After weeks of controversy, Arts Council England (ACE) today announced its final decisions on funding for the three-year settlement from 2008-2011 (See News, 17 Jan 2008). High-profile campaigns have succeeded in securing reprieves for London’s Bush (pictured) and Orange Tree theatres, regional powerhouses Bristol Old Vic and Exeter Northcott and the annual National Student Drama Festival.

They are amongst the 17 lucky organisations for which ACE has revised its controversial funding proposals. In December, 194 organisations were informed that ACE intended to cut off their annual subsidy while another 34 were told they faced substantial reductions. The companies had five weeks – over Christmas and New Year – to appeal the recommendations by 15 January 2008; 126 did so. The final revisions mean that a total of 185 organisations will now not have their funding renewed and 27 organisations will have their funding reduced.

The others which successfully reversed ACE’s recommendations are: Harrogate Theatre, Eastern Angles touring company, Birmingham Opera Company, Jacksons Lane, African and Caribbean Music Circuit, Arts Digest, Queer Up North, Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation), Anvil Press, Arcadia Books, Film London and Crafts Council.

The disinvestments are part of the largest shake-up in the Arts Council’s history and, it says, were necessary in order to implement its “ambitious” vision of “excellence, innovation and reach”. The strategy is “designed to shape and support an arts sector committed to delivering excellent art to the widest range of people, and one empowered to take artistic risk”.

For the three years from 1 April 2008, a total of £1.3 billion will be invested in 888 organisations. Of those, 81 are being funded for the first time, while 753 (76%) of already regularly funded organisations have received increases in line with, or above, inflation. The biggest increase in cash terms (+ £400,000) goes to the Roundhouse. Other major winners include the Barbican, which goes on ACE’s list to receive regular funding for the first time, and the National Theatre, which is being awarded an extra £200,000 to finance its Sunday openings.

Arts Council Chair Christopher Frayling said: “This is a radical plan – as the controversy of recent weeks has shown – but one I firmly believe will help to make the arts in England even stronger. The plan backs excellence, brings in a new generation of practitioners and redistributes resources across the arts sector. It has been a complex and challenging process which has involved, throughout, working closely with arts organisations and listening to their concerns. What has emerged from this is an ambitious vision that will build on the successes of the last ten years.”

ACE’s new chief executive Alan Davey added: “This has been the most far-reaching review of public funding of the arts in the history of the Arts Council and the first we have conducted as a single national organisation. ‘It creates a real climate for excellence and innovation in the arts and I am excited by the prospect of working with the arts sector to make our vision a reality.”

One of the first reactions to ACE’s announcement today came from the National Campaign for the Arts. Its director Louise de Winter said: “We are pleased that the Arts Council have listened to the arguments made by those 17 organisations and have agreed to restore funding either completely or in part. Of course, it begs the question why some of them were considered for cuts in the first place.”

Many of the organisations which didn’t make the final subsidy list – including London’s Drill Hall and Asian touring company Tara Arts - may now consider further appeals or legal action. Many closures are anticipated in the coming weeks and months as the companies race to find transitional and long-term alternative funding.

Over the past seven weeks since ACE’s controversial choices first came to light, the outraged arts community reacted to the proposed funding cuts with angry letters, street protests, massive petitions and online campaigning, an actors’ vote of no confidence, calls for a government inquiry and a war via newspaper headlines. National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner described ACE’s handling of the situation as a “strategic catastrophe” (See News, 16 Jan 2008).

- by Terri Paddock