The EvilImp™ 'Rambert's Folly'

In a fit of pique Arts Council England (ACE) has decided, against all reasonable measures of sanity, to award Rambert Dance Company £7Million toward the cost of their new building in London.

The same funding organisation that cut all RFO funding by 6.9% because that was the quick and easy option has apparently found millions down the side of the sofa to fund yet another architectural wet dream.

Now, before the dancing folk set off and march on Great Peter Street (HQ of the funding monolith), en-masse, pitch forks and flaming torches in hand do read on. We guarantee you that if you don't want to turn ACE inside out right now you almost certainly will by the end of this piece.

First of all we should point out that the £7Million is not coming from ACE's normal "grant in aid" funding which comes from taxpayers. It's coming from lottery money, large amounts of which comes from poor people, and that's different.

The funding monolith is not allowed to use lottery money in the same way it uses the tax money that comes from central government. The rules that govern the use of lottery money are set by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

Article19 asked ACE if they had requested a change in the rules to help mitigate the loss of funding from central government, which they say they have done and the discussions are, apparently, "ongoing". The DCMS however could find no record of any discussions taking place or requests being made to change the rules, informal or otherwise.

As for the grant to Rambert? ACE is claiming, via their communications office, that this grant is some sort of "research" into figuring out "new ways and different ways we can support arts organisations".

They disagreed with our assertion that all they were doing was giving a large amount of money to a single, already well funded, organisation, something they have been doing for years.

Progressive Cuts

Over the next four years ACE's funding will be progressively reduced by central government. They seem certain however that these cuts will not affect Rambert's ability to operate their expensive new facility.

Specialists and consultants have apparently provided assurances that decreased budgets and increasing fuel and energy costs, for example, will have no effect on the projects long term viability. What could possibly go wrong?

Additionally, ACE told us, "... the arts sector is quite pleased [about these kind of awards], this is learning that's going to inform any future funding that we do, any new programs that we launch..." ACE provided no evidence of how they managed to judge the mood of the wider arts sector however. We imagine Rambert's bean counters are ecstatic though.

All of that not withstanding £7Million is still £7Million although ACE denied that it was a "massive" amount of money countering that it was merely a "significant" amount of money.

To be fair, Rambert have raised £10Million from other sources but you can't help wondering why they can't build themselves something usable with that.

A quick browse around the internet and we unearthed a huge mansion with 200 acres of land in Western France for £6.2Million. That leaves you with £3.8Million to build some nice studios and you have a mansion for the dancers to stay in and use as offices. In other words, get out of London and save some cash.

Currently, all regularly funded organisations (RFO) are required to re-apply for their funding for the years 2012 and 2013. ACE have pointed out more than once that these funding applications will be assessed purely on merit and nothing more.

When we put it to their spokesperson that ACE would look completely stupid if they gave Rambert millions with one hand, for a new building, and then took away millions with the other hand to actually run their company they disagreed.

It's like buying lots of tanks for the army then not giving them the money to pay for people to drive them about and shoot at things. ACE, of course, expects people to believe their funding application evaluation system is completely fair and balanced. We and many others know otherwise.

ACE did assure us that Rambert's funding application will be looked upon no more favourably than any other application. Rambert currently receives well over £2Million annually from ACE.

Axed

On January 5th it was announced that London Councils was axing its entire £3Million arts budget and with that support for a wide range of cultural access activities. This is just the latest in a series of budget cuts and foolhardy decisions by politicos across the country.

Aside from proving that local councils are largely not fit for purpose (to say nothing of central government) it also highlights the trouble the wider creative sector is in and ACE, the great defender of the cultural sector, evidently has its head in the sand.

Rambert's new building almost certainly began as an idea to get better facilities for the company which in and of itself is noble enough. However, as soon as the administrators, the consultants, the partners and the egos get involved it has all gotten completely out of control.

That any organisation, in the current economic climate, would consider it viable to spend over £19Million on a new dance facility that will benefit only a very small number of people serves to illustrate how utterly out of touch many in the arts sector really are.

The crescendo of silence from other organisations in the profession is what we have come to expect. Look at it this way, Rambert's executives and AD Mark Baldwin didn't have the courage to answer questions on the phone about this, so why would anybody else say anything?

In case you were wondering, £7Million would fund one medium-scale company, with index linked increases year on year, for at least 15 years.

Rambert should be forced to put that last sentence on a brass plaque over the front door of their shiny new home.

  • Lindsay

    As someone with experience of dealing with the ACE (as a professional advisor not an artist) I could not be less surprised by this mess. Trying to work with them is a nightmare because every simple question about their internal procedures is met with blank faces, scratched heads or email silence. If you are lucky enough to get any response from them you usually get two or three which contradict each other.

