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 just five weeks – over Christmas and New Year – to appeal the recommendations by 15 January 2008; 126 did so. After high-profile campaigns, 17 – including London’s Bush and Orange Tree theatres, regional powerhouses Bristol Old Vic and Exeter Northcott and the annual National Student Drama Festival – secured reprieves (See News, 1 Feb 2008).
In the independent report - commissioned by ACE’s new chief executive Alan Davey, who took over in the midst of the controversy – author Genista McIntosh, a former executive at the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, said that while ACE was in part a victim of “bad luck” and “unfortunate timing”, the crisis was “exacerbated by how ACE responded”.
McIntosh, who spoke to over 100 industry witnesses during her research, was particularly critical of ACE’s “inward-looking culture” and “preoccupation with implementing its own strategies”, its working practices between regional and national offices and its resulting inhibition in “talking openly with to its clients, partners and friends”.
At the same, the report acknowledged that ACE has “not only the right but the responsibility” to make hard decisions about funding and recognised that there are already “encouraging signs of recovery” and hopes of salvaging the organisation’s damaged reputation under Davey’s tenure.
McIntosh advised: “ACE needs to remember that it is not a regulator of the arts sector, even though it has a responsibility for public funds. It should be an advocate, an enabler, supporter, developer, critical friend – but not a policeman.”
In response, Alan Davey said today: “I see the publication of this report as heralding a new beginning as we build stronger relationships with the arts world, and use the lessons of the report to move on. It is right that we are the kind of organisation that can submit itself to this kind of scrutiny and be open in sharing the lessons it takes from it. Because if we are truly to have excellent publicly funded art in this country, we need to do our job with the highest levels of knowledge, skill and judgment we can, applying the same degree of rigour in our own processes and communications that we expect from those arts organisations and artists we fund. We are an organisation that wants to learn and to improve: with the help of Baroness McIntosh\'s report, we can and will do so.\"
- by Terri Paddock