Two days after losing £4 million from its 2010/11 Government funding for the next financial year, Arts Council England (ACE) has, as previously reported (See News, 22 Apr 2009), unveiled £44.5 million worth of “counter-recessionary measures” to safeguard arts organisations over the next two years.

The bulk of the money, £40 million, will be poured into a new initiative called Sustain, which will be an open fund that can be drawn on by arts organisations hit by recession-caused problems, such as reduced credit terms with banks.

ACE has sourced the “new” £44.5 million by dipping into its cash reserves from National Lottery proceeds, which are earmarked for ongoing capital investments, such as the £113 million redevelopment of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Grade II-listed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The £4 million lost on Wednesday is from the annual subsidy granted by the Government – originally £467 million for 2010/11 – which ACE doles out to its 880 regularly funded arts organisations.

Arts Council Chair Dame Liz Forgan announces the new measures today at a one-day, ACE-sponsored conference, Maximising the Importance of Arts and Culture Throughout the Economic Downturn, held in London. She calls for public and private funders alike to maintain their levels of investment in the arts, and for artists to see themselves not as victims of the recession but as a key part of its solution.

According to Dame Liz: “The Arts Council has three overarching aims as we plan for the coming years: Great art for everyone will be our mission in life. We will continue to support innovation and creative courage. And we will focus on recovery. Of course we understand that the national debt has to be tackled, but a few million off the arts budget is going to make no appreciable difference to that task. On the other hand it could undermine years of creative and financial investment.

She continues: “The Arts Council will do all it can to keep that investment in place. We cannot protect artists from the realities of recession, but we can be as imaginative, open and useful as possible in our efforts to get us all through this with minimal damage to the creative life of this country.”

Sustain has been designed as a rapid response fund to provide extra financial support and expert help and advice for organisations under pressure specifically as a result of the recession - the turnaround aim from application to award will be a maximum of six weeks. Any arts organisation can apply, but priority will be given to those seen as “vital” to ACE’s stated mission of “great art for everyone”. Grants from £75,000 to £3 million will be awarded and the programme will run initially over two years, 2009/10 and 2010/11.

In addition to Sustain, ACE today announces £500,000 support for the Town Centres Initiative to enable more artistic activities to take place in empty retail spaces, and a £4 million increase in the grants for individual artists and smaller arts organisations.

Concluding today’s conference at the Brewery in east London, Dame Liz will tell the 240 arts industry figures: “The real challenge for the arts sector is not to ask ‘what is the government going to do to help us?’ but ‘what can we do to help the country weather and recover from this downturn?’ Showing that we can make a real contribution in even the most difficult of times will be the best case we can make for continued public investment in the arts through – and just as importantly – beyond the recession.”

- by Terri Paddock