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Representatives from across the cultural sector have written an open letter to Dame Mary Archer, who is due to chair the government's Public Body Review of Arts Council England.

Let's Create image

Dear Dame Mary

We note that the current Public Body Review for Arts Council England (ACE) is a critical moment to review whether ACE, in the words of its Terms of Reference, is ‘up to date and remains relevant’ and whether its ‘delivery model is appropriate to deliver effective outcomes for the public’.

The Terms of Reference get to the heart of the review by aiming to explore ‘whether ACE ensures there is high-quality, excellent, representative culture and creative practice across the whole country, reaching a broad public’.

We believe that ACE’s 10-year strategy (2020-30), Let’s Create, reflects these principles and sets out a clear roadmap for achieving this ambition. The strategy was established by wide consultation across the sector, with stakeholders and members of that ‘broad public’ and embodies our belief that everyone – not just the privileged few - should have access to excellent arts and cultural activity.

However, there has been a concerted effort by some in recent months to steer the public debate and conflate issues, encouraging an unhelpful media-driven impression of ‘a growing revolt’ against Arts Council England. We are concerned that those who shout the loudest and have the ears of the powerful are able to dominate at the expense of a range of voices and a reasonable consideration of the issues.

We should resist attempt to create divisions

Let’s Create is not without flaws, and we should explore how improvements can be made in its delivery. However, it has succeeded on a number of levels including finally moving the debate forward by refusing to fall into the trap of creating false and obstructive divisions between ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’ and ‘representation’. There seems to be an effort to revisit these divisions and reframe the Public Body Review as instead a review, and hoped for revision, of the Let’s Create strategy.

We certainly hold fast to the principle of excellence, which is at the core of funded work created by artists and organisations across the country. But excellence means different things in different contexts and must shine through in all aspects of what we do, from how we work with communities, to how we run our organisations.

We cannot allow a few voices to influence a swing back to an interpretation of excellence that narrows the opportunity for the ‘broad public’ to experience culture and creativity. We should resist an attempt to create divisions, playing into the prejudices and unfounded fears of some commentators who seem to believe that ACE is ‘determined to shift public subsidy on to supporting amateurs and community projects’.

We must aim to have a higher aspiration than simply trying to protect our own cherished corners of public subsidy and in the words of Let’s Create, ‘we want everyone to have more opportunities’ both ‘to be creative, and to experience high-quality culture’.

We would welcome a reduction in demands

Of course there is plenty of scope for rational criticism of ACE. We certainly welcome the focus on how ACE’s ‘processes – particularly relating to funding… and decision-making’ can be improved to ensure they are ‘effective, proportionate and robust’.

Whilst aware of the need to collect data and demonstrate our impact and value, we would welcome a reduction in the demands placed on organisations and artists, with more streamlined, equitable and transparent processes. We would propose that ACE conduct a “from first principles” review of all its funding processes placing simplification for applicants at the heart of that review.

We hope there will finally be an acceptance that the application portal, Grantium, is not fit for purpose, and that investment is made as needed for ACE to properly transform their systems and replace Grantium.

We believe improvements in these areas would enable the sector to better invest its time and resources in delivering ‘high-quality, excellent, representative culture and creative practice across the whole country, reaching a broad public’.

Let’s Create is underpinned by clear principles which we endorse, including a belief that ‘everyone, everywhere should benefit from public investment in creativity and culture, given their power to fulfil us, and to transform the communities in which we live and work.’

We can only do this by having a multiplicity of approaches, and understanding the needs and perspectives of different audiences and different communities across the country. We hope likewise that the Public Body Review will listen to and respect a multiplicity of voices from the sector and beyond.

