The announcement that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland is to have its wings clipped (p3) and is likely to be facing a future as an arts development agency with some national funding responsibilities comes as no real surprise. Events in Scotland just a few weeks ago (AP issue 114, p1) have been prophetic, and there is little to suggest that the deconstruction of the UKs cultural policy framework, established and honed over years (p9), is finished yet. The Arts Council of Wales is still fighting its corner (p3): but unless the arts community in Wales decides to wage a concerted and lengthy campaign of support for its beleaguered funding body, there is every chance that Wales too will see the funding for all but the highest profile arts organisations handed over to its local authorities.
So what, then, for the future of Arts Council England (ACE)? Evening Standard columnist Norman Lebrecht has made his views crystal clear: Abolition of the Arts Council is no longer a question of whether, but when and how soon& (http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/060308-nl-state_funding.html). But his conclusions about the future for arts funding in England are less plausible. He says, National companies, like national galleries, will in future receive their grant direct from the Department of Culture, cutting out the middleman. The rest of the process can be devolved back to local authorities who know better than London bureaucrats what their region needs. Abolishing ACE might save a bit on the rent (p1), but in the absence of a statutory requirement for local authorities to offer arts opportunities to their rate payers, and given the low priority many local authorities consequently give to the arts, placing the lions share of English arts funding in the hands of local authorities would currently be a high risk strategy indeed.
Liz Hill and Brian Whitehead, Co-editors