If the national funder really cared about equality, it wouldn’t endorse a £2m application from a nine-day-old organisation, argues Christy Romer.

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Emma Rice’s successor at the Globe has been selected – Michelle Terry, an award-winning actor. She will take over in April 2018, when Rice moves on to a new venture: Director of ‘Wise Children’, a new entry to Arts Council England’s (ACE) national portfolio for 2018–22.

But this is not to be celebrated. Even if Wise Children becomes the best, boldest and brashest theatre company of all time, its acceptance into the portfolio makes a mockery of the entire arts funding system.

This has nothing to do with the art, and everything to do with the Arts Council. Rice’s new company will receive £475,000 a year from 2018. That’s £25k more than Kneehigh, her old company. It’s over £100k more than Cast in Doncaster. It’s equivalent to two Punchdrunks, or four Emergency Exit Arts, or eight National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

Would other bold artists, who hadn’t been blessed with the oxygen of publicity, be successful with a similarly astronomical application?

Wise Children, the company, didn’t exist until nine days before the deadline for registering a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) application. It had no Twitter or Facebook presence until 27 June – the day the NPO funding was announced. On what grounds could any credible funder say the organisation has built up an effective track record – or, for arts nerds, fulfilled any of the financial or management criteria necessary to become one of ACE’s ‘Band 2’ organisations?

Equally, according to its website, Wise Children is “firmly and deeply rooted in the South West”. It’s classified as ‘South West’ in Arts Council England’s NPO spreadsheet, handily forming part of the big splash the national funder made about “investing £170 million more outside of London”.

But Wise Children is not based in the South West. It’s registered in London, and is going to be a resident company at The Old Vic – eight minutes’ walk from the National Theatre. Speaking about the residency, Rice said: “It makes total narrative and thrilling sense to start the Wise Children journey at The Old Vic!”

This has happened before: Matthew Bourne’s dance company Re:Bourne was registered as South East, but was based at Sadler’s Wells – in central London.

Maybe you think this is all irrelevant. I’ve had conversations with artists who were completely incredulous about my objections – “you’ll not find anyone who disagrees with the funding for Wise Children,” they said. “Rice’s got a great track record, so I say good on her,” they added.

I’ll accept it: the company has a stunning name, a renowned director with a reputation for bold and inclusive work, and an exciting vision. It may be that Wise Children makes the best shows I’ve ever seen. It may be that the company’s success provides a resounding and gratifying riposte to a ridiculous cock-up at Shakespeare’s Globe – which employed someone with the specific remit of doing something different, and then made it impossible for that person to continue doing anything different.

And it’s not as if the Arts Council is doing anything the Government wouldn’t do. Ministers are happy to savage local authority budgets and berate councils for “choosing” to stop funding museums, whilst also digging out £78m from the back of the sofa to fund a new mega venue in Manchester.

But you have to ask: would other bold artists, who hadn’t been blessed with the oxygen of publicity, be successful with a similarly astronomical application?

Probably not, right?

And how did the Arts Council settle on £475,000 a year? If Wise Children’s successful application is entirely based on faith and a strong vision, and more money equals more opportunities, shouldn’t ACE have given the organisation more of a fighting chance and chucked, I don’t know, an annual £600k at it? Or £930k?

The whole saga shows how abhorrent and absurd the process of getting funding remains. There are, and always have been, two sets of rules: one for those with friends at the Arts Council, and one for those without (special thanks on the Wise Children website are reserved for ACE's Neil Darlison, Simon Mellor and Phil Gibby for "very real support just when it mattered").

How can it be that renowned arts centres, such as the Drum in Birmingham, are allowed to wither away and die – under the guise of “efficiency” and “tightened budgets” – yet the path is cleared for a vision favoured by a handful of senior people at the Arts Council? How can we look the other way when a couple of people in control of public money decide to twist every rule imaginable to give someone £2m because they think she deserves it?

