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Arts in England face ‘serious and irreversible damage,’ says Arts Index

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The arts in England are on the cusp of “serious and irreversible damage” caused by cuts to funding, the findings of the 2015 Arts Index have revealed.

The Arts Index, which has been updated to include figures from 2012/13 and 2013/14, is described as a “health check” on the arts in England and is measured by 20 indicators including financial inputs and outputs, and community and participation levels.

Each of the 20 indicators are translated onto an index points scale, which allows different factors to be compared on the same scale.

The overall index, which pulls together all 20 indicators, fell in 2013/14 to 111 from 115 in 2012/13. The overall figure has risen since the index began recording data in 2007/08. But changes have been gradual.

But the picture when examining the individual indicators shows more fluctuation and reveals “fewer reasons to be optimistic”, according to David Brownlee, volunteer board director of the National Campaign for the Arts, which produced the index in association with The Guardian’s Culture Professionals Network.

Brownlee’s comments were made as part of a blog written on The Guardian to accompany the index’s publication.

In a foreword to the index, actor and NCA chair Samuel West said that overall funding for the arts had “fallen further and faster than ever before in this country”.

West continued to say that on the one hand the index painted the arts as “lean and fit”, but on the other revealed the sector to be “thin and fragile”.

The index takes into account public funding from the treasury, Lottery funding and local government funding, and found that the cumulative amount per person invested through these three sources combined reached a new low in 2013/14 of £14.99.

The figure rose by 89p per person between 2011/12 and 2012/13, before dropping by £2.34 to the most recent figure.

According to the index, the largest cut in these three sources came from the treasury’s funding for arts councils, which marks the largest fall on any indicator in the index.

Inflation adjusted treasury funding has fallen every year since 2010/11, representing a 35% decline by 2013/14.

In the report, Ruth Mackenzie, interim launch director of online arts organisation the Space, said: “It is unforgivable that the biggest cut in income comes from the treasury – even hard pressed local authorities overall have cut less than the government.”

Meanwhile, the index registers ongoing fluctuation in the amount of Lottery funding distributed, including a significant increase in 2012/13 of 107 index points on the previous year. This was largely down to the reallocation of Lottery funds after completion of the 2012 Olympic Games. Lottery funding reduced in 2013/14 from 252 to 180 index points, which still represents an uplift on preceding years.

The index includes Lottery grants made by all distributing bodies, not just Art Council England. However, Brownlee noted that ACE’s use of Lottery grants to fund its core portfolio “means that there’s now an increased reliance on a funding source that is notoriously volatile”.

Elsewhere, the index shows a continued increase in earned income by revenue-funded organisations, which Brownlee said was testament to the strength of organisations that have responded to funding cuts by raising more money through ticket sales and other entrepreneurial activity.

Despite this, he warned that this increase in income has come hand in hand with an increase in ticket prices.

“What we don’t want is a sector that is unaffordable to a sizeable element of the population,” he said.

The number of higher education students studying the creative arts has been subject to gradual change since 2007/08, but increased tuition fees have meant that the index figure has been in steady decline since 2011/12.

The index shows a growth in the cultural and community outputs category, which includes attendance and participation. More people are engaging digitally in an arts activity than in 2008/09, while the figures also show gradual increases in the number of adults attending and participating in the arts.

In conclusion, Brownlee said: “The arts continue to be one of this country’s success stories; they could play an even larger role in helping to unite communities and grow the economy. However, we at the NCA worry we have now reached a tipping point where further cuts to funding will permanently damage how the sector supports society.”

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