Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by English Touring Opera (ETO) (arts 55)

This submission comes from James Conway, General Director of English Touring Opera (ETO). The submission is specific: running an arts organisation with a turnover of £2.7m and a very large number of productions and performances up and down the country is like running any small non-building based business – all consuming. Like most people in my position, time for advocacy is recreational: and I urge caution when reading fine submissions, as you must consider how people have the time to make them, if they are effective and efficient producers/ presenters/ artists.

I apologise for the direct language. I don’t get to read enough reports.


The impact that the recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts at a national and local level

A1. Funding goes up and down. In the past 15 years there has been considerable consolidation – and expansion – in the theatre sector, expensive rescue packages for the orchestra sector and 3 opera companies, and predictable increases in subsidy to the largest national institutions. Some of the effects have been wonderful. Recently, some very imaginative and responsive work from the ACE has enabled many large and small arts organisations to survive since the economic downturn – organisations that had come to depend on earned income from Trusts and Foundations and from wealthy donors, traditionally unreliable in times of low interest and high uncertainty.

A2. Recent cuts in ACE funding, passing on some of the cuts from the DCMS, have been "un-nuanced", as ACE would say. That means a percentage cut across the board – not unreasonable in the timescale, but unhelpful all the same. Percentage cuts across the board have worse effects on efficient arts organisations than they do on relatively less efficient arts organisations. I think that addresses what is called the "tipping point" theory: cuts of 30% will make the most efficient arts organisations unviable, and the least efficient even more top-heavy. I estimate (broadly) that it means 45-50% less will go to practising (and expensively trained) artists.

A3. I run what I would call a ‘bare-knuckles’ organisation, with no fat whatsoever to trim in the efficient (and inspiring, but that’s a different question!) production and touring of opera in England. By its nature, opera makes intensive demands in terms of paid personnel: singers, orchestra, crew and a small marketing/fundraising team are all required. You cannot just decide to do it with 10%, or 30%, fewer artists. The challenge is to find the level at which the rehearsal and production costs are most effectively spread over a tour which gives optimal access for audiences right around the country – and this is what we have achieved, whilst receiving the lowest subsidy per performance of any opera company in the UK (ie 20% of the average opera company subsidy per performance).

In truth, greater efficiency is possible – by small expansion! With 15% more ACE funding, we could tour to 5 more cities in England over 5 weeks, "providing the service" (as one now speaks of making art) for a fraction of the cost of any other "provider".

A4. Touring organisations will suffer disproportionately from simultaneous cuts at national and local level. After support from ACE, the largest percentage of income is earned at the box office, shared with partner theatres. As these partners are adversely affected by local authority cuts, touring companies will find – inevitably - that these partners pass on some of their local cuts to the companies they host – whether through reduced income shares and/or increased costs.


How arts organisations can work collaboratively in order to reduce duplication of effort and ensure greater value for money.

B1. Great idea – if it wasn’t for the fact that arts organisations have always been thinking about this, if their leaders have a sense of responsibility for the public funding they receive. When I took over English Touring Opera 8 years ago, it was ailing: £250k deficit, poor critical reputation, minimum wage, no prospects – an out of date business model. Part of trading our way out of this deficit (rather than relying on an ACE rescue package) was to create a new business model, and consider mergers, collaborations, and contracting out. Since then we have had 8 significant co-productions, but no merger. In order to share a (leased) photocopier, or (free, an in kind-donation from a big law firm) computers, or an already bargain-basement office, it would be inefficient for English Touring Opera to move in with English Touring Theatre, surprisingly (but the figures are done), or with English National Opera, which has no interest in or understanding of touring. Either move (or, for example, a merger with a commercial company like Grange Park Opera) would cost us more to do what we do already. I imagine plenty of other people have costed the same exercises, and re-imagined themselves every few years (certainly enough arts organisations have had significant interventions from consultants, experts in the business who might otherwise be doing useful jobs): it’s best to assume that it’s not a new idea to think of sharing.

B2. What I do feel about this issue is that some very impressive quangos do not share their data effectively, or give their advice very usefully. I believe that they are estimable organisations, but I have not found them useful in touring policy or practice, or in terms of fundraising expert advice. Nor has an organisation for which I have worked been asked to share data or expertise acquired with the support of the tax payer.


The level of public funding that is both necessary and sustainable.

C1. Public funding for the arts makes jobs and makes money. Art makes life more bearable – rich, even. This has been well demonstrated by advocates more eloquent than I, and ACE has a pile of documentation relating to this. It is a mistake to regard public funding as a sort of donation. The Arts contribute greatly to the overall economy and are a source of prestige for the nation. Actual government support, though an easy, highly visible, target, is a tiny part of the overall budget for the country yet the Arts budget yields such visible and valuable rewards for its employees, participants and audiences, as well as for the economy as a whole.


Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is appropriate

D1. We need the ACE. It may be no harm in the short term that it is leaner, and that it concentrates on the prudent, imaginative - even visionary – investment of funds from government. It would be a mistake for DCMS to take on more direct funding, and a burden imperilling their important role. ACE advocacy has been valuable, and its research over the last decade is a terrific resource; in leaner times, it may be regarded as luxurious.


How business and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level

E1. Business and philanthropists do already play a significant role in funding the arts. In each case the support describes a partnership, an exchange.

Business wants (in general) opportunities for branding, corporate entertainment, and corporate PR, and there is a measure for each of these. It is welcome, important, and especially well suited to certain manifestations of performing and heritage art.

Philanthropy is more various; usually it is a trade-off for an exclusive experience that will be witnessed by others: a well documented gift, signalling taste, prestige, and ‘love of man’ (philanthropy). Some organisations (in the performing arts, examples that spring to all minds are Glyndebourne, ROH, LSO) have excellent opportunities for prestigious, exclusive experiences, and they already have enviable expertise at harvesting appropriate corporate and philanthropic funds. Genuine philanthropists are rare: they may just relish supporting the theatre in their county town, the opera that comes to it, or the work that this company does in the local special school or day centre for people suffering from dementia. Our pitches may persuade them to develop a nascent interest in people in their community who are shy of the local theatre (let alone Glyndebourne) for reasons of age, disability, or social status. In truth, this work has been generously supported by trust funds, and it is likely to be so supported in the future, despite low interest rates. Other countries are very envious of the support given by UK trusts and foundations to the arts.

E2. Corporate sponsorship and private philanthropy is already significant, and it is likely to become more so if state support does not waver. Certainly we all get the message that we all need to invest more time – and money! – looking for it. It is important to realise, however:

- that serious players in the arts have no resistance to corporate or private investment, and years of experience raising it;

- that wealthy people in Britain are utterly dissimilar to wealthy people in America (I was raised there!)

- that philanthropy is not a substitute for subsidy in the UK context;

- and that that UK context is a thriving, creative, internationally celebrated cultural scene

E3. A strong point: trying to set a model percentage for public/ private/ earned income in arts organisations will never be helpful, or intelligent. Touring performing arts, for example, will never be able to achieve the percentages that may be achievable in prestige buildings. My former Development Manager and current friend is now Development Manager at Glyndebourne, so no softy. He has been able to describe the many ways in which people and companies line up to support and share the exclusive Glyndebourne brand, and I thrill to hear it. Supporting quality work at your local arts centre, at popular prices, in the company of normal, "big society" people – utterly inclusive work – will always have a much harder time, as successive Chairmen of ETO (significant, canny philanthropists, each of them) have pointed out.

September 2010