Matthew Xia, Actors Touring Company
Tarek Iskander, Battersea Arts Centre
Caroline Hall, Bolton Libraries and Museum Service
Mimi Findlay, Bush Theatre
Matt Burman, Cambridge Junction
Tamara Kohler, Contemporary Music for All
Paula Orrell, CVAN Contemporary Visual Arts Network England
Tania Wilmer, Dance Umbrella
Sarah Brigham, Derby Theatre
Martin Berry, Exeter Northcott Theatre
Yamin Choudury, Hackney Empire
Mark Williams, Heart n Soul
Karen O'Neill, HOME Mcr
Kully Thiarai, LEEDS 2023
Kris Nelson, LIFT
Jack McNamara, Live Theatre
Sarah Vasey, Liverpool City Council (Culture Liverpool)
Michael Ockwell, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
Steve Mannix, Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Deborah Kermode, Midlands Arts Centre
Saad Eddine Said, New Art Exchange
Douglas Rintoul, New Wolsey Theatre
Daniel Brine, Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Roddy Gauld, Octagon Theatre Bolton
Jonathan Harper, Paraorchestra
Melanie Lewis, Shakespeare North Playhouse
Stella Kanu, Shakespeare's Globe
Krystal Vittles, Suffolk Libraries
Gavin Barlow, The Albany
Owen Calvert-Lyons, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Katie Town, Theatre Royal Wakefield
Clare Reddington, Watershed
Stacey Norman, #WeShallNotBeRemoved
George Mann, Ad Infinitum Productions CIO
Dawn Badland, Applause Rural Touring
Lisa Mead, Apples and Snakes
Allison Birt, ARC Stockton
Alison Bailey Smith, Art on Wirral, Wirral MakeFest C.I.C
Daryl Branch, Arts Outburst
Andrew Fletcher, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester
Kylie Lloyd, balletLORENT
Anthony Baker, Barnsley Civic
Dan Hutton, Barrel Organ
Sandra Waters, Batala Mersey
Frances Land, Black Country Touring
Matt Andrews, Black Country Touring
Bev Fox, Boho Arts
Liz Hall, Bradford Theatres
Charly Ward, Burnley Youth Theatre
Emily Townsend, Burnley Youth Theatre
Hannah Kay, Burnley Youth Theatre
Karen Metcalfe, Burnley Youth Theatre
Paul Sutton, C&T and Prospero.digital
Clare Clarkson, Cast
Jessica Sweet, Centre for Live Art Yorkshire
Reece McMahon, Chisenhale Dance Space
Zoe Whitley, Chisenhale Gallery
Conrad Nelson, Claybody Theatre
Deborah McAndrew, Claybody Theatre
Nikki Watson, CoDa Dance Company
Anthony Roberts, Colchester Arts Centre
Evie Manning, Common Wealth
Kami Gakuru, Company Three
Gabi Spiro, Company Three
Rachel Brown, Creative Basildon
Parminder dosanjh, Creative Black Country
Louise Blackwell, Creative Crawley
Alastair Upton, Creative Folkestone
Sanaz Amidi, Creative Newham
Sophie Eustace, Creative Playground Crawley
Barbara Disney, CreativeShift
Julie Matthews, CreativeShift cic
Rosemary Stephenson, Crediton Heart Project
Jamie Hale, CRIPtic Arts
Andrew McPherson, Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation
Greg Bond, Culture Co-op, Creative People and Places in Rochdale
Seema Manchanda, Deptford X
Edward Ball, Devonshire Collective
Deasy Bamford, Diverse Artists Network
Harry Tennison, DONOTALIGHT Ltd
