NPO Funding decisions 2023-26
Here we are, then.
After an unforgivable delay, Arts Council England (ACE) has unveiled a new three-year settlement diverting cash away from the capital.
There will be 990 funded NPO’s (National Portfolio Organisations) which ACE regards and supports as the nation’s crown jewels, up 119 from 2018-2022 investment round. There are now 260 new organisations in the portfolio compared with 183 in the previous funding round.
Ridiculously, almost half of successful (427) organisations received standstill funding. A below inflation settlement is, of course, a huge real terms cut. That’s because the cost of living is going up for everyone – but also because the cost of making theatre is soaring too.
But the far more frightening thing, which I wasn’t surprised about, was that 51 organisations received ACE painful cuts to their grants. Camden Arts Centre loses 35.9% of annual grant. Libraries got the smallest chunk of cash, with £4m.
The National Theatre said the 5% cut to its £16.1m a year would “present challenges” but that it was “grateful for the funding support … especially given the difficult times that many people are facing”.
What do I think?
Firstly, today is disastrous for most theatres.
And second, these decisions will devastate our powerhouse industry and have wider implications for the freelance workforce. Most of the paltry subsidy on offer won’t touch the sides. NPO funding is not for buildings alone but allows established organisations to shape the wider ecology for others.
The far more significant development, though, was that 141 organisations have dropped out of the portfolio.
And Opera was a significant casualty. Royal Opera House have received a 10% cut to their grant – on top of the 10% real terms cut in 2017/2018, Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne face up to a 50% reduction in funding.
Sadly, The English National Opera will no longer receive regular funding. The ENO said the announcement “marks the start of a new chapter” and “will allow us to increase our national presence by creating a new base out of London, potentially in Manchester”. Still, the company plans to use its current home, the London Coliseum, as a commercial asset by letting the theatre out for other opera and dance events.
ACE chair Sir Nick Serota said there were “opportunities that exists for English National Opera to become a different kind of company working across the country”.
He added: “They are capable of responding, in our view. They’ve got great leadership. They have great achievement, and there seems to us to be an opportunity here that we should grasp.”
Others to have lost their entire grants include long established institutions such as Theatre Alibi, Theatre Royal Winchester, The Gate, Britten Sinfonia, Cheek by Jowl, Hampstead Theatre, Watermill Theatre, Harrogate Theatre, Travelling Light, and Oldham Coliseum.
The Donmar Warehouse – taking a 100% cut – will survive as a commercial enterprise. There is life outside the Arts Council, believe it or not.
A couple of London organisations including Headlong and Paines Plough have taken the opportunities that the Transfer Programme afford. The Transfer Programme was designed to move NPOs outside of London by 2024.
Also part of this programme are English Touring Opera – their funding of £2,130,478 annually for 2023-26 – represented a 20% increase from its average annual subsidy of £1,775,399 for 2022-23.
The significant change is the welcoming of a substantial number of newcomers into the portfolio.
Of the 990 organisations, 272 had not received any funding from the Arts Council through the same scheme in the previous five financial years (since 2018/19).
Those geared towards delivering ACE’s Let’s Create strategy include: LUNG Theatre, ICON Theatre, Ad Infinitum, Thick Skin, Shakespeare North Playhouse and The Paper Birds are a great addition, and it is also good to see Liverpool Everyman back in the fold after being placed in special measures.
Crucially, The Bank of England yesterday warned of two years of pain as it hiked interest rates by the highest amount in three decades. We are entering a prolonged recession and arts organisations cannot continue to work on outdated models and expect to secure funding.
Clearly, there is a concerted focus on rural England and areas of social deprivation. Various areas in England had been targeted for increased investment including Blackburn with Darwen, North Devon and Mansfield.
The root cause of the mess is a 40% reduction in real terms of its grant-in-aid budget over the past decade. In explaining the decision-making, ACE chief executive Darren Henley emphasised the desire for the portfolio to reflect “how England looks and feels in our culture”.
But forgive me for not buying the ACE line that redistribution of funding to areas of low engagement is proof that ‘the system’ works. Neither do I subscribe to the belief that today’s announcement will support more people in more places. It won’t.
Theatre and art are essential to the cultural, social, and economic infrastructure of any sophisticated nation. Like never before our world leading theatres – all inextricably interconnected – are in grave danger.
If we want to be as engaged and inclusive as we say we do, then we must do more with what little we have been given. It isn’t sustainable.
Listen, I’m too tired to be tiresome. There’s good change in there, but there’s also pain.
It’s time to count our blessings, put communities first and rethink how to salvage the few resources left for artists from the wreckage.