Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Opera and Music Theatre Forum (arts 97)


This submission focuses on the small - midscale opera and music theatre sector.

The Impact of cuts

The spending cuts will not only affect publicly funded companies but will have a significant indirect effect on unfunded companies. In the small – mid-scale sector there is little waste in terms of management , creative and techni c al aspects, so there is little to cut to meet the income shortfall except productions and performances . This will affect sales and provide less choice to audiences.

Small and midscale companies are particularly vulnerable and cuts must not lead to the retention of the flagship companies at the expense of the rest of the sector.

The Level and D istribution of Public Funding

Whatever the level of funding it is vital that it support s a healthy ecology which contains flourishing flagship and grassroots companies. The small and midscale sector provide s the highest overall proportion of available performances, yet receive s a tiny proportion of the available funding. This needs to be addressed .


A wide variety already exists and partnerships have their limitations but increased sharing of resources in terms of supply networks, information, data, training and developing talent could help to strengthen the whole sector.

National Lottery

T he increase in investment that redistribution will bring into the arts is welcomed although changes in the proportion of short to long-term funding could have drawbacks.

The Role of Business and Philanthropy

The government should increase incentives to tax payers whilst recogn i sing that an increase in philanth r opy cannot replace the loss of public funding , especially amongst the smaller, more experimental and regional companies.

Arms length bodies

Although there are n o current plans regarding the Arts Council of England we would like to note that in general where the r e are funds to distribute OMTF believe s in the principle of an arm’s length body which has an overview of the sector and is concerned with its growth and development .


1.1. The Opera and Music Theatre Forum is the representative body for professional opera and music theatre companies in the UK. Established to promote and support the work of the small and mid-scale opera and music theatre companies, members include touring companies with small ensembles, building based festivals, educational establishments and individuals working together to develop an environment in which opera and music theatre can flourish.

1.2. The opera and music theatre sector (OMT) covers a very diverse range of activity including hip-hop theatre, early opera, film and music installations, devised opera/music theatre, themed concerts or shows, and ‘operatic musicals, delivered by organizations from the smallest working with piano accompaniment to full-scale grand opera. Research for a recent survey1 indicated some 250 organisations producing or proposing to produce OMT including educational and training establishments, producing venues and festivals and vocal and orchestral groups.

1.3. There are six large, flagship companies and the remainder are middle and small scale. This latter element of the sector provides the highest overall proportion of opera and music theatre performances, accounting for some 54 % of professional performances across the British Isles and 55% of those in England. These companies are crucial to the availability of the broad range of repertoire being created. They also make a significant contribution to the development of talent and to the development and availability of new material, being the major supplier of contemporary opera and commissioning new orchestrations and translations of existing work.

1 .4 . Although we do have members amongst the biggest companies the majority of our members are small – mid-scale so we are responding with that segment in mind.


It has been widely indicated that both proposed and potential cuts would have a devastating effect on arts provision generally, limiting the publics’ access to the arts. It has been argued that given the return upon investment the proposed cuts are shortsighted and unnecessarily draconian. It is worth adding the perspective from the small – midscale opera and music theatre sector where the level of public investment is currently extremely low (see 3.3).

2.1 Where the cuts will come from

Opera and music theatre organisations have a wide variety of financial profiles with mixed income streams from ticket sales, other earned income, arts councils, local authorities, other public sector sources (such as health initiatives) trusts and foundations, commercial sources and private individuals. At the extremes the country house/conventional repertoire model whose audiences mainly fall into the higher tax payer bracket is likely to show a very high percentage of individual donors, commercial sponsorship and no public funding and a small experimental company which has managed to make its mark and with more mixed audiences is likely to have a higher proportion of public funding and a smaller proportion of commercial and private funding. In between is just about every kind of mix imaginable.

Organisations that receive regular public funding (a very small percentage of this sector) will face the obvious challenges of losing part, or all, of their grants towards core costs and/or projects; they are also likely to lose some of their commercial and private funding since the granting of public funding indicates a certain level of confidence in the product and the organisation and attracts funding from other sources. They will also face increased competition when they try to make up this funding from other sources. In order to be effective, businesses need to plan ahead: Those companies who currently receive a high proportion of public funding face a particular challenge in that that they are unable to do this with any certainty until their allocation is decided or they have found a completely new business model – an exercise that will take considerable time.

Many organisations in the sector are specifically or broadly educational. Some provide training and experience for singers and musicians and others help to develop life skills and experience that bring social benefits to the participants. These kinds of organizations depend heavily on funding from public sources or trusts and foundations and do not always have a means of increasing their earned income.

