Although the new portfolio will contain seven more dance organisations, three regional dance development agencies have lost funding.

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Minor Hall, one of Greenwich Dance's spaces
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Chris Nash

Several dance organisations are “extremely disappointed” and “surprised” by Arts Council England’s (ACE’s) National Portfolio announcement, which has left swathes of the country without a dedicated dance development agency.

Liverpool’s MDI (Merseyside Dance Initiative), Dance Manchester, and Greenwich Dance, based in south east London, will all stop receiving core funding from ACE in 2018.

The news comes despite a positive reception for new dance additions to the portfolio, including Ballet Black, Rosie Kay Dance Company and Tom Dale Company, with the overall number of core-funded dance organisations growing by seven.

Lack of support

Deb Ashby, Dance Manchester’s Director, said the organisation was “extremely disappointed” by ACE’s decision not to renew its National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status.

“In 2017 so far, we have already taken dance to over 2,500 young people, reached wider audiences for dance through taking part in Manchester Day, and next week in the Great Science Share, reaching audiences of over 100,000 people and supported a range of emerging artists,” she said.

“In this context, we believe our work still has value to contribute.”

Greenwich Dance reacted similarly, saying it was “deeply saddened” that ACE “felt unable” to support its vision. “The plans we presented for 2018-2022 prioritised support for independent dance artists, and people with limited opportunity to experience the arts,” a spokesperson said.

Responding to support expressed on Twitter, the organisation added: “It’s clear from your response that there’s an appetite for Greenwich Dance’s work. We’ve heard you. We feel invigorated and ready to take action, continuing to support dance artists and our communities.”

MDI stressed it was surprised a major funder would withdraw support “in the light of the successes achieved over the past 25 years”.

Karen Gallagher, Artistic Director of MDI, added: “I am personally and professionally disappointed with this decision by ACE especially having led MDI for 25 years. As a local black female leader in this sector I worry about the lack of diverse voices contributing to dance nationally.

“MDI has an impressive record in producing dance work, reaching new audiences and developing real life-changing opportunities for young and old alike and I find this particular decision to be extremely detrimental to our work and ambition for Liverpool as a dance destination.

“It is important at this time to reflect where we are and consider our future.”

Diverse concerns

When using the ‘self-definition’ rule, which allows organisations to decide whether their key decision makers are diverse, ACE said it received 16 applications from Black or minority ethnic-led dance organisations, of which 13 were recommended to join the portfolio.

But other NPO applicants have expressed concerns about the funder’s attitude towards diversity in the sector. Deborah Baddoo, Artistic Director of production company State of Emergency Productions – which also lost NPO status in the new round – said: “We are disappointed at the short sightedness of the ACE decision, which smacks of the age-old ‘funding to fail scenario’ for diverse organisations.

“Last year was our best year yet, creating high-quality artistic output, delivering an international dance theatre production unanimously praised by audiences across the UK, significantly increasing our percentage of earned income, meeting all aspects of our business plan, fulfilling major goals in terms of diversity, and reaching a record number of followers with our digital marketing strategy.”

Baddoo, formerly an ACE Diversity Agent for Change, added: “It seems that there is no room for a multi-racial company in ACE’s new portfolio. The irony is that many Black choreographers and dance artists will lose a valuable platform, and ongoing support for their work, as a result.”

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