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Comments

Hello ! great to read an objective article by Christy ! This is not a new phenomena - it's who you know not what you do which will get the most ! a great company based in one of the most deprived cities in the north had a drastic funding cut of 100 K and still no reasons given - now Christys article explains why the whole system of funding has to be shaken up and a fair funding for the deserving not the darlings ! tks Miraj

Arts Council England emphatically rejects the unsubstantiated allegation made in this article that there are different rules for applicants to our funding programmes according to how well known they might be to Arts Council staff. We have in place a rigorous and equitable application and assessment process that applies across the organisation and which is open, accountable, auditable and transparent and which includes taking advice from experts across and beyond the arts and culture sector. The decisions to fund all National Portfolio Organisations are not made by staff, but by the Arts Council’s National and Area Councils. We are thrilled to welcome Wise Children into the National Portfolio and proud to support Emma Rice who is one of the most inspirational theatre makers working in the UK today. It’s a major coup for the South West that Emma has chosen to base her new company here and is a significant indication of the pull of the region as a centre for cultural activity and creative industries. We are absolutely committed to supporting Wise Children over the next few years and see the company’s acknowledgement of our support as a sign of our value to them. We seek to offer this development support wherever we identify exciting opportunities across our sector Helping artists and companies realise their potential is an essential aspect of the Arts Council’s development role. The negotiation and development of a funding agreement with Wise Children is predicated on them basing themselves in the South West. While rooted in the South West, Wise Children will have a national significance and London is an important part of that national picture. So we are pleased that Wise Children are embarking on an exciting residency at The Old Vic, although that is not an aspect of our funding to them.

Wise Children is dedicated to the South West region and we would like to thank the Arts Council South West again for their support. Emma Rice has lived and worked in the South West for 25 years, so there was no question about where the next exciting chapter would unfold. We are in lively discussion with South West venues and producers about the continuation and expansion of Rice's inclusive and imaginative work and will be announcing more details of our future plans soon.

Emma Rice says: ‘I named my new company Wise Children after Angela Carter’s seminal novel, which is set in South London and is a love letter to theatre. It makes total narrative and thrilling sense to start the Wise Children journey at The Old Vic! This iconic, independent and proudly innovative theatre has hosted Shakespeare and Variety, music and dance alike for almost 200 years and it is the perfect first home for my company and for our inaugural production. It will come as no surprise that this first production will be an adaptation of the novel, Wise Children – “What a joy it is to dance and sing!”. I am following in extraordinary footsteps and grateful to Matthew Warchus and his team for welcoming Wise Children, (the show and the company) with such brave and open arms.’

Well done AP, still speaking truth to power! "We seek to offer this development support wherever we identify exciting opportunities across our sector." Anyone else out there getting £2m 'development' funding guaranteed for 4 years? If only ACE had had the balls to say no to DCMS pressure to divert Lottery money to finance their cuts in Government funding over the last 7 years. If the same % of total Lottery money as in 2010 was still going into Grants for the Arts there'd be £38m more a year to "help artists and companies realise their potential is an essential aspect of the Arts Council’s development role".

I feel the response from ACE is inadequate, pretty high-handed and doesn't seem to address what they feel is actually unsubstantiated - I think there are valid points made: just saying 'no, you're wrong' doesn't really cut it.

The usual ACE plausible bluster - their customary response to legitimate criticism. Snow white? I think not... What the policy says and how that policy is applied have always been very different things. Maybe it was actually slightly more transparent and honest (not necessarily in a good way) up to around 1985 when it was termed 'a policy of response'. At least it was clear then how the system worked. The utter failure of the DCMS and Ministers since 2010 to police Lottery misuse (just read the 2007 Lottery Directions that are still supposed to have legal force) is scandalous.

While I see the reason for questions to be asked, I wonder if Christie should be leading the debate? His father has taken the ACE shilling for many years, no doubt paying for little Christie's journalism degree. Emma Rice has more talent in her little finger than Marcus, who's Pilot shows were embarrassing, to say the least. If investment is to be made then it needs to be based on the submission put to ACE, so without seeing that how can anyone critique their decision? Furthermore the proof of the pudding will be what Wise Children achieve, so watch this space. ACE have failed so often in the South West, this does give them a chance to get something right. The London launch is a mistake though, regional organisations should grow from a locality, not open in town and then parachute the goods in to the SW.

