Audience development loses out as ACE prioritises organisations directly producing art

“Continuity and change” are the order of the day at Arts Council England (ACE), according to Chief Executive Alan Davey, as he announced ACE's new national portfolio of funded organisatons (NPOs). Six hundred and ninety-five arts organisations will become funded NPOs, including 110 which were not previously Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs). This is 154 fewer than ACE funded before. It turned down 639 applications, of which 206 were previously RFOs. (A non-exhaustive list of these can be found HERE.)

Davey said: “We prioritised organisations that directly produce art... [hence] cuts to audience development agencies and umbrella bodies.” Consequently, along with the already-announced decisions to cut Creative Partnerships and Arts&Business, audience development agencies have been cut, along with bodies such as Dance UK and the Visual Arts and Galleries Association (VAGA). David Brownlee of Audiences UK issued a strongly-worded statement, saying: "The rationale for this blanket decision is hard to understand given the priority given to increasing and broadening audiences in the Arts Council's strategy for the next ten years...  We believe long-term investment in the audience development infrastructure has helped the sector to weather the financial storm so far." Hilary Gresty of VAGA told AP: “We are concentrating on the impact on the sector rather than ourselves. Going on initial analysis of the figures we are quite surprised to see that there seems to be a hidden agenda where smaller organisations, under £100,000 are being cut - at first glance many of these are agencies, doing non-building based development work. They are the ones doing work which is less tangible than other organisations that have been successful.” Visiting Arts and Shared Experience theatre company have also been cut, and the ICA in London loses half of its funding.

The Almeida Theatre, which received a cut of around 20% in cash terms, issued a strong statement declaring that “there will be no cuts to our innovative artistic policy or to our ambitions”. The Poetry Book Society has suffered an 100% cut, which Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy described as “a national shame and a scandal”. She said, “"This news goes beyond shocking and touches the realms of the disgusting... and I urge everyone who cares about poetry to join the PBS as a matter of urgency." Chris Holifield, Director of the PBS, said “We are stunned by the Arts Council decision which will impact on thousands of poetry lovers, poets and poetry publishers. We will try to find a way for the PBS to survive but its future must now be in doubt.” Linda Jasper, Director of Youth Dance England which was unsuccessful in its bid to join the National Portfolio, told AP: “It is a waste of public investment by taking this decision not to continue to fund a highly successful organisation that has pioneered ways of working to reach children and young people locally, on modest investment.”


Around a quarter of NPOs will receive less than £100k a year, and new rules preventing NPO organisations from applying for Grants for the Arts funds will free up around £11m enabling applications from other organisations. An extra £10m of Lottery funds will be available for work with children and young people, which ACE hopes will go “some way to filling the gap left by Creative Partnerships”.

Liz Forgan, Chair of ACE, defended the process and the timeline, saying “We went as fast as possible but no faster”. In response to criticisms from the Select Committee report (AP234), she said: “the whole portfolio has been opened up, thoroughly examined and refreshed”, and that the Committee “assumed that because our process was swift it must be flawed. This is not the case... an extremely thorough process.” She continued: ““many unsuccessful organisations submitted very strong applications... I am very sad about that, but I am very proud of the National Portfolio.”

ACE names touring as one of the priorities it has tried to support in the new portfolio. Forgan said the NPOs aimed for “creative balance... it's not about fairness, but about quality... and the right of everyone in the country to have art within their reasonable reach”. Davey said that ACE believes that “touring is vital to reach new audiences and to ensure that the portfolio is truly national”, and that “rural touring has been strengthened” in order to “fill the gaps” that the previous RFO structure left. There is £18m of further Lottery money earmarked for touring, which has been distributed within the NPO grants already.

Most regional theatre companies received a cut of 11%. However, all but two of the regional producing theatres which put in applications were successful (the two unsucessful bids were from Derby and Exeter), and Bristol's Tobacco Factory has joined the portfolio. There was good news for others, too: Pilot Theatre in York receives a 9.5% rise in its funding. Other organisations celebrating an uplift are the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Punchdrunk, Kneehigh and Britten Sinfonia.  However, most of England's orchestras received an 11% cut.

Arts organisations which made successful bids now have until September to hash out a funding agreement with ACE. Davey describes this as “coming to agreement about what our money is for... but it needs to be proportionate so we don't load small orgs with unrealistic expectations”. Forgan pointed out that “each organisation laid out in its own words how it will meet two or more of our goals [in its application], so it's their own words that we will hold them too”. She was clear that although this is not necessarily the end of the road for unsuccessful applicants, and that ACE will continue to have conversations with them, “there isn't any more money... there isn't a slush fund. We're not playing games, we've spent all the money. That's it."