Has the Arts Council taken its eye off the ball? Does the British Council work? Is it time for a new approach to funding national and international work?

Convener(s): Matt Burman

Participants: A small(ish) but perfectly formed group…

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

Separating British Council Arts from the rest of the organisation (and so detaching itself from dubious and murky Foreign Office priorities) and merging it with Visiting Arts and the international side of the Arts Council could be a positive move, as there would be the potential for greater transparency and accountability (including a set application process and a published set of criteria by which work is assessed.) This new organisation should strive to retain the knowledge and experience and to an extent the subjectivity and eccentricity (in their most positive senses) of its current network of staff. The greatest threat and risk behind such a merger would be that the money would disappear somewhere between the Foreign Office (which currently funds the British Council) and the Arts Council. A strong well-placed political advocate may be able to negotiate the ring-fencing of the existing funds while also brokering a significant increase in funding. The group didn’t know who this could be or how to kick start such a process.

Looking at the current situation with regards to the spending review and the

Arts Council the main question was ‘why is this suddenly such a big issue?’ Is the threat to funding from the review and from the Olympics a far bigger and more serious threat than we have been told so far. Is the Arts Council about to ‘raise the alarm’.

The key conclusion of this group was that it’s time for Theatre and the wider arts community to hear this alarm, and wake up to the deep potential threat to the continued financial health of the Arts in the UK. It was proposed that those leading the big cultural institutions put their heads above the parapet and begin a real and productive debate into arts funding. This debate should be started by an open letter to the press from people such as Nicholas Hytner, Nick Starr, Michael Boyd (which David Farr offered to facilitate) voicing these very real concerns.