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Arts Council England Announces Cuts in Cultural Funding

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

March 30 (Bloomberg) -- Arts Council England, the organization that funnels U.K. government aid to the performing arts and to some galleries, announced each institution’s envelope for 2012-15, with London’s Almeida Theatre getting a third less, and the Serpentine Gallery, 31 percent more.

With 118 million pounds ($189 million) less cash to hand out, the Arts Council cut grants to the Royal Opera House, the Southbank Centre and the National Theatre by 6.6 percent. The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) saw a 36.8 percent decrease, and the Whitechapel Gallery, a 25.3 percent increase.

“We’ve decided to fund fewer organizations, realistically, and with a wider reach,” Arts Council Chairwoman Liz Forgan said at a press briefing. “From the outset, we said we would not be doing salami slicing,” she said, referring to the practice of handing equivalent amounts to all.

A total of 638 funding applications got turned down, leaving 695 organizations getting Arts Council money from 2012 onward. They include 110 newcomers.

Organizations that had funding wiped out included Riverside Trust Ltd., a west London arts center, which previously got 511,000 pounds; and Visiting Arts -- a liaison between U.K. and international arts groups -- which received 376,000 pounds. Both are in London.

Funding Pain

“Of course there’s pain, and there are some people we simply couldn’t fund,” Chief Executive Alan Davey said.

Explaining the Almeida Theatre’s 33 percent cut, Davey said it left the venue with a grant of 700,000 pounds by 2014-15. “They’re still getting an awful lot of money,” he said. “We believe quality can be upheld in that theater.”

The Almeida took the news in stride.

“There will be no cuts to our innovative artistic policy or to our ambitions,” Artistic Director Michael Attenborough and Executive Director James Bierman said in an e-mailed release. “In the coming years, we will take our work to more people than ever before, and continue to be a leading national cultural institution.”

At the briefing, Davey attributed the Serpentine’s 31.2 percent increase to its expansion into a new gallery, and said “we get quite a lot of value” out of the Serpentine grant.

The Serpentine -- which is getting 883,734 pounds in the current financial year -- will see that amount raised to 1.25 million pounds in the year ended April 1, 2015. That’s after beating rival bidder Damien Hirst to a nearby Hyde Park space: a former munitions depot known as the Magazine.

Bittersweet Boost

The gallery’s director Julia Peyton-Jones and co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist said in an e-mailed release that they were “very grateful for the uplift” from the Arts Council, “although it is bittersweet news at a time of swingeing cuts to the sector.”

As part of a nationwide austerity package, the U.K. government in October cut the Department for Culture’s budget to 1.1 billion pounds by 2015. As a result, grants to national museums will drop 15 percent by 2015, and those to Arts Council England, 29 percent. The Arts Council was asked to halve administrative costs and avoid cutting regular recipients’ grants by more than 15 percent.

Days later, the Arts Council said it was halving operating costs to 12 million pounds ($19 million) in real terms by 2015, and phasing out grants to Arts & Business, a nonprofit group that promotes cultural philanthropy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Farah Nayeri in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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