I don’t know who you are, but you should be ashamed of yourself for making personal comments about our journalist Christy Romer, whose private life has nothing whatsoever to do with this article. If you have something to say, stand up and be counted – don’t hide behind anonymity to fling out your criticisms and assertions. In fact Christy’s article passes no comment whatsoever on the quality of Emma Rice’s work. Indeed, he says that in words of one syllable: “This has nothing to do with the art, and everything to do with the Arts Council.” What he does is express a widely held view that the arts funding system in England favours those who have a good relationship with the Arts Council. It’s a sad fact of the arts sector that few are willing to speak out about this, and thereby risk their own funding to prove that point. Only those who do not ‘take the Arts Council’s shilling’ – as you put it – feel confident enough to speak out. The Arts Council doesn’t help itself in this respect – it was only three years ago that we reported its plans to introduce contractual terms for NPOs that would bring sanctions against anyone saying anything that might damage its reputation https://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/arts-council-backs-down-over-gagging-clause . After AP pointed this out, the offending clause was removed. That’s the value of independent journalism. And for the record, ArtsProfessional paid for Christy’s journalism training and qualifications, so you can rest easy that no public money was used to help train this young person to seek truth and speak out boldly when public bodies need to be held to account.

Wow Liz, obviously hit a nerve there! I made no personal comments about Christie, just questioned wether AP should print a negative opinion piece on the ACE relationship with one of the foremost female theatre makers in the country, written by the son of a white middle class man who received funding for years. In an industry riven with nepotism, it's not a decision that speaks of badly needed equality. Perhaps you could tell us when Marcus Romer first wrote for AP, was it before you employed his son? And I am not ashamed of my view, as you suggest I should be - my anonymity means I can tell my truth without you reading an agenda as part of my skin colour or gender. We do not have to feel shame if we disagree with AP's actions, and surely we can all use your comments section to question them. You say - "What he does is express a widely held view that the arts funding system in England favours those who have a good relationship with the Arts Council" - Who says it is widely held? Maybe in AP towers - but some of us on the ground know that a relationship with ACE (or any investor) is like any other, it will fluctuate over time, but the best thing is for it to be honest and open. A bit like a relationship with an industry contact who offers to fund your sons education...

"His father has taken the ACE shilling for many years, no doubt paying for little Christie's journalism degree..." Good lord! Let's visit the sins of the fathers on the sons,eh? There can't be much doubt that 'Wise Children' is a luvvy-project: Romer is right to call it out and I commend him for doing so. But let's not all fall out like hyenas. As Romer also says, there are many reasons for suspecting the grant is justified. The general problem lies with the Arts Council's hypocritical rubric - which ultimately springs from a historical failure to address the conflict between artistic quality and political populism. More specifically, the economic strictures that ACE staff presently operate under means that they simply don't make the wider contacts that they might actually want to - and spend most of their time servicing known clients. The temptation to endlessly fund 'sure bets' in order to justify the resources that ACE disseminates also contributes to the proscriptive menu they keep serving up. These issues need less acrimony and more honesty if they are ever going to be resolved; for which reason I hope Christy Romer (and AP) stick to their guns.

"I made no personal comments about Christie" - no, of course not... they were about someone else's Dad as I can't even spell his name correctly. I'm concerned you take better care of yourself as enlarged spleen can be really dangerous. No, of course that wasn't personal either.

Hi Marcus, sorry I don't rate your work, nothing personal. And my spleen is fine. ACE have an opportunity to back an internationally renown director, while diversifying the sector - there are still so few female ADs (or BAME etc). In addition it is regional (allegedly!) I just question that an opinion piece with 'equality' in the byline is really about equality or just ACE and/or Emma Rice bashing, neither of which is helpful or informative journalism. Just a question of Wise Child or privileged child - I know which I would prefer!!

Right, I'm struggling with the logic of your responses. Are you saying Christy Romer has a wobbly right to comment because his Dad was a director of a theatre company that received funding from ACE? He's a journalist, right? Journalists comment on things, rightfully - that is there job. And because perhaps, as you propose, he's a privileged white boy? What on earth are you talking about. None of that makes any sense and just comes across as frankly weird and prejudicial. What have the quality of Polit's shows got to do with any of this? You're not actually making any argument at all are you? Maybe you think you are but there's no actual logic evidenced at all. Christy Romer, along with anyone else, has every right to question ACE's decision, or anyone else's about anything at any time. Some people should really think about what they're syaing before they open their gobs - you've come across very poorly and offered nothing in the way of sparky insight: it's just weird, inconsequential bile. Bizarre.

