Industry Calls for ACE Inquiry, Web Petition GrowsDate: 17 January 2008
Leading arts bodies have banded together and urged the Government to investigate Arts Council England’s bungled handling of its budget allocation and proposed cuts to 194 organisations.
In a joint letter to Culture Secretary James Purnell - written by the National Campaign for the Arts and co-signed by nine other representative and advisory bodies including Equity, Bectu, the Society of London Theatre/Theatrical Management Association, the Theatres Trust and the Independent Theatre Council – the consortium expresses “grave concerns” and seeks action to remedy the current situation and avert any future repeats.
“While we absolutely recognise the responsibility of ACE to make funding decisions,” says the letter, “we believe that the process they have followed for this funding round has seriously damaged relations with the sector and other funders, and undoes the good news achieved by the uplift in arts spending announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
The letter echoes others’ concerns about the council’s decision-making – in terms of unclear and inconsistent criteria for judgements, the use of inaccurate data and general transparency – as well as the truncated, five-week process of communicating and appealing recommendations. It also points out the knock-on effect that ACE’s actions have on other public bodies, using Exeter Northcott as an example.
“The proposed cuts potentially put at risk all the public investment that has been delivered to date and wastes public resources. These decisions also affect other funders, including and importantly local authorities. There appears not to have been any consideration taken in regard to how withdrawal of ACE funding might affect them. This seems particularly key in the case of the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, which has just reopened having undergone a £2.1 million redevelopment, work which was part funded by Arts Council South West with an additional grant of £100,000. Withdrawal of funding now puts the future of the theatre organisation and building at risk, and seriously exposes the other, partner organisations.”
The NCA letter comes in the same week as an attack by National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner (See New, 16 Jan 2008), a movement by 100 leading playwrights in support of the threatened Bush Theatre and street protests coinciding with Tuesday’s appeal deadline for all affected organisations. It also follows last week’s vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Arts Council by members of actors’ union Equity.
Meanwhile, frenzied campaigning continues online. Most of the theatres and other companies facing cuts have set up appeals on their own websites, dozens of support groups have sprung up on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites, and blogs and discussion boards have been dissecting all aspects of the funding round.
A “Stop the Cull” petition set up on the Prime Minister’s website has – as of this morning – been signed by more than 3,000 people. “We, the undersigned, petition the Prime Minister to support the industry by joining the growing band of people who have no confidence in the Arts Council,” it say – click here to sign the petition. Theatregoers are also being urged to email the Arts Council’s outgoing chief executive Peter Hewitt – at email@example.com - and “overflow” his inbox with objections.
- by Terri Paddock