Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Ivan Cutting (arts 90)

1. This is a personal statement based on nearly 30 years running a touring theatre company that takes theatre to village halls, arts centres, and theatres from Wick to Woodbridge, as well as churches, schools, aircraft hangars, and, once, the largest potting shed in Europe. We are funded to about £230k annually by the Arts Council, out of a turnover of £600k.

2. There is no doubt that the forthcoming cuts in funding will have a dramatic effect. We are already talking about losing an actor from every production, reducing the opportunities for guest directors (thereby impacting on young directors), making a staff member redundant, and reducing budgets across the board. This is in order to maintain the majority of our work. If we cut more staff it then reduces our ability to produce our Christmas show which pulls in a surplus of £40k and reduces even further our ability to operate. Will salami slicing work? Yes, in the short term, but not in the long term since our staff will be overworked, our reputation will be damaged, and the company’s ability to be creative will be compromised. The point is that arts organisations have to be moving forward, they do not sell baked beans in a tin whereby cost and distribution are the only factors. Each month the product changes and we have to be sure the customers we are selling to represent a good cross section of society. In that sense we are a public service even though we pride ourselves on being business-like, operate under charity law, and yet may be producing the next Oscar winner..

3. Most Artistic Directors run businesses that are very cost conscious, largely because we want to make sure that the largest proportion of our resources goes on stage and produces the maximum effect. No Artistic Director goes into this business to waste money on administration or needless expense on fripperies. Some people have suggested that there is wasteful marketing, chasing the same audiences, but again every AD wants to play to as many people as possible. Directors may come up with excuses for small audiences ("it’s a niche audience") but we know they would rather have people desperate to get in. That’s not to say there isn’t waste, but we learn to how to minimise it and to learn from our experience.

4. Having spent 30 years running Eastern angles, a small scale touring company in the east of England, I can also say that the effects will inevitably be more deeply felt in the regions where people often rely on one organisation rather than the plentiful supply of organisations in the capital. I can also say that it will also affect touring companies more than buildings since it is all too easy for the one-night-standing company touring to rural areas to be forgotten about. Yet it is precisely this kind of organisation, often with a large rural constituency, that delivers the arts pound back to the taxpayer and reaches the areas other organisations fail to reach.

5. In our area of work there is no duplication of effort or possibility of economy of scale. It takes our General Manager about 30 minutes to pay the wages online and computer programmes mean that finance is a relatively simple operation nowadays. Our HR advice comes free from the local authority. Our most annoying expenses are insurance and the annual audit and we are joining with four other large regional theatres to see if there is a saving on this with collective bargaining. There are no other magic back office savings. It is tempting to assume that Government assumes such savings because it knows its own record is not good and assumes everyone else is as bad. Our money goes on commissioning writers, creating new work, touring it to nearly 100 different venues annually, finding new audiences and feeding back a view of our region that gives it a confidence and pride that television and film signally fail to do.

6. It’s your job to decide what level is necessary and sustainable, but i would suggest that any level that reduces the level of work distributed, diminishes standards, puts the price beyond that of the average family, or puts our national heritage in the hands of Hollywood or Australian newspaper magnates, is clearly insufficient and unsustainable.

7. Despite being badly treated by this funding system two years ago, resulting in nearly a dozen Members of Parliament writing in our defence, I do believe the current system is a good one and balances regional responsibilities with a striving for excellence and puts the quality of the art rightly at the top of the priorities. The responsibility for access for all and different delivery mechanisms is also rightfully in the hands of a separate body at arms-length from central government. It has its failures and weaknesses but fundamentally it works and has helped the artists to deliver a golden age of productivity since WW2 that is recognised globally and British theatre in the last decade, unlike its football and other sports, has performed miracles both home and abroad.

8. It will certainly assist Arts organisations to be more productive if the National Lottery distribution is returned to its original good causes. I would also like a scheme to subscribe to the lottery where any prize money is distributed to the Arts. I spend Lottery money through our theatre company but personally never buy a ticket (the prospect of instant millionaire-dom is too horrific) but would happily subscribe a monthly sum to salve my guilt feelings.

9. Policy decisions for National distribution l should certainly be strengthened to ensure that less money is directed towards new buildings or expensive restorations of buildings that merely preserve an old order of passive theatre watching. The new ethos of theatre is to find new spaces for imaginative productions.

10. Businesses can and should play a role in supporting the Arts. However, this is not funding the Arts and should be seen as a completely different role, largely because Business has different aims and objectives which should be recognised as such (and hence usually VATable). This generalised use of the word funding is not helpful in these circumstances and leads to woolly thinking. Some large businesses and philanthropists may be able fund large areas of work (which should be VAT free), but what the arts industry needs is easier ways to get the small business involved in a meaningful way with proper rewards., Too often this is only seen in the context of money and advertising, whereas working with business should also be looked at as a source of new audiences, participation and engagement, lifelong learning and being more creative in our daily lives (which should also be VAT free). The VAT issue here is perhaps the boundary maker and closer examination might offer up some better ways of separating funding from advertising.

11. In our own work in developing new theatre projects across a wide range of communities in Peterborough, we are desperate to involve local business since the workplace is often one of the few places where people relate to each other outside of their community and across any racial divides. A community play in 2013 is our target, but there are few means to sign up business involvement between the high end of commercial sponsorship and the low end of charitable donation. We need to find business people who believe in community engagement and help them lever the investment from their Executives and Boards.

12. Private donation is a vast unexplored resource that should be opened up, but with several caveats: it can never nor should replace state funding of the arts – the width and depth of our arts infrastructure is too important to be imperilled by an Americanised system where the distortion is all too apparent. There must be protection against mis-selling so that a few misguided attempts don’t destroy the whole edifice.

13. This is an opportunity to set the arts on a course towards greater accountability and greater freedom which could pay massive dividends in the years to come, but only if the incredible resourcefulness of the Arts and those who work to deliver them is recognised and acknowledged. The theatre industry took a massive step forward with the increased investment in 2002 (or thereabouts). The forthcoming cuts are in danger of wiping out those developments and driving back the forces for change which introduced new spaces, development of new young artists and a celebration of diversity that had not been seen before.

September 2010