TMA Accuses ACE of Incompetence After CutbacksDate: 18 December 2007
The industry furore over Arts Council England’s culling of one in five of the organisations it currently funds – described as a “bloodbath” in the press - was heightened today with a statement released by the Theatrical Management Association in which ACE is accused of lacking both the “courage” and the “competence” to fulfil its duties.
As reported yesterday (See News, 17 Dec 2007), amongst the biggest theatrical losers are three regional playhouses: Bristol Old Vic, which controversially shut its doors in August for an 18-month, £7 million refurbishment (See News, 30 Jul 2007); Exeter Northcott, which only reopened last week after a year-long, £2.1 million redevelopment; and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which receives major pre- and post-West End tours. Also facing the funding chop are: London’s Drill Hall, the UK’s leading producer of lesbian and gay performance, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this autumn; devised multimedia group People Show; popular touring troupe London Bubble Theatre Company, which has been taking productions to parks and schools for 35 years; and the National Student Drama Festival, run annually since 1956.
All of the organisations say that, without their annual subsidies, they face immediate danger, and ultimately, probable closure. As it stands, unless they lodge a successful appeal by 15 January 2008, their funding for the three-year period from 2008 to 2011 will be cut off from April, the start of the next financial year.
In its statement today, the TMA expressed “grave concern” over ACE’s decisions about the reallocation of its £467 million annual budget. Richard Pulford, chief executive of the TMA, which is the leading body representing middle and large-scale performing arts companies throughout the UK, commented: “It is proposed that the majority of regularly funded organisations will receive an increase in line with inflation; some may get an additional increase for particular aspects of their work, but there are recommendations for cuts to a significant number of companies. It is the rationale for these reductions that are a real cause for concern.”
The association is particularly concerned about the manner of the ACE’s decision-making and the procedure used to implement the recommendations. “It is hard to comprehend how so many organisations could have been legitimately funded this year and yet be not worth funding next year - for whatever reason,” said Pulford.
Of particular issue is the number of organisations for whom the loss of funding has come out of the blue with little or no previous indication of any artistic or business concern. TMA has noted that, in explaining their reasoning, a number of Regional Arts Councils have referred to their priorities, which do not accord from region to region; and in some cases (such as the National Student Drama Festival) regional priorities seem fundamentally irrelevant to the work of the organisation concerned.
“There is an expectation that the Arts Council will articulate an effective national strategy supported by its new, integrated operation of national and regional offices. On the face of it, such cases seem to cut across any notion of Great Peter Street's (ACE’s HQ) developing a coherent national strategy for regional implementation,” said Richard Pulford.
The TMA maintains that it has been concerned “for some time” about ACE’s understanding of and investment in national touring to middle and large-scale venues, as well as its stance on the role of regional theatres – concerns that have been underlined by this week’s announcements. Pulford said: “We are bemused that the Arts Council should so recently have trumpeted the role of regional building-based theatre, in terms of its cultural, social and economic impact; and yet in certain areas of the country may now be in the process of dismantling it.”
ACE has stated that it’s making the recommendations for cuts in funding in order that it may invest in a renewal of its theatre portfolio. However, TMA points out, that, while the proposals outlining which companies will lose funding are known, who and why others will receive new investment have not been made public.
The Arts Council now refers to itself as the “national development agency for the arts”, which doesn’t chime well with Pulford. “We trust that in promoting this new title the Arts Council would have demonstrated a continued appreciation of the value and importance of the theatre industry and the need for a clearly stated national strategy for sustained investment; a strategy which the industry could, if not agree with all funding priorities, at least understand and develop in partnership with the Council,” said Pulford. “On the evidence to date, it would appear that the Arts Council has neither the competence nor courage to adopt such an approach.”
Companies have until 15 January 2008 to respond to ACE’s recommendation for a reduction and in some cases a complete cut in funding if they consider that the proposal is based on flawed evidence or rationale.
Organisations affected by the ACE cutbacks have continued to vocalise their outrage. People Show producer Jane Corry told Whatsonstage.com: “We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the proposed cuts. Not only will this close down a 40-year-old 'national treasure' (according to the Independent), but there is nowhere else like the People Show Studios. It is home to so many artists in London, and the loss will be felt across the whole contemporary arts community.
“We are currently in the middle of a huge site-specific project for Liverpool Capital of Culture at Sefton Park Palm House working with over 50 local participants, as well as other projects including a boat-based promenade project working with local communities in Tower Hamlets for the lead up to the Olympics. Everything will have to be cancelled if the Arts Council's decision is not reversed. We will be mounting an appeal against this proposal and hope that the Arts Council will see fit to reverse this devastating decision.”
- by Terri Paddock