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Arts Council England to Cut Staff in Spending Overhaul

Arts Council England, which funnels state subsidies to performing-arts groups and some museums, said it will cut most recipients’ grants 15 percent by 2015, shrink its own staff, and phase out aid to the Arts & Business nonprofit company to meet government belt-tightening requirements.

The council’s regular recipients -- which include the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, Sadler’s Wells Theatre and the Serpentine Gallery -- will get grants trimmed 6.9 percent in 2011-12. They must reapply for funding after that to get a share of the smaller pie, a statement said.

The Arts Council said its own operating costs, of which staff account for 56 percent, will be halved to 12 million pounds ($19 million) in real terms by 2015. Arts & Business will get its grant halved in 2011-12, then cut off completely.

“It will be quite a different Arts Council: fewer people doing things in a different way,” Arts Council England Chief Executive Alan Davey said in a telephone interview. “We’ll be doing things more in partnership with others, contracting.”

“Most of our money is spent on staff,” said Davey, 49. “Staff will be affected, but it’s too early to say how many.” The council is already reducing head count by a fifth this year to 491. Most staffers, according to Davey, are “relationship managers” who work with arts organizations in the field and troubleshoot for them.

Osborne Announcement

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a package of national spending cuts on Oct. 20, including a lowering of the Department for Culture budget to 1.1 billion pounds by 2015. Grants to national museums will drop 15 percent, and those to Arts Council England, 29 percent. The government demanded that the Arts Council halve its administrative costs and avoid cutting regularly-funded recipients’ grants by more than 15 percent.

In the U.K., the government allocates cash to the Arts Council, and leaves it up to the council to share out the money among cultural groups.

Arts & Business -- the 34-year-old nonprofit group that helps cultural organizations get funding from companies, trusts and foundations, and wealthy individuals -- will see its 3.8 million pound grant halved to 1.9 million pounds in 2011-12, then axed.

A&B had staff costs of 3 million pounds and overhead costs of 900,000 pounds, Davey said. “We’re giving them 4 million pounds, mostly from the public sector: We think we can probably use that money more effectively,” he said.

Arts Expertise

“That’s not to say we won’t be doing business with A&B in the future,” he said. “They do have expertise which I truly acknowledge.”

Davey, who is working on a philanthropy review for Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said the Arts Council itself should do more to drum up private giving, “instead of hiving it all off to a big organization and saying it’s not our business.”

Arts & Business -- which gets 55 percent of its funds from the Arts Council -- said it was surprised by the news.

“It’s not what you would normally do if you want to encourage the private sector to do more,” Colin Tweedy, chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview. “If we vanish, nobody will be there to encourage the business community and philanthropists, other than the arts community itself.”

Tweedy, 57, said next year’s 50 percent cut would mean “a savage reduction in activities and staffing structure,” though details were to be worked out by the board. After that, “we have to decide whether the organization has any viability.”

School Partnerships

In a separate measure, the Arts Council halved its grant to Creativity, Culture and Education -- which runs “creative partnerships” between artists and schools, and was “demerged” from the Arts Council itself in 2008 -- to 19.1 million pounds in 2011-12 from 38.1 million pounds in 2010-11.

The Arts Council news came as Sadler’s Wells, which gets 2.46 million pounds this year in subsidy from the council, held its annual news conference.

Next year’s 6.9 percent cut will mean no more off-site projects and postponement of work on the theater’s foyer, Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells chief executive and artistic director, said.

While his own institution was not threatened, he said, “the next two years are going to be very difficult for some organizations.”

“Some will technically disappear,” Spalding said, “not only because they can’t survive, but because the Arts Council will have to decide who they do and don’t fund.”

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