The Evil Imp


Arts Council England (ACE) has expressed confidence that it can adequately assess all of the applications it has received for the new National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding programme.

When the deadline closed on January 24th for the NPO programme the funding monolith had received 1,333 applications from organisations across all art forms.

Arts organisations will be told about their success, or lack thereof, between March 23 and March 31st.

The tight timeline requires ACE, on average, to assess 30 applications per day, every day. The assessment includes financial viability, artistic integrity, company history, long term goals and more to say nothing of the fact they have to figure out how each organisation fits into the overall picture of cultural activity across an entire nation (that nation being England).

ACE is unconcerned that applicants, having done the same simple arithmetic as Article19, will be suspicious that their application has not been adequately assessed citing a comprehensive and completely transparent written assessment procedure for each application.

ACE is also confident they will not be deluged by lawsuits the day after their announcements.

As for the seemingly arbitrary deadline placing an unnecessary strain on the funding monolith? ACE told us that the reason the timeline is so tight is because they want to give unsuccessful organisations at least one years notice of them going out of business.

Ok, so we made that up but it would have been really funny if they did say that, and honest to boot.

Here in TheLab™ we have significant doubts about whether or not ACE can accurately assess that many applications, that vary hugely in complexity from the Royal Opera House (recipients of £28Million) to small scale companies (recipients of cheese and crackers for the most part), in such a short space of time.

Such haste raises fears that the cultural landscape will be determined not by ideas or artistic success but by demographics and number crunching. Culture is not a field that needs to be neatly raked, it needs to be bumpy, uneven and covered in thickets.

“Are there enough dance companies?”, “Are there too many dance companies”, “How many ballet companies do we really need?”, etc, etc. Large scale ballet companies, that’s all of them, will probably fear that last question the most since they collectively absorb the vast majority of all funding for dance in England.

Such suspicions about the process are easily justified considering the wholesale mess ACE created after their last funding review that saw a near mutiny from the arts in response.

Time will of course tell all. But, given recent events who is willing to trust that ACE will get it right this time?

Place your bets.