The Arts Council of England (ACE) announced Jan. 16 the allocation of its £184.6m grant in aid for 1998/99 to directly funded arts organisations and the ten Regional Arts Boards. This represents a cut of £1.5m on the current year's total.
Large, nationally funded companies suffered the most in the austerity drive, in particular the South Bank Centre (which encompasses concert venue the Royal Festival Hall) whose £13.3m grant was cut by more than £112,000. The Royal Ballet's £6.56m was trimmed by £100,000; the Birmingham Royal Ballet's £5.47m by £54,720; the Royal Opera's £7.99m by £39,970. The National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and English National Opera have maintained their standstill funding. Although overall, cutbacks were not as severe as some expected, many performing arts companies will struggle to stay afloat without further funding assistance.
As a bright spot in the funding cutbacks, the usually un-subsidised Donmar Warehouse was awarded a one-off £150,000 grant which has saved it from possible closure. Late in 1997, the renowned London fringe venue was thrown into financial crisis when its corporate sponsor Mercury pulled out of its 5-year sponsorship package following a merger with MCI. Last week, American playwright Stephen Sondheim penned an empassioned appeal to save the Donmar in London's Evening Standard.
Sondheim bemoaned the lack of government subsidy for the theatre in the United States and pointed to the loss of variety as the inevitable result. He cautioned that we should not allow the same to happen in Britain. London's fringe and high quality venues such as the Donmar are crucial to preventing this, he said. "Of all the non-commercial theatres we have off-Broadway, not one surpasses the Donmar in terms of quality and variety," Sondheim wrote and went on to argue that, "London's fringe theatres need and justify government support. If they disappear, so will a significant part of Britain's high (for now) cultural reputation."
Despite the saviour of the Donmar, ACE chairman, Lord Gowrie, denounced the current state of arts funding as "the worst revenue crisis of my adult lifetime". Commenting on the cutbacks, he said: "I am disappointed that the Government could not see its way to holding our grant-in-aid at last year's level.... The arts have seen their revenue funding cut by £34m in real terms since 1993." Acting ACE Secretary General, Graham Devlin, hinted that those who escaped chops this time around may still not be safe: "Although we hope the forthcoming changes to the Lottery rules will allow more flexibility for the arts funding system, they will not solve all our problems - and, in any case, will not affect any of our organisations until 1999. Consequently, during the course, of the next year, the Council will be reviewing both the range of organisations that it supports and the way in which it funds them."