Stars Grill Arts Council England Over Funding Decisions

News   Stars Grill Arts Council England Over Funding Decisions
The row that began when the government-funded Arts Council England, the arts development agency, sent out pre-Christmas letters informing nearly 200 groups that their funding would be cut or eliminated, reached new heights yesterday.

During a meeting convened by the actor's union Equity at London's Young Vic Theatre, the council's chief executive, Peter Hewitt, was grilled by some of the UK's most famous stars as well as many less well-known performers.

Present were Ian McKellen, Jonathan Pryce and Kevin Spacey, who is soon to appear at the nearby Old Vic Theatre with Jeff Goldblum in a revival of Speed-the-Plow.

The under-fire Hewitt defended the decisions by pointing out that 75 percent of the 990 organizations that receive regular funding from the Arts Council will have an increase.

One of the issues raised by the cuts centers on whether there should be more theatre practitioners involved in the decision-making process over who gets what, and how much.

Actor-director Sam West summed up the feelings of many when he told Hewitt, "If you cut funding to our smaller theatres, you will eventually starve our lager theatres to death." One of the most high-profile cuts has been made to The Bush Theatre, whose Arts Council funding has been reduced by 40 percent. The Bush's artistic director, Josie Rourke, claimed that the decision was based on inaccurate audience figures, which failed to take into account transfers to larger venues.

The row has been fueled by a forthcoming report on excellence in the arts, which will be published Jan. 11 and is expected to call for a change in the way excellence is judged and a move away from government target setting.

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