In our ongoing tussle with Arts Council England to obtain information concerning the much maligned "Space" project the funding monolith made the following comment in response to questions about spending over £8Million on a website vs cutting the companies in the NPO portfolio.
"With regards to the national portfolio; turnover in the portfolio is healthy."
The language is tortured to say the least but the idea that anything happening with the National Portfolio is healthy is demonstrably false. Unless you work for a big ballet company or New Adventures, recipients of a new £1.3Million per year grant, that is.
As far as the dance profession is concerned most of the NPO received cuts. From dance companies to dance agencies almost all of them have a lot less money than they did four years ago. Not quite the rosy picture painted by Guardian writer Judith Mackrell recently.
On top of that, touring funding is still a colossal mess and a lot of touring venues are running on life support. ACE's response to all of this is to use the word "strategic" a lot while continuing to pay their top executives six figure salaries.
Elephants in Rooms
The other elephant in the room is a complete lack of protection for any of the NPO members from inflation (currently hovering around 2%). As prices rise, as the cost of renting accommodation rises, as travel costs rise, wages for a lot of people working in the arts are going to go down over the next four years.
A lack of year on year increases to counter inflation is bad for the arts in general but it is particularly bad for professional dancers, a group not burdened with generous weekly pay packets to begin with.
Funding stagnation creates pressure on the wage bills of companies both large and small. As costs rise to cover touring and other activity within a company then you can forget about pay increases or more full time contracts for dancers across the industry.
If the wages for professionals remain at their current levels (by no means guaranteed) then it is, essentially, a three year long pay cut of approximately 6%.
Dancers could also face reduced on-contract periods if they are lucky enough to have a long-term contract to begin with. There will also be fewer opportunities for part-time employment through dance agencies because almost all of those have the same inflation problems to go along with the cuts they have received over the last few years.
Phoenix Dance Theatre who receive £428,510 per year, one of the more generously funded contemporary dance companies in the UK, issued a statement on the day of the NPO announcements;
"However the level of investment will create significant challenges for us coming so soon after the cuts of the last round which put Phoenix very close to tipping point.
As a dance company whose sole purpose is to create and tour a diverse repertoire of high quality dance we have historically brought the talents of a wide range of high profile artists to the region including some of the biggest names in dance today. We are also proud to be the only middle scale dance company in the north of England employing a full time company of dancers.
Phoenix represents incredible value for money with subsidy at less than half that of peer companies in Wales and Scotland but as our Catalyst funding comes to an end and our overheads rise by over £20,000 per year we will effectively be £85,000 per year worse off by 2015. As we are already stretched to capacity, this impact can only hit straight at the heart of our creation and touring programme."
An £85,000 shortfall does not suggest a national arts infrastructure that is in any way "healthy".
As we and many others predicted years ago ACE's plan to mitigate public funding cuts with greater levels of philanthropy through the Catalyst Arts programme has been a complete failure.
You should note from the statement above that Phoenix Dance Theatre were a recipient of Catalyst Arts support.
If your reading this as a dancer, an administrator, a choreographer, an ACE employee or a regular member of the public it really doesn't matter because the prognosis is the same.
England's national arts funding body is a completely delusional, incompetent, basket case. ACE as an organisation is incapable of making even the most basic, rational decisions with regards to funding the core infrastructure of arts activity in this country.
If your house is falling down you don't install a brand new kitchen. You shore up the foundations and fix the leaks in the roof. You keep yourself safe from harm and live to fight another day and keep cooking from a hot plate.
As it stands right now Arts Council England is essentially throwing £20 notes into a shredder while the arts bleed to death from a thousand tiny cuts.