Equity official Paul Fleming has called for the “abolition of the arts councils”, arguing that current funding structures are “not fit for purpose”.
Fleming, who is the union’s West End organiser, argued that the power to distribute funding needs to be handed over to “the working-class people who make [art]”.
The comments were made as part of a panel discussion at a conference discussing the future of arts and culture in England organised by Westminster Media Forum.
Fleming argued that the way in which the creative economy in the UK currently operates is “not fit for purpose”.
“[Working-class people] are not served by [funding] institutions, and the only [solution] surely can be to tear those institutions down and rebuild them from a satisfactory point of view,” he said.
“That does mean things like the abolition of arts councils, that does mean the regionalisation of funding, that does mean handing to the artists who create work, the working-class people who create work, the power over where that funding goes.”
Fleming also argued that current funding bodies are “inappropriate” to support art forms that are “valued by working-class culture”.
He said: “Although one might not refer to musical theatre as working-class culture, the art forms that are valued by working-class culture are derided when we talk about class access.
“And that’s before we even start talking about the club singer or the variety artist, or the burlesque artist, who is in those scenarios. Those are working-class art forms, and where do they fit?”
He added: “Only by providing access and control over that funding, and an increased level of funding, are we going to change that perception.”
Fleming’s comments follow a blueprint for arts policy published by Equity in September, which calls for a regional funding structure independent of the Arts Council.
Since this article was published, Equity has issued the following statement from general secretary Christine Payne:
“We welcome the opportunity to examine the future funding model for the cultural sector. The union’s policy is nuanced; while some may interpret Equity’s Performance For All manifesto to require the abolition of the arts council, this would not be necessary if realistic reform could be achieved. Equity’s policy is to ensure meaningful change by reconstitution of funding structures by giving regional bodies more autonomy and increasing the influence of artists over the allocation of higher levels of funding.”