Debbie Connell, Durham County Council
Kieran Sheehan, Everyone Here (West Cumbria's Creative People and Places)
Kelly Johnson, Exeter Northcott Theatre
Patrick Cunningham, Exeter Phoenix
Ray Downing, Face Front Inclusive Theatre
David Harradine, Fevered Sleep
Helen Jones, FLUX Rotherham
Tina Redford, formerly Director of LeftCoast, Blackpool
Chris Thompson, Foxlowe Arts Centre
Rosie Scudder, Freelance
Julia Samuels, Freelance
David Ward, Freelance
Thomas Ryalls, Freelance (London Area Council)
Ned Glasier, Freelance Artist / Founder, Company Three
Elizabeth Lynch, Freelance artists and communities specialist
Anna Dominian, Freelance Producer
Emily Greenslade, Freelance Producer
Rosalie White, Freelance Producer
Patricia Verity, Freelancer
Benedetta d'Ettorre, Freelancer
Karen Jeremiah, Freshly Greated
Holly Prest, Global Grooves
Kirsty Ogg, Goldsmiths
Lucy Foster, Grand Junction at St Mary Magdalene's
Mandy Hare, Gravesham Borough Council
Andrew Alty, Green Arts Centre Mitcham
Angharad Williams, Heart of Glass
Patrick Fox, Heart of Glass
Caroline Stevens, Herts Inclusive Theatre
Susie Troup, Hexham Book Festival
Tracy Brunt, Ideas Test
Neil Morrin, Ignite Liverpool
Christie Hill, Independent Producer
Charlotte Jones, Independent Theatre Council
Beverley Glean MBE, IRIE! dance theatre
Hannah Cox, Jacksons Lane
Yvette Griffith, Jazz re:freshed
Tracy Cooper, JW3
Alex Evans, Kazzum Arts
Jack Hartshorn, Kingswood Arts CIC
Emma Heys, Kirkgate Arts and Heritage
Helen Johnston, Kirkgate Arts Out West
Katherine Ives, Lauderdale House
Becky Dash, Lawrence Batley Theatre (Kirklees Theatre Trust)
Kerry Andrews, LEVEL Centre
Sharon Trotter, Lewisham Education Arts Network
Victoria Shaskan, Lewisham Youth Theatre
Ben Anderson, Lincoln Arts Centre (University of Lincoln)
Barbara Murray, Liverpool City Council
Dr Mark Smith, Liverpool Improvisation Festival
Ann Hoskins, Liverpool Irish Festival
Richard Wallace, LMA
Sarah Setter, Lost Lady Society
Vicky Frayard, Made With Many
Ros Lamont, Maltings (Berwick) Trust
Cathy Bolton, Manchester Literature Festival
Sara Scott, MAST Mayflower Studios
Suzanne Gorman, Maya Productions
Pady O'Connor, MeeMee Theatre
Paul Smith, Middle Child
Fiona Venables, Milton Keynes Arts Centre
Lissy Lovett, Mimbre
Rob Smith, Ministry of Stories
Kiz Crosbie, Mortal Fools
Mark Johnson-Brown, Mycenae House
Kiera Blakey, New Contemporaries
Ailin Conant, New Earth Theatre
Lian Wilkinson, New Earth Theatre
Sally Anne Tye, New Perspectives Theatre Company
Mike Tilley, Newcastle Arts Centre Ltd
Trevelyan Wright, Newhampton Arts Centre
Jess Hunt, No More Nowt
Jane Corry, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts & Curve Venue
Katy Milne, Northern Heartlands
Jill Cole, Northern Heartlands
Helen Dobson, Northern Stage
Daniel Pitt, Old Diorama Arts Centre
Charlotte Corrie, Open Culture
Sarah Fisher, Open Eye Gallery
Claire Coache, Open Sky Theatre
Barry Farrimond-Chuong MBE, Open Up Music
Sarah Bird, OUTSIDE Arts
Liz Widdowson, OVO Theatre Company
