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Funding despair and relief by e-mail, then twitter

ENO's production of Medea at the London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Yesterday the Arts Council England broke the news to their clients, prospective clients and some soon-to-be-former clients for the next funding rounds from 2015-18 in a series of e-mails sent out in the morning.

As Alistair Smith, editor of this paper wrote yesterday in his Editors’ blog, “Watching the reactions unfold instantly on Twitter, there was a heady mixture of joy, relief and utter despondence.”

@MaxHumphries, whose Twitter bio says he’s an “experimental puppeteer, theatre maker and inventor” and resident artist at the Farnham Maltings, brilliantly tweeted,

As Alistair also wrote,

These decisions will have implications across the arts world, as it is trimmed into a new shape, but we should not forget it was also have huge ramifications for individuals, as jobs are made and lost and lives are changed.

One individual I immediately thought of was one that Alistair went on to single out:

Spare a thought in particular for Paul Miller, who – on his first day in his new job as artistic director of the Orange Tree in Richmond – discovered that the theatre had lost all its funding.

Just a few weeks ago he announced his inaugural season, a mix of classics by DH Lawrence and Shaw, plus new plays and rediscoveries; plus plans to refresh the theatre itself (and introduce reserved seating for the first time, which I previously welcomed here).

Of course that opening season is not itself under threat –in 2014/15, it will receive £381,073 under its current funding arrangement – but Miller will have to radically regroup going forward. And while naturally expressing bitter disappointment at the funding blow, he issued an upbeat statement that acknowledged the Arts Council’s pressures and his own challenges now:

As he commented,

We were warned that Arts Council England were under an extraordinary pressure to balance the portfolio across the whole country and we appreciate that this year something had to give…. We will set about the hard work of hitting ambitious new targets for private fundraising. As we reshape our financial model we will continue to diversify our range of work and continue with plans to refresh the building, making a better offer to audiences old and new. Our commitment to making lively, diverse and potent theatre in our unique theatre remains as strong as ever.

The Orange Tree was just one of 58 organisations to have its grant entirely cut, as funding for national portfolio organisations was reduced from £341.1 million to £339.5 million. Others entirely losing funding included the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds and Leeds-based Red Ladder Theatre company.

But while there have been losers, there have also been winners, with 46 organisations newly joining  the portfolio, including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company – arguably commercially the most successful and most prolific dance producers in the country, who will receive an annual grant of £1,294,000 between 2015-2018.

Of course, they’ve been funded before, acknowledging in a release yesterday,

Arts Council England has been a vital supporter of our work over many years. Today’s announcement packages together funding at a similar level to that we have received  through project grants in recent years. Joining the national portfolio is an endorsement of our strategic importance to the dance landscape in England and our critical role as a major developer of dance audiences,

Then of course there are the organisations who’ve not been entirely cast adrift, but had their funding either partially or heavily reduced. English National Opera would appear to have received a particular body blow, losing 29% of their funding, but it turns out it’s only a matter of accountancy in the immediate instance: in John Berry’s words,

We have been working for some time with the Arts Council to develop a new business plan which recognises the challenging funding climate and reduces the cost to the public purse, while also enabling us to create an exciting and sustainable future for ENO and maintain our artistic quality, ambition and reach, nationally and internationally. We announced a number of key elements in that new business plan in April – specifically our approach to balancing commercial and public investment – and we are delighted that the Arts Council is supporting our application with the funding announced today.

In addition to the £12.38 million a year in core funding it has been awarded, Arts Council England has set aside transition funding of up to £7.6 million to support ENO’s change to its new business model. The total sum of £44.8 million available funding over three years is equivalent to the amount applied for by ENO in its NPO funding application.

ENO remains one of the top five NPO organisations along with the Royal Opera House, Southbank Centre, National and RSC, but in the words of a tweet form @GdnCulturePro, they had been “guided to ask for less cash to support smaller orgs.” The National and RSC both duly took cuts of 6.7% in real terms.

Both the National and RSC are well-poised to make up the shortfall in commercial transfers and sponsorship opportunities. Just last night it was suddenly announced that Richard Bean’s Great Britain, which only opened the night before at the National, will transfer to the Haymarket as soon as it ends its South Bank run, and this weekend The Elephantom transfers to the West End’s New London for daytime performances, playing alongside the NT’s hit transfer of War Horse. Meanwhile the RSC has ongoing royalties from Les Miserables and the double bill of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies at the Aldwych.

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