Following Arts Council England’s announcement of their NPO portfolio on Wednesday March 30th it’s not too difficult, even with a cursory analysis, to determine that, as predicted, ACE has simply rearranged the deck chairs on a certain sinking ship. All the while hoping nobody is going to notice.

Looking at the numbers issued by the funding monolith we see the following. The top 9 organisations, in terms of the amount of funding they receive, have each been cut, in cash terms, by 6.6% apart from one, the ENO, who were cut by 2.3%.

Now, try to imagine the statistical probability that organisations as large as The National Theatre, English National Ballet, Welsh National Opera, The Royal Opera House, The Southbank Centre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Opera North and The Welsh National Opera with all their financial and operational complexity would need to be cut by exactly the same percentage.

That’s the kind mathematics that supercomputers take a week or two to churn through. ACE achieved this Herculean feat of number crunching in just 60 days with more than 1300 other applications weighing them down.

What could they have done instead of plucking a seemingly random percentage number from thin air?

Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet are two large companies of comparable size. One operates in Birmingham however and the other operates in the worlds most expensive city, that city being London. Different cities, different financial pressures, surely BRB could take a bigger hit?

Or how about this. ACE comes up with a funding cap on large scale ballet. If they can cut funding with such mathematical precision then why can’t they award funding with equal mathematical precision?

Set them both on £6.1Million and free up several hundred thousand pounds for the small and mid-scale. It would also be a useful experiment, and we know ACE is fond of experimenting, to see which company could operate better, The one in London or the one in Birmingham.

Should the one in Birmingham manage to cope better then it would be a signal for the other one to up-sticks and haul ass to Sheffield or some other “regional” locale that is, you know, cheaper!

If that sounds ridiculous then consider this. ACE has already done it with four other organisations. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and The Halle Concerts Society both received the exact same, multi-million pound grant for 2011/2012 (£2,071,667) as did The London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Philharmonia Orchestra (£2,030,404). This is not an aberration, they’ve been doing it for years.

The funding for the Royal Opera House actually returns to a higher level than this year by 2014. You can argue about the “real term” effect but that relies on the false premise that everything gets more expensive over time. Some things do, but a lot of things don’t. In fact a lot of things, like technology, actually get cheaper.

It also doesn’t take into account variables such as reducing costs, reducing a large workforce and reducing enormous, unsustainable salaries. All things that the large scale can do very very easily. If you don’t believe us take a look at ‘Numbers’ (linked below) that cites figures from the mid-scale.

The Mid Scale Blues

The dance numbers specifically don’t make a whole lot of sense either. Perhaps the biggest shock was the complete removal of funding from the Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs, a dance company with over 25 years of producing, touring and education experience.

Longevity in and of itself is no reason to keep your funding but when you note the other companies that received large increases you wonder what it is that they are going to do more of that the Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs weren’t doing already.

Random Dance [ Company* ] and Hofesh Shechter’s company were both awarded large upticks in their funding. The combined amount of their increase is over £300,000. The funding for the Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs for this year is just over £360,000. Why do we get the feeling that one company had to be sacrificed to push more cash into the current flavours of the moment in the dance world.

Mr McGregor, AD of WMRD*, is also supported by The Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, does he really need the additional financial support from ACE?

Hofesh Shechter’s company (Mr Shechter is also an associate artist of Sadler’s Wells) also seems to be doing just fine. A minor uptick in his company’s funding would probably have been more than sufficient in these “difficult times”.

Also, did ACE just come to the conclusion that the Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs kinda sucked after 25 years? No longer worthy of any support whatsoever they just get thrown in the trash with no right to appeal or overturn. So long, farewell, thanks for all the work but we’re done with you. Charming!

DanceUK Irony

Another shock was the absence of DanceUK from the NPO list. Just a few weeks ago Article19 asked the national advocacy organisation to comment on the hypothetical situation of two mid-scale dance companies losing their funding completely while Tony Hall and Antonio Poppano were raking in £1.1Million between them at the Royal Opera House.

DanceUK declined to comment at all on any questions we put to them.

Well as it turns out two mid-scale companies were stripped of their funding, the Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs and Henri Oguike. Along with DanceUK the funding total for the three of them comes to well under £1.1Million.

Irony, evidently, has a cruel sense of humour


Since Wednesday morning there has been a lot of blustering in the media that poor old ACE was put into an “impossible” position by the jackals from the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

That the DCMS is equally culpable for this mess is not in dispute but ACE is the sharp end of the stick when it comes to arts funding and once again they’ve made a big mess into an even bigger mess.

By failing to adequately tackle the large-scale and dramatically bring their funding down over the next 4 years they have condemned themselves and the arts to repeat the same cycle all over again.

The funding monolith clearly has so much confidence in its new philanthropy plan that all large-scale organisations have their funding cycle running on an inverted bell curve. They get hit next year but then it starts climbing again, for all of them.

This must be reassuring to The National Theatre for example who just secured a £10Million pound private donation from the uber rich owner of Travelex, not so encouraging however for the small-scale dance company that doesn’t have any rich friends.

How much money would you like to bet that the lions share of the £80Million promised in match funding for the philanthropy plan ends up in the already deep pockets of the big players?

Even their meddling in mid-scale dance funding makes little sense either fiscally or artistically. DV8 haven’t made a new work for two years but suffer no repercussions while Jasmin Vardimon Company has three active touring works but receives £180,000 less than DV8. Say what?

Let us be clear, no one company or dance maker is more important than another and no dance maker at this level is any better at dance making than any other. The critics can wail their subjective disapproval all they want.

For its part ACE can keep pushing the “great art” mantra until they are literally blue in the face because this funding review is a hasty, ill-considered, whitewash for the large-scale and, as far as dance is concerned, an exercise in pinning dance organisations on a map to prove how national they are as a funding body.

ACE even provided their own maps to prove it.

[ The Results ]
[ Numbers ]
[ Mute ]
[ So Now What ]