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Arts Council plans ‘healthy competition’ for grants in major financial shake-up

Arts Council plans ‘healthy competition’ for grants in major financial shake-up

🕔18.Feb 2016

Arts Council England (ACE) is considering major changes to the way it distributes grants, merging funding pots for museums and arts organisations and introducing a competitive bidding process for the first time.

ACE says the change will “stimulate healthy competition for funding”, but the new system will come into force in 2018 at a time when local councils are continuing to reduce the amount of money they hand to the arts as a result of cuts in government grant.

Birmingham city council cabinet approved the first stage of a £3.5 million funding cut for arts organisations last December, reducing the budget for the likes of the CBSO, Symphony Hall, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Town Hall, by 1.827 million in 2016-17.

A further £1.673 million cut is planned for 2017-18.

The Birmingham Arts Partnership (BAP), the group of leading cultural organisations based in and around the city centre, is working with the council to develop ways to diversify income, share costs and maximise commercial revenue. It will launch a new cultural development agency, backed by ACE, in the Spring.

ACE has expressed concern at being the major – and perhaps only – public funder of the arts, with reducing local authority investment. Arts organisations are being encouraged to look to the business community to increase support for culture, seen as vital for attracting investment, tourists and enhancing quality of life.

All eyes will be on Arts Council England to discover exactly how the organisation’s funding changes work out in practice, particularly at grass roots level.

Proposals out for consultation could lead to major theatres getting four-year funding deals, and a separate grants budget for individual artists.

The suggestions are among several proposed by the arts funding body in an attempt to address challenges it faces around “funding, reach and relevance”.

It is also suggested that organisations should have different responsibilities based on the level of funding they receive.

So-called National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) – world-famous arts organisations receiving grants of more than £1 million – would be required to “play an active leadership role” in the arts sector and report more data to ACE, while fewer expectations would be set for those who receive less than £250,000.

ACE is also proposing a separate fund for individual artists.

Museums – currently funded by ACE under the separate funding strand Major Partner Museums – would be integrated into ACE’s national portfolio for regularly funded organisations, along with the money currently designated solely for them.

This would help stimulate both “healthy competition” and increase collaboration across the arts and cultural sectors, according to ACE.

And for the first time, ACE is planning to open its funding streams to artistic or cultural games and “digital content about arts and culture”. This could include blogs and websites about theatre, educational content or documentaries.

The full proposals document can be found online.

People are invited to participate through a series of events and a website where they can submit their views.

ACE’s proposed banding streams for grant allocation, and the responsibilities attached to organisations receiving funding, are:

  • £40,000 to £250,000: This is likely to be the largest group. The expectations ACE would have of organisations in receipt of less than £250k would be less than is currently the case.
  • £250,000 to £1 million: This banding is likely to have similar expectations and responsibilities as currently expected by ACE.
  • More than £1 million: Organisations funded at this level would be expected to play an active leadership role within the art and culture sector. ACE would require more clarity from these organisations in terms of activities that they might undertake to demonstrate their leadership role.

By integrating funding pots for museums and arts organisations ACE says “greater collaboration” will be stimulated as bodies work together to obtain grant aid.

A consultation paper states:

We believe that we should consequently adopt an integrated approach to funding arts, museums and libraries. Integrating funding will stimulate greater collaboration between arts organisations, museums and libraries, and build on their existing links.

This will be a positive development for practitioners, audiences and communities: each sector will share its expertise with the others. We are already seeing the benefits of this at a local level, where museums, libraries and cultural organisations collaborate on creative projects.

We also think that integration will stimulate healthy competition for funding.

Of course we are mindful of our responsibility to balance the overall cultural ecology – in practice, our initial modelling shows that the likely impact of this change will be fairly limited.

We believe that this approach will help us achieve our strategic goals by identifying and funding work of the highest quality, representing the best public value, whether created in a museum, a theatre or a library.

ACE chief executive Darren Henley said:

The future we want to see for art and culture is set out in Great Art and Culture for Everyone, our 10-year strategy.

Since we launched it we’ve seen many successes, with exciting work and new audiences. We are also facing considerable challenges around funding, reach and relevance.

The proposals here address how we invest in the talent and ideas needed to address these challenges.  We must ensure public investment creates more opportunities for everyone to enjoy a rich cultural life. We look forward to working with the sector on these proposals.

In this complex and changing context, it is paramount that our funding processes and decisions are transparent and demonstrate best value. Whether the source is lottery or grant in aid, we are always investing the public’s money, and this privilege brings considerable responsibility.

We must ensure that our investment benefits communities right across England, with a particular focus on the least engaged.

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