Small and midscale organizations, typically face greater challenges in earning income and in obtaining funding of any kind than larger-scale well-established organizations and the removal of any element of regular funding may lead to their collapse.

It will not be business as usual for those companies who do not receive regular public funding because the whole infrastructure will be affected. Competition for funding of all kinds will be greater and possibly from better-known brands. A significant number of small companies are indirectly funded since they receiving fees for performances (rather than the more usual box office split of the theatre world) from theatres, concert halls and festivals. Many of these promoters are currently in receipt of public funding, so cuts to them will have an immediate effect on the non-funded companies. Local authorities are a significant funder of companies both directly and indirectly. This source of income has been diminishing and will drop further. Companies who depend largely on commercial sources and to a slightly lesser extent, private individuals, are already feeling the pinch.

Companies already face a drop in ticket and other sales as a result of the economic situation and those that tour or undertake private/corporate bookings or educational work in schools and colleges report a drop in bookings which will increase as venues, festivals and concert halls lose public funding.

Many companies fear that the cost of mounting and touring productions is likely to rise as suppliers of goods and services, often small businesses themselves, may be forced to increase costs or limit services.

Even companies who view themselves as completely commercial – i.e. they produce a relatively popular product and rely almost entirely on ticket sales or fees – will feel the effect of less cash in the infrastructure and less in the pockets of their buyers.

2.2 The effect of cuts

Small and midscale organizations are flexible, open to change and extremely cost effective. OMTF’s recent survey indicates that some 79% of expenditure goes into production and creative activity. Most have very few, if any, administrative staff to carry out the basic functions of drumming up business and paying the bills and function by bringing them in only during the parts of the year when there are performances and/or rely on a high degree of multidexterity among very small and dedicated teams. There are certainly very few salaried creative and technical staff; the vast majority are freelance. There is a high volume of volunteering in the sector: a recent survey indicates that 81% of respondents rely on them for some form of administration. Whilst volunteers may work with passion they cannot bring the degree of expertise that a good business requires in order to be successful. Where there are several administrative staff, jobs may go but on the whole there is little opportunity to cut staffing or administrative budgets to meet funding shortfalls and cuts could lead to companies being unable to manage themselves and their seasons/tours effectively.

The main costs within these companies is payments to artists frequently followed by design and make of costumes and sets. Payments to artists would be difficult to reduce since many small companies pay the minimum recommended rates. Reducing the amount of rehearsal and preparation time would lead to a reduction in the quality of the product. Reduction in design costs would make the product less attractive to audiences in an era when high production values are increasingly the norm.

Opera and music theatre are often viewed as expensive artforms but in the small and midscale sector it is unusual to find choruses or large orchestras – unless the organisations run community opera or undertake educational projects. Most companies commission special orchestrations for small musical forces or commission work that relies on small numbers on stage and in the pit. Apart from making the product more affordable this also makes the work more flexible in touring terms and more accessible to a wider range of audiences.

The effect of cuts overall is likely to be that both producing companies and their hosts will become more risk averse resulting in more predictable programmes and less tour bookings. There will be fewer productions and fewer performances. Audiences will have less choice and where organizations have a social or educational purpose members of the public will cease to benefit from the services provided. Organisations that become less visible are unlikely to be able to build useful relationships with their potential hosts, their potential funders or their potential audiences. The regions will be particularly affected.

The combination of the current economic situation and specific arts cuts could have a devastating effect on many organizations, particularly the smaller ones, not only reducing the volume of opportunities for the public to see the work but reducing the work experience available to those who will be its future.


Whatever the level of public funding that is available in the short or long-term future, it must support a healthy sector from the flagship companies undertaking world-class projects that are admired and attract audiences from all over the world to the grass roots where experiments are undertaken, the diversity of society is reflected, boundaries broken, the artform is developed, audiences grown and practitioners learn their craft.

Like all arts sectors, the elements are interdependent. National companies represent the highest standards and production values and offer the highest financial rewards to successful practitioners but they draw creative resources from people who have learned their craft composing, directing, designing and performing in small companies at the minimum wage. The availability of a wide variety of ‘product’ delivered by a diversity of organizations and types of organisations not only provides a choice of services and activities to audiences of all kinds but stimulates healthy intellectual competition and new creative and entrepreneurial ideas across the sector.

