Arts Council England (ACE) had a very tough job on its hands: to decide where to let the axe fall.
I’m glad I didn’t have to make those decisions.
It’s so little money in terms of government spend (less than 0.05 per cent of government budget) and gives such a massive economic and social return to communities throughout the country that continuing to cut arts and culture, and blight the present and future lives of so many people around the country, makes no sense.
Coventry is England’s 11th largest city and besides the Belgrade we only have one art gallery, one museum and one arts centre. We’re proud of this small but important cultural offering and under huge and increasing pressure our local authority is continuing to fund these arts organisations – albeit at lower levels than previously – because it sees how critical we are for present and future prosperity.
I welcome the movement towards addressing the imbalance of funding between London and the regions. It’s good (if not essential) for the country’s health to have a vibrant arts infrastructure outside the capital. I applaud the generosity of the very big companies, including our near neighbours the RSC, who took big cuts to release money and allow ACE to keep funding places such as the Belgrade.
But the situation is still shocking and deeply worrying; arts provision in the regions is under attack and the effects are devastating. I choose that last word deliberately. I understand why it’s still being said that arts funding cuts are nothing like as bad as, say, cuts to social services. However, people who live in or near small and medium-sized cities would understand what I mean; the impact on a city like Coventry had the Belgrade not retained its national portfolio organisation (NPO) funding would have been devastating.
Without Arts Council funding, Coventry was likely to see its only theatre close.
In a place like Coventry, arts and cultural organisations punch so much above their weight that the loss of any one of those would likewise be out of proportion to the funding saved. I argue that geography is the greatest access tool and having healthy arts organisations scattered throughout the country, not simply in our few major cities, enables large numbers to access quality arts and culture.
We also contribute to a city and region’s community cohesion, its positive profile, its sense of pride and place. We are major players in the local economy and we make our city and regions places where people want to live, work and enjoy life. We slow down the drain of the talented and young to London and other big cities; we keep our own cities and regions alive and vibrant. That has to be good for the health of the country as a whole.
Taking the city of Coventry’s case in particular, if one of our very few organisations had to close, people could not simply cast their eyes down the “What’s On” list to see what another theatre, gallery or museum is offering instead. There is no other theatre, gallery or museum here. Were we to close, it would be massively de-stabilising to the city, the region and its people.
Thankfully we got through – this time. The museum and art gallery, under one management, also won National Portfolio funding (NPO) for the first time in consortium with other museums, which is great news. But smaller, independent theatre companies have not fared so well: one having lost its funding last time around, another this time around.
The future of the life-changing community projects we run are threatened by local education authority (LEA) cuts and the impact on young people will be enormous.
It’s ironic that next year, when we celebrate 50 years of our invention of Theatre in Education (TiE), the LEA cuts mean that the Belgrade cannot produce a show to take into schools. We’re also directly affected by the NPO losses because of the interconnectedness of the arts world.
We have worked with Big Brum, Propeller, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre and other companies who are no longer in the NPO portfolio. These losses hurt.
The results on July 1 have left some cities, regions, audiences and arts companies feeling devastated. We are hugely relieved that we’re not one of them, this time at least. I very much hope that this funding round will be the last that results in restricted access for large numbers of our communities to quality arts and culture.