Action Reaction

by Neil Nisbet

Arts Council England (ACE) has a plan, a philanthropy plan! Well, it’s not their plan it’s the DCMS’s plan and it was, evidently, dreamt up in a hour during a coffee break while the political hacks were figuring out how to work their new microwave oven.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport then foisted this plan onto ACE and said “deal with it”. ACE, of course, obliged and now we’re stuck with it. At least we will be stuck with it should it ever get out of the discussion phase.

ACE’s plan is simple. £80Million is being put up for grabs. If you, as an arts organisation, raise some money then you can apply to ACE for match funding (to differing degrees) and everybody’s happy. What a great new idea huh?

Of course it’s not a new idea, it’s just ACE’s current funding framework done in reverse. If you’ve been in the game a long time you will know that the funding monolith has never funded any project at 100% of its cost. When you fill in the forms you have to specify where any additional money or support in-kind is coming from.

It’s always been like that. ACE and the DCMS are moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic and are hoping that nobody will notice.

Whichever way you do it, getting the private money first or second, it’s not going to make getting the private money any easier or any more likely, especially if you don’t have huge sums of money to spend on fund raising.

I suppose ACE could always start up a special fund that you could apply to which is specifically to help you with fund raising, only 75% of the cost of course, you would have the find the rest from private sponsors and…………… oh never mind!


Were you to take a look at the list of organisations funded by ACE under the current RFO scheme (soon to be renamed NPO) you would, I imagine, see the following.

The top 49 organisations, that receive in excess of £1Million, absorb £192.3Million in funding. The remaining 792 organisations in the scheme receive a total of £132.5Million.

ACE’s funding strategy has always been top heavy and one of their biggest failings over the last 10 years has been to do absolutely nothing about it.

The Royal Opera House and their ilk may whine that ACE’s funding only makes up a certain percentage of their income but you never hear them offering to actually give it back. They won’t give it back because, however reluctant they may be to admit it, they depend on it.

When the large scale get themselves into a crisis, real or imagined, ACE comes up with hat-in-hand schemes like Sustain to bail them out. It’s a never ending cycle of lurching from one crisis to another.

The independents, small-scale and mid-scale trundle on regardless however, doing what they do with the little they have.

10 Years

Ten years ago or more ACE should have put plans into place to start weaning the large scale organisations off public financing. Either proposing to remove it completely or setting a maximum limit.

You give them five years to get the private sponsorship in place and then, when the clock runs down, that’s it, the little ducklings are set free to swim around the lake all on their own.

During this time ACE is vigorously and relentlessly lobbying the DCMS and central government to get effective philanthropy orientated legislation in place to help the large-scale organisations make up the shortfall in their funding.

It doesn’t matter what the legislation is (tax breaks, investment incentives, etc) just as long as it’s substantive and actually encourages philanthropy, which the most recently proposed scheme does not.

As ACE is recouping massive amounts of money from the large-scale over that five year period it begins funneling it into the rest of the arts. You know, the ones trundling along “making-do” all the time.

But, as we all know, ACE didn’t do any of those things. ACE has consistently maintained a policy of panic stricken reaction. Wait until something bad happens then make a bigger mess trying to clean up the first mess.

Anybody with a brain who is only half awake knows that the independents, the small and mid-scale cannot raise money from corporations. They can get some money from foundations and trusts but Pepsico isn’t sponsoring Motionhouse Dance Theatre any time soon.

We need to get over the fact that if a lot of arts activity is going to survive then it will have to be, for the most part, publicly funded. As Bill T. Jones said on HBO last Friday;

“… we cannot take it for granted that art, like everything else, can be commoditized and [will] compete in a Darwinian environment”.

The coming funding announcements from ACE will be the first indication of whether not they have the balls to eviscerate the cosy world inhabited by the large-scale. Don’t cry too much for them if it happens, they’ll survive in the long run, especially when they don’t have a choice.

History and all the evidence however says that as far as ACE is concerned it’s going to be business as usual. They’ll just move the deck chairs around a little and pretend that it isn’t.