Opera is one of the more expensive artforms, but the general perception of it as being costly and elitist is often based on a misinformed view of the work of companies with the highest profiles and the highest public subsidy rather than the sector as a whole. Most small - midscale companies commission, developing and adapting opera and music theatre works for small forces (both in the pit and on stage) in order to present it to diverse audiences and to perform it in smaller auditoria or in unconventional spaces.

These companies perform a significant function in developing and growing audiences, both existing and new, their repertoire is often tailored and relevant to specific communities at ticket prices that are no more costly than the local theatre or cinema.

Public funding should ensure that existing and potential audiences have the opportunity to experience artforms in all their variety both now and in the future; it should ensure that everyone has the opportunity to try different things and to engage in new experiences; and to benefit from participating in the life-changing experiences that much performing art, both on the main stage and in its outreach and educational projects, can provide.


Unfortunately the policy behind the current distribution of funding within the opera and music theatre sector has not for some time reflected the needs.

As in any part of the arts world it is the small and mid-scale companies that have particular problems in generating income and need investment from the public purse. Companies in this sector are often undertaking radical, challenging and experimental work; are little-known; under-resourced; and/or based in areas where local public and private funding and philanthropy are rare.

In this sector the major proportion of regular public funding goes to five large-scale companies operating regularly in England together with one midscale company (98.9% of the Arts Council England’s grant-in-aid funding for opera and music theatre). The rest of the sector receives the remaining 1.1% as well as some Lottery project grants. Only five companies within the small – midscale sector (including two training organizations) have RFO status. None of them are small scale. By comparison there are 36 regularly funded producing and/or touring companies within the dance sector including four large scale companies.

The existing situation does little either to reflect the work being undertaken or nurture the creative resources of future. Moreover there is a huge danger in the coming cuts that the available funds will go to ensure that the flagship institutions survive at the expense of the small and mid-scale organizations.


Small – midscale companies have few resources so it is difficult to imagine how reducing duplication of effort making economies of scale might work. Sharing of physical resources has been considered in the past and is rarely practical owing to working patterns and the geographical spread of companies. Some back office services are already provided by external specialist support services or umbrella bodies.

The OMT sector has already made significant steps in creating relationships between different kinds of organisations in which knowledge and intellectual resources are shared. Some large scale companies have begun to create strategic links with smaller ones in order to broaden repertoire and reach, undertake more new work and operate at a different scale. When successful, such initiatives can offer benefits to both partners. The large companies add value to their brands through association with more ‘edgy’ partners and by presenting themselves in new environments; the smaller companies access greater resources and support.

From this wealth of experience, there is broad agreement that, however partnerships are structured, they are challenging and a good deal of additional effort has to be invested in planning and management to ensure equal benefits and the preservation of companies’ brands and individuality.

It may be that there is room for development in such arrangements, not only in the form of co-productions of varying kinds but in the larger companies nurturing smaller organizations, although this should not be so as to secure funding for the large organizations at the expense of directly funding the smaller ones.

The sector could be strengthened by improving and developing existing networks and connections between different elements such as supply networks; communication and the sharing of information and audience data; the development of products and audiences and the development and extension of talent and skills.

Unfortunately to achieve these things, organizations need time to look beyond their own organizations and the challenge of putting on the next show. Companies are under-resourced and overworked. At the present time the sector does not have the resources to do very much more than achieve the immediate rather than consider and collaborate on strategic objectives.


The increase in the volume of investment in the Arts by this means is obviously extremely welcome.

Given that Lottery funds are currently channeled into Grants for the Arts the increase in the volume of money available in this stream combined with a reduction in the amount of money available via Grant in Aid for regular funding could mean a change in the proportion of short-term funding in relation to long term funding. This might open up the possibilities for a wider range of companies to be funded but if the project funds are only related to single projects could also have a destabilizing effect on the sector. Lottery funds related to longer-term developments would improve the situation.


Business and philanthropic giving are already part of the income streams of many small and mid-scale companies. For some companies it plays a significant role in the make up of their income but overall, but as has been fully described elsewhere, these sources of giving cannot make up for loss of public funding. Business giving has been falling recently and businesses cannot commit to a long-term role in charitable giving any more than they can reasonably commit to long-term dividend value policy. Moreover this sort of patronage frequently comes with a price tag which may affect the way a company operates or the kind of work it does. The UK does not have a culture of philanthropic giving such as exists in the USA and it would arguably take time to develop, even if the tax benefits were practical and available. Business and private giving is inherently unstable and dependent upon strong economies and in the short term at least there will be greater competition for every sort of commercial and private giving.

As indicated above, the small and mid-scale organizations, especially