John Ryan, Oxford House in Bethnal Green
Zilan Liao, Pagoda Arts
Karin Kihlberg, Peckham Platform
Deryck Newland, Play to the Crowd
Russ Tunney, Pound Arts
Alister O'Loughlin, Prodigal UPG CIC
Miranda Henderson, Prodigal UPG CIC
Mary Swan, Proteus
Katy Taylor, Queens Hall Arts
Rachel Nelken, Raw Material Music and Media
Susanne Clausen, Reading International/ University of Reading
Sarah Richardson, Restoke
Maddy Morgan, Rhiannon Faith Company
Judith Kilvington, Rich Mix
sally lockey, Right Up Our Street
Linda Bloomfield, RivelinCo
Daniel Whitehouse, Rosehill Arts Trust
Maria Brewster, Rule of Threes Arts
Scott O'Hara, Seed Sedgemoor
Joanna Resnick, Slung Low
Craig Titley-Rawson, South Hill Park Trust Ltd
Rhiannon Robertson, Spare Tyre
Dawn Davis, Spare Tyre
Rebecca Manson Jones, Spare Tyre
Chirag Patel, Spare Tyre Theatre Company
Amanda Castro, Spare Tyre Theatre Company
Kate DeRight, Spectra Arts CIC
Ruth Harrison, Spread the Word
Beccy Allen, St Margaret's House
Ella Goel, Stanley Arts
Amie Salmon, Stanley Arts
Daniel Winder, Stanley Arts
James Yarker, Stan's Cafe
Roxie Curry, Start Thurrock - Creative People and Places
Suzie Henderson, Storyhouse
Jane McGibbon, Stuff & Nonsense Theatre
Helen Green, Sunderland Culture
Kim Wide, Take A Part
Nathan Curry, Tangled Feet
Bill Bankes-Jones, Tête à Tête
Ahmet Ahmet, The Albany
Benjamin Stephen, The Albany
Sydney Thornbury, The Art House
Marie Kenny, The Atkinson
John Caldwell, The Civic Stourpot
Joe Flavin, The Core at Corby Cube
Jo Gordon, The Core at Corby Cube
Margarita Rebolledo, The Customs House, South Shields
Andrew Walker, The Customs House, South Shields
Fiona Martin, The Customs House, South Shields
Chris Lawson, The Dukes, Lancaster
Melanie Whitehead, The Electric Sunshine Project CIC
Lee Giles, The Habbit Factory
Daisy Hale, The Hale
Jo Pocock, The Lantern Company
Victoria Robinson, The Met
Mary Price-O'Connor, The Moving Theatre Lab
Jemma McDonnell, The Paper Birds Theatre Company
Amy Campbell, The Parakeet Studio CIC
Laura Woodward, The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre
Fiona Baxter, The Spring Arts & Heritage Centre
Judy Mazonowicz, The Windows Project
Aditi Shah, The Windows Project
Caz Brader, Theatre Porto
Scott Burrell, Three Rivers Bexley
Emma Ghafur, Tiger Monkey UK Limited
Bryan Beresford, Touchstones Rochdale
Bethan Tomlinson, Tramshed
Anna Scott, Transported
Dienka Hines, Travelling Light Theatre Company
Emma Harvey, Trinity Community Arts Ltd
Dick Bonham, Trouble at Mill Events Ltd
Roger Nelson, Trustee of Theatre Rites
Annie Rigby, Unfolding Theatre
Victoria Amedume, Upswing
Daniel Schunmann, Viva Arts and Community Group
Jan Lennox, Watermans
Darren Adams, Waterside Arts
Hannah Robertshaw, Yorkshire Dance
Melissa Buttigieg, Your Trust
Thomas Smith, YourTrust
Sharon Gill, YVAN - Yorkshire & Humber Visual Arts Network
Zoe Pickering, Z-arts
Liz O’Neill, Z-arts
Amy Smith, Zoo Co Creative Ltd
Flo O'Mahony, Zoo Co Creative Ltd

