important it is to sustain that development."

The spending review is led by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and the Treasury every two years and will determine government departmental spending plans for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 financial years. The DCMS will be expected to put its case for funding by June. Budgets will be allocated the following month, with the department then dispersing the money to organisations, including the Arts Council England, by November.

As well as having to make a strong case against defence spending, within the DCMS the artistic sector has to face increased pressure from the Cabinet to spend on sport and health initiatives.

Members of the National Directors Forum include Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd, Graham Sheffield, artistic director at the Barbican, Royal Opera House chief executive Tony Hall and National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner. Since last June they have met six times.

Said Todd: "This year is more difficult than any other year for the arts. We have got to work with these departments. We have got to speak with one voice. We are much, much stronger if we are together.

"These people put so much back into the economy and their venues are the flagship of the arts. They have worked together brilliantly, it's amazing they had never all been in the same room before. I don't think we could do any better than we have already done."

Todd said feedback from government officials had been good, although no promises had been made. She added: "Arts has an amazing impact on the economy and that is something Gordon Brown has to look at."