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.
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.
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.