Spearheaded by Gavin Barlow, Co-Director of Future Arts Centres and Artistic Director of The Albany. 

Arts Professional welcomes readers' opinions. Please ensure your comments observe our policy.


Response to Arts Professional and the Stage re open letter to Mary Archer The arts should be speaking with one voice and regrettably this is not the case. The signatories to the letter “are concerned that those who shout the loudest and have the ears of the powerful are able to dominate at the expense of a range of voices and a reasonable consideration of the issues”. It would be useful if the signatories came out and said who these voices are – are they for example John Gilhooly executive director of the Wigmore Hall and Antonio Pappano the incoming conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In any event the people who want to scrap Let’s Create is they have nothing to replace it with. The fundamental flaw – and there are many - in Let’s Create is the absence of artform policies and this is evidenced in the debacle with opera in the last funding round.(For a critique of Let’s Create please see: http://www.complaintsinwonderland.co.uk/2020/09/a-response-to-lets-create-the-arts-council-englands-strategy-2020-2030/) The Arts Council in the “Let’s Create: Opera and music theatre analysis”, stated: “Let’s Create, will run until 2030. This strategy shapes the way we work and invest across all the areas of creativity and culture for which we have responsibility. It recognises that audiences are generally not loyal to a single art form and encourages us to think about the way that different artforms and disciplines can and do interconnect. We also believe a single cross-cutting strategy helps identify how practice in one art form or geographic area can influence that in another. We will not therefore produce separate artform (or genre) strategies to supplement Let’s Create” This is supposition and where is the evidence. People go to all sorts of events, music theatre, museums. The Art Council used to publish TGI stats that showed the overlap of attendance between art forms now the Arts Council and DCMS have stopped measuring audience attendance. Which makes the meaningless belief that a “single cross cutting strategy helps identify how practise in one art form or geographic area can influence that in another” (Let’s Create) belong in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devils Dictionary. For the avoidance of doubt the terms of reference for the review as reported in Hansard on Volume 747 and debated on the 15th March 2024 are: • Arts Council England’s delivery model and whether it is correct to deliver effective outcomes for the public; • Arts Council England’s grant monitoring procedures and overall efficiency; • Arts Council England’s statutory functions; • Departmental sponsorship; and • Arts Council England’s accountability to the Department, respecting the importance of the arm’s length principle and the Arts Council's responsibility as custodians of public money. In conducting the review, officials will engage with a broad range of interested parties in the arts and creative sectors across the UK. The open letter states there is “plenty of scope for rational criticism” and refers to the demands placed on individuals and organisation for the bureaucratic nature of collecting data and that Grantium is not fit for purpose. However, this is just scratching the surface. There has been a 49% increase in the numbers of NPOs since 2015. The subvention from the DCMS has been supplemented by lottery funds. The use of Lottery funding to shore up National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) started in the Arts Council England funding round of 2012-2015 where £54m was used shore up the NPOS. This continued in the 2015/2018 funding round where £180m of Lottery funds were used to bolster NPOs. In the latest funding round this figure has risen to £326m There are 985 NPO’s of which 275 are new applicants. 985 organisations will receive in total £444,5m per annum of which new applicants receive £63,5m. This is made up of £370.6m of core funding and £73.9m of lottery funding. The Arts Council has raided lottery funds to buttress NPOs. This reduces the funds available to individuals and organisations who do not have NPO status. NPOs are also eligible to apply for Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants – NPOs have the capacity to seek funding elsewhere. This is not a level playing field nor is it levelling it up it is discriminatory and levels down. The success rate of National Lottery Project Grants awards to total applications by NPOs is an average of 74.4% over the years 2018/2023. Compare this to the success rate of National Lottery Project Grants awards to total eligible applications for individuals and non NPO organisations is an average of over the same period is 43.9%. There is a marked difference, NPOs it would seem have a better chance of success. The concept of additionality Appears to have disappeared out of the window. The shambles that attended the last funding round with regards to English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne Touring was lamentable and mismanaged on a heroic scale, elsewhere this would dictate a root and branch review of the organisation. Despite all the fluttering’s in the dovecote the end result is that in the last funding round for the year 2023/2024 of the music allocation; 49% went to opera, 24% to classical music, 0.40% to folk music, 0.50% to brass bands and 2% to jazz. It is crucial that that Arts Council England develops artform policies.