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Arts Council England pledges increase in regional funding

Darren Henley, Arts Council England Darren Henley, Arts Council England
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Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley is to use his inaugural speech to pledge an increase in regional funding and more money for developing talent.

In his first speech as chief executive, he will also implore the government not to cut its funding of the arts any further.

ACE currently spends 30% of its National Lottery funding in London, with the remaining 70% invested in the regions.

It has previously been criticised for its imbalance of funding between London and the regions in a report called Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital.

Speaking at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull today (May 28), Henley is expected to say ACE is committed to increasing the proportion of regional funding to 75% by 2018. He will explain this will make the cultural balance between London and the regions “more of a two-way street”.

“It’s the arts council’s ambition to support centres of creative excellence across the country, so artists of all disciplines can live and work in their communities, producing original work that will enrich our national culture,” he will say.

Despite the reduction in London’s funding, Henley will promise to maintain the city as a “world capital of the arts”, explaining: “A flourishing London, with its arts and cultural organisations that serve the whole nation, is essential.”

Henley is also expected to encourage local authorities to avoid arts cuts, and will declare that ACE’s push to increase regional funding “will be in vain” if local councils do not follow suit.

“If local authority funding is widely withdrawn, there will be little our limited funds can achieve – and no net gain to our increased investment of Lottery money outside London,” he will say.

Announcing ACE’s new £35.2 million Ambition for Excellence fund, he is to say it will “develop talent and leadership in all regions, support work of increased ambition and help build ‘cultural capacity’”.

The fund will form part of a 25-year commitment to develop creative talent in the UK, particularly in areas where there is currently less opportunity available.

Henley will explain: “It’s ambitious. It will require us to build lots of bridges – and to blow up lots of barriers… I believe that creative talent is everywhere. But opportunity is not.”

He will also call on the government to end its cuts to Grant-in-aid funding of the arts council, and will quote the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which last year said it would “disappointed” to see any further cuts to the arts council.

“It’s hard to make the sustained commitments that our regularly funded national portfolio organisations require without the certainty of government funding,” Henley will say.

“And if we’re unable to make a sustained commitment to funding our arts organisations, how can we fund the cultural development of our cities?”

Henley will also restate ACE’s commitment to increase diversity within arts organisations, stating: “The diversity of our nation, the many individual and communal voices, is crucial to our future. Just as everyone needs the arts, so the arts need everyone.”

He will end his first speech as chief executive by saying he wants his own past experience in the commercial sector to inform his new role, saying that the best case for continued public arts funding is popular art that “changes people’s lives”.

“I come from a commercial background, with a successful record of reaching out to the public. I want our museums, our libraries, our artists and our arts venues to be genuinely popular. That means I want them to be a part of the life of everyone in England, no matter who they are, or where they live,” he will say.

“But I believe this reach is only possible with genuine artistic ambition and excellence. I want the arts to speak to more people, but I want our voices to continue to be distinct, as they always have been.

“To be voices of ambition, daring and innovation, that challenge preconceptions, that think differently and freely and create great art in ways that have never been done before – art that changes people’s lives. That will always be the best case for public funding of the arts.”

Read the full text of his speech here.

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