    The one caveat I would make to your article is the blame you attribute to local councils and London councils in particular. Many people don't realise that 90% of council funding comes from central government and that councils do not have unilateral power to raise the council tax (which represents the other 10%). This year, the government has imposed on councils the biggest cuts in history - Islington is losing nearly 30% of their funding. That leaves councillors with deeply unpalatable decisions to make; preserving services such as care workers for the housebound and shelters for the homeless is going to be almost impossible.

    Under Labour urban councils also received additional funds for specific projects, which funded many of the initiatives dealt with by the combined London Councils. All of that funding has been taken away. I am a great supporter of the arts, married to a professional artist and strongly believe that in state subsidy for the arts. But I couldn't and wouldn't expect councillors to prioritise arts provision over essential social services when they have been backed into this ridiculous position.

    So yes. These cuts are savage, idealistic, unnecessary and wrong. And the ACE is clearly blind to their implications and making a ridiculous spending decision. But please lay the blame where it belongs. Which is with the Tory-led coalition.

  • David Watson

    I agree that a building could be built for a fraction of the cost, however, surely when you get so far into something, you have to stick with it? I imagine that numerous conversations took place and the decision was probably taken to proceed based on the plethora of issues (legal mostly) arising if they pulled out at such a late stage. We do have to remember this was started in the “boom” and things must of be signed, agreed etc years ago for this be happening now.
    I am not sure I agree that the design of the building is a compartmentalised mess at all; it’s called practicality. It maximises the land/space they have available. They are not trying to create a building which is a piece of art, but a working space to produce art. I can’t remember the detailed drawings exactly, but what I saw when I was working there was the Rambert building forming part of a bigger picture for that area. It did look great back then and I think when things start moving forward we will see more detailed plans. Also, I don’t think any body has seen the outer designer yet have they?
    I couldn’t agree more with your point about awful job prospects, stagnant pay and health care issues. I see small steps being taken and I believe that Rambert in particular are championing change; just like we all should.
    I didn’t say that Rambert was refraining from employment due to space; I said it doesn’t help the future if they are stuck in the space they are in when they wish to expand. Maybe hubris is not particularly the right word. If we knew what we know now back then, maybe, just maybe, things would be different in the present.
    It is all really interesting and it is prompting a lot of overseas research for me; I am really interested in funding models around the world for the arts in different countries. How do other countries do it, how are they now coping?

  • David Watson

    As someone who used to work for Rambert Dance Company, I will certainly stand up and say that this is well deserved after the hard work, sweat and tears over the past few years the Company has gone through to try and achieve these new premises. I haven’t had anything to do with the capital project, but I was certainly around in the difficult times of trying to get this off the ground. The capital project hasn't just come out of nowhere; and as you state, they have raised £10m already. If Rambert just scaled the project right back to just a dull concrete building with nothing more than a few studios; then what kind of value is that? I really do take my hat off to the CEO, AD and Board for perusing this capital project through a really difficult time.

    The cost of the project has increased because of the economy and increase in costs for raw materials and labor. It is not the case at all that they keep adding things to the plans; it simple is not possible on such a build. Everything has increased quite dramatically in cost; some areas are negotiable, and some things are not. We are not talking about building a garden shed; so we need to be realistic, and why would we want Rambert to build a garden shed? We need Rambert to have a building that can cope with future developments and expansion. There are far too many graduates these days not getting dance employment, this isn’t just because the work isn’t available, it is also because companies can just not accommodate them due to lack of space.

    In my opinion, Rambert Dance Company is an international company who produces world-class work and is probably one of Britain’s favorite companies. However, their premises are awful! Believe me, I had to work in the building. Although the CEO was committed to making the place as best as possible to work, in all fairness, there is only so many times you can gaffer tape over the cracks, paint the walls etc if you know what I mean.

    I think it’s fair enough that people have concerns over the amount of money people are given; and we should definitely talk about it. However, I do think we need to look at the past work companies have done to build their futures, the contribution to the arts they make, the people they touch and so on etc.

    Now that I am an AD of my own dance company; I would only dream to be able to have such a home, however, I realize that it takes decades of hard work to deserve such a gift! Just like Rambert have done!

  • This is not about deserve, unquantifiable claims of "internationalism" or the perceived quality of the company. The fact remains that anybody with an ounce of common sense and practicality could quite easily construct suitable facilities for Rambert for a fraction of the cost.

    Probably not in London but then there is a simple solution to that problem.

    Incidentally, the proposed construction looks like a compartmentalised mess but that is also largely irrelevant.

    Rising building and labour costs are of no concern to the dance profession. Falling job prospects for dancers, stagnant pay and no health care are the issues that should concern dance as does the falling budget for touring, outreach, participation, etc in all the companies that are not Rambert.

    Also, Rambert is not employing fewer dancers because of a lack of space. With possible further budget cuts alongside increased building operation costs, despite the claims of their consultants, the chances of them employing further dancers to extend the company are slim to say the least.

    We feel the word hubris came into being specifically to suit these kinds of decisions.

  • Kema, Manchester

    mmmmmmmm..?

    Let's see how many comments we get on this with real names?

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