The business of our industry is producing quality art

Simon Tait is a former arts correspondent of The Times and is co-editor of Arts Industry magazine.
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So, Mrs Miller has made the pre-CSR speech in which she urges the cultural community to get businesslike and entrepreneurial, just while we get past this tricky moment with the Chancellor.

Every culture secretary does it, or every culture secretary up to the last one, and the purpose is usually a plea to the arts community to give them the ammunition with which to go into battle with the Treasury...“I get art, I really do, but I’ve got to persuade those bean-counters that there’s payback in all this. So give me some figures I can bung across the table, and maybe I can get a better deal for you”.

But this is different. This time she’s saying there is no better deal, subsidy is just seed corn for getting money from elsewhere, so unless you can show a significant contribution to the UK plc don’t expect any sympathy from her. This time shells simply explaining why there’ll be more cuts.

In her speech at the British Museum she made all the right preliminary noises about the intrinsic value of the arts – “The arts stimulate us, educate us, challenge and amuse us. They are of instrumental, as well as intrinsic, value and their social benefits are numerous and beyond doubt”.

The Comprehensive Spending Review should come in July, just before the summer recess, and it will be tough all round. Some departments are ring-fenced, but not DCMS. Some unprotected departments will be able to absorb some of the cuts to be handed out, but not DCMS – Mrs Miller’s predecessor gave away the tea caddy with the nest egg. The word is that departments will be expected to make a 5-6% cut in their budgets, but Arts Council England has reason to fear it will be more like 10% for the arts.

Peter Bazalgette, the new ACE chair, welcomed Mrs M’s declaration that she was prepared to fight for the arts, but that she has to make a business case in cabinet. His predecessor Liz Forgan was not so upbeat:

If you start to invest in art because of an identified commercial outcome, you will get worse art and therefore we will get a worse commercial outcome.

And the National Theatre’s Nick Hytner told the BBC:

She (Mrs M) seems to be acknowledging that the arts are an engine for growth, but growth is what we are desperately in need of. Cutting what produces growth seems to me to be not good policy in arts.

Business is what arts organisations have had to get to know about because while lots of them took brutal cuts last year, they have stood up and got on with the business of survival, and here’s a parable.

Northumberland Theatre Company, that tours plays to non-traditional places, lost all its arts council funding a year ago, 65% of its income, and went out and raised nearly £160,000 to make it up, allowing them to have an artistically really successful season. But now they have to do it all again, says Gill Hambleton, NTC’s artistic director:

“Our huge success in fundraising last year is no guarantee of success this year or beyond. There are limited numbers of trusts and foundations for arts projects or core funding – these are all heavily oversubscribed and many require a gap of at least two years before re-applying. ACE Grants for the Arts applications are also over subscribed for the funds that are available. Individual donations to NTC have increased but not to a level of sustainability.

"Despite a major strategic business overhaul… NTC’s time is now focused on fundraising, not on the art or on our audiences”