In a speech held in London last night, the Arts Council chairman Gerry Robinson declared that the current "crisis" in theatre could be diverted by an injection of cash by the Government. Robinson called for an extra £100m of funding for the arts, £25m of which would be specifically dedicated to reinvigorating British theatre.
Under Labour, the Arts Council has already been granted an increase of £125m over three years. Before Labour came to power in May 1997, the Council had an annual budget of £190m while this year its budget is £229m, scheduled to rise next year to £244m. The Council's job is to distribute that money, as well as £210m of lottery money, to arts companies and building projects.
However, according to Robinson, this pool of finance amounted to a small and insufficient sum for the task at hand. "Two years ago it [the Government] put down a deposit on the arts," he said. "That deposit has been of considerable value, but it was never the complete answer. And there is no point putting a deposit down if the balance is not then found."
Robinson went on to say: "The conclusion, having looked in a very hard nosed way at this sector over two years, is that the arts are fundamentally under-resourced." He highlighted the situation in theatre as particularly dire with the cash-strapped nature of the business "leading to ridiculously small casts, insanely short rehearsal periods and the inevitable disappearance of risk and innovation."
For their part, Robinson also charged theatre directors with losing a generation of young people who are now turned off by theatre and must be won back. Additional funding would be geared towards creating 200 new productions and 450 new touring weeks annually. Despite the current precarious state of British theatre, a recent Mori survey found that 78% percent of people still believe the arts are valuable, 73% think they should be publicly funded and a full 95% would like schoolchildren to have more direct experience of the arts.