The Evil Imp

The NPO Face Plant

Tuesday’s announcement from Arts Council England (ACE) concerning their National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) was, compared to 2014, a fairly low-key affair. Unlike the previous round of funding this year was not expected to feature any huge cuts to the arts in general so things were a little less nerve wracking for the folks that spent months filling in forms and “chatting” to ACE’s client advisors, or whatever they’re called, about how not to screw up the whole process and end up with nothing.

The new faces in the dance portfolio, all 13 of them, include ZooNation, Rosie Kay Dance Company, Tom Dale Company and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. The biggest new face, funding wise, is One Dance UK (formerly Dance UK), with an annual grant of £750,000. DanceUK were thrown out of the NPO programme three years ago (although not really because they received large grants through the Grants for the Arts programme) but now all is forgiven because they’ve come back with a new name and a new logo and hey presto, buckets of cash. If anybody can succinctly describe what Once Dance UK do all day please send your answers to the usual address.

We Go Up We Go Down

Numbers wise, most companies received a standstill in their level of funding. In reality this means a cut because of the scourge that is inflation. The NPO funding agreement runs over four years, previously it was three years, so that cut is more pronounced unless ACE does some mid-year tweaking. When 2022 rolls around companies at a standstill could see their funding effectively drop by approximately 7%. The funding levels for all NPOs remain static over the four year term of their agreement.

The biggest up-tick in support went to ACE Dance and Music based in Birmingham with a 79% jump to £397,996 per year followed closely by Ballet Lorent in Newcastle Upon Tyne with a 67% jump to £399,968 per year. Only 10 companies received an increase out of a total of 65 listed as dance in the data supplied by ACE. Only one company received a cut in funding while retaining their NPO status and that was Vincent Dance Theatre who tumble by 4% to £249,999 per annum for the next four years a decision the company took of their own volition for administrative reasons.

You might notice that some of the numbers detailed above are oddly specific. They are not nicely rounded to the nearest hundred or thousand. In fact, three companies, ZooNation, Company Chameleon and Vincent Dance Theatre will all receive the exact same amount, £249,999 per year. It makes you wonder if ACE is just throwing numbers into a spreadsheet until the total adds up to the budget they have available to spend on dance.

Kicked To The Kerb.

As with the last funding round three former NPOs have lost their funding and all of them are small dance agencies. Greenwich Dance Agency (GDA), in London, Merseyside Dance Initiative (MDI), in Liverpool and Dance Manchester (DM) have all been cut by 100%. Both MDI and DM took heavy hits to their, already meagre, funding in 2015 losing 33% and 49% respectively. Both organisations were in receipt of less than £100,000 per annum at the time of writing from their NPO funding agreement. Similarly, GDA lost almost 20% of their funding in 2014 but the hammer fell even harder with their £320,000 annual grant vaporized from 2018 onward.

In a statement GDA stated that their proposal to ACE was for a four-year programme that provided support to independent artists. Evidently, ACE considered that to be unimportant to the future prospects of professional dance artists in central London. Perhaps more baffling is that the combined amount of money provided to new NPO members is £3,218,149 per year, more than enough money to cover the funding for these three organisations, so the decision to cut them was not due to the lack of resources.

Another casualty was DV8 but their wounds were entirely self-inflicted because Lloyd Newson ran off back to Australia more than a year ago to spend more time gardening, or something, he has yet to return. Current funding for all NPOs runs until April 2018, beyond that the future is uncertain for all organisations that have lost their financial support.

The Takeaway

As always, Arts Council England continues to suffer from self-inflicted face plants. What is clear from the funding for 2018-2022 is that they are playing geography arithmetic to try and shift the balance of funding away from London. Even the press release email started with the subject line “Arts Council England announces “significant increase” to investment outside London”, so the intent was clear from the start.

Just two of the companies based in London received a funding boost and they were Candoco Dance Company and Protein (ironically, Protein are based inside Greenwich Dance). If we look at companies that are relatively similar then Jasmin Vardimon Company, based in Kent, were held at a standstill while Motionhouse Dance Theatre, based in Warwick, got a 38% uptick. The two companies with the highest increases in funding are both based in the north.

By far the most egregious mistake is cutting funding to GDA, MDI and Dance Manchester while providing almost £1.3Million per year to Re:Bourne (stop laughing at the back) so they can continue rehashing ancient, soporific nonsense like ‘The Red Shoes’ alongside their factory farmed education programme that serves as little more than a glorified ticket selling enterprise. As far as artistic work goes you could say the same about Rambert as they present ‘Ghost Dances’ to audiences that never asked for it on the back of £2.3Million in annual support.

Small and local arts organisations are key to the success of dance on a wider scale. They provide access to classes, support for local professionals and free performances so the public can see professional dance without paying, again, to get into a theatre, all for less than half a million per year in annual funding. Risking their removal from the dance infrastructure of the UK is nothing less than unconscionable stupidity. Any suggestion that Dance Exchange, based in Birmingham, could take up the slack from MDI and DM is ridiculous. Dance is weaker from the potential total loss of three key support agencies so there is no basis for cheering in the 2017 NPO announcements.

[ NPO Funding from ACE ]

[ Top photo by Catherine ]

Updated June 29 22:06 to reflect that VDT opted for a cut in their funding.