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The Editor’s View: No alarms and no surprises in NPO funding

Boy Blue entertainment are a new addition to the portfolio. Photo: Tristram Kenton Boy Blue entertainment are a new addition to the portfolio. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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I avoid making predictions, but earlier this year I gazed into my dusty crystal ball and made a call on what Arts Council England’s portfolio would look like for 2018-22.

For those of you without a copy of my column from January 18 to hand, here’s a precis: “National companies will take an across-the-board cut, perhaps with different treatment handed out to English National Opera; most other companies in London will receive standstill or small cuts, with the exception of a few that excel at attracting more diverse audiences; outside London there will be small uplifts for a few theatres that have suffered from local authority cuts… there will also be extra support for touring companies – especially those reaching so-called ‘cultural cold spots’.”

Broadly speaking, this has happened. I don’t claim any great powers of prediction, it’s more that the decisions taken by the Arts Council are sensible and reflect a set of priorities about which it has been clear. This marks a notable change from some previous funding rounds.

The nationals have been given a 3-4% cut, except for ENO, which comes back into the portfolio with standstill funding. Most London theatres also get standstill, except the BAME-led Bush and Tricycle. Diverse companies such as Yellow Earth (cut in 2011), ZooNation and Boy Blue Entertainment are welcomed into the portfolio, while there are uplifts for diversity-focused organisations including Rifco, Talawa and Eclipse and for disability arts organisations Mind the Gap, Candoco and Definitely Theatre. Venues in Bradford, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Derby and Northampton have received increases and there has been an attempt to address challenges in mid-scale touring by diverting extra cash its way.

The Arts Council has also recognised excellence with some welcome additions to the portfolio: Chris Goode, the Yard, 1927 and Boy Blue Entertainment among them. There’s even a wild card: Emma Rice’s new ensemble company.

This is not a shake-up of the funding system – more evolution than revolution – but against a backdrop of radical change in many other aspects of our lives, this should be welcome.

Amid recognition of a job well done by ACE, it’s worth underlining two things that have enabled this. The first is the better than expected settlement from the previous Tory government (a £10 million a year cash increase) and the second is the trashing of the additionality principle of Lottery funding. Neither is entirely secure.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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