Let me make it simple. Christie Romner’s white middle class family benefitted from his father’s income being subsidized by ACE. He is then employed (and had his education paid for) by an industry magazine his father writes for. This magazine is run entirely by white, middle class people like him. He writes an opinion piece which objects to an internationally renown female director being awarded an annual grant of nearly half a million pounds by ACE. In a badly argued piece, without sight of the application he is attacking, his main objection is the timeline of the creation of the company, (which has no bearing on ACE funding rules) and he claims that this “makes a mockery of the entire arts funding system” He makes a worthy point of the geographical discrepancy of the funding, which I have stated I agree with. He randomly informs us that he’s “had conversations with artists” that disagree with him. And that the unseen application must “twist every rule imaginable”. The articles holier than thou dismissal of the chance of “other bold artists, who hadn’t been blessed with the oxygen of publicity, be successful with a similarly astronomical application” is naïve, and not the level of journalism I want for my industry. Chris Romer is entitled to have any view he wants. But personally I want to hear fresh voices, not cynical establishment ‘pretend radicals’ trying to get a mention in the Guardian. And, hilariously (or infuriatingly - depending on your position) his objection is based in part on ‘diversity’ (according to the byline) To make things worse when I object I am told I should be ‘ashamed’ by the magazine editor, told I’d better ‘take care of myself’ by his father (the editors friend) and accused of vitriol by another (who looks like the writer himself as he imparts information in this comment that he tweets at the same time) If you can’t see all this as the most damning sign of an industry drowning in nepotism and lack of diversity, but using diversity as a weapon to attack the success of one of our sisters and the funding system supporting her then there really is no hope. *drops mic*

Hardly a mic drop. Sorry, I just don't get why being white and middle class prevents someone from having an opinion. It's as valid an opinion as anyone's. Or what his opinion has got to do with his Dad? Are you aware what his Mum does by the way or are all the Romers to be denied either opinion or the right to express themselves and act on their convictions? Christy Romer isn't criticising Emma Rice for being a woman. I think he's criticising some less than clear policy that appears to allow a seeming curious flexibility in due process. It's not the greatest article ever written, but he raises valid points that are worthy of debate. If the rules aren't clear, the rules aren't clear and ACE's blustery response is not really adequate. If they want to clear things up they have every opportunity to do so. I hope Emma smashes it as she has done consistently across the years. She is a shining example of talent, ingenuity and grit. But blimey, cut the lad some slack for making a few points and you shouldn't accuse people of some kind of direct sexism or innate, entitled privilege and essential oppression when it simply isn't there. I don't think Christy Romer is the enemy within - there are far worthier targets to focus on surely? He's not attacking diversity. He's not attacking women. He's not attacking Emma. He's simply raising an opacity that exists and if these things aren't questioned because for some reason he (or anyone else 'like him') has no right to a voice then we're in far more dangerous territory. I agree with you - the lack of diversity...social, economic, cultural, ethnic, gender, demographic, geographic...I could go on...is not nearly as good as it should be. Shocking even. It will take many years and developed thinking and practice to change this and I'm sure you, like me, are doing everything you can to address this through our work. But middle-class or not, Christy Romer has a right to express himself. My family benefitted from European Farming Subsidies back in the day - exactly the same principle as culture investment - does this mean I'm not entitled to have an opinion on Europe, cos blimey, I've got quite a lot to say about that at the moment?

I'm sure you wouldn't rate my work either - though I'm not Marcus. I didn't know that being privileged and/or wise were, apparently, mutually exclusive.

I'm amazed at the vitriol and personal attacks that Romer's article has attracted. He is right to question ACE's decision. That's his job as a journalist. I hope he digs further. Despite ACEs bluster I detect a certain amount of panic in the air. Interesting to note that Wise Children Limited's address registered with Companies House was changed yesterday from its original London address to a new one in Bristol.

If you happen to be named in said bid as a delivery partner, but nobody had the grace to speak to you before writing you into the bid, do you: A. Stay quiet and hope for large crumbs from the table (the default position in an anxious region) B. Ask exactly what the fundamental nature of partnership is?! #AskingForAFriend

Neither, I'm thinking. The first action would mean, firstly, you're complicit in something that can't have been presented honestly if no conversations have taken place and secondly that you're happy to take the hope of money over integrity: both of those scenarios are extremely dubious, of course. The second action doesn't really make any sense - there is no partnership if no conversations haven't happened or agreements put in place. If ACE are being led to think that things are in place, then if what you're saying is true, they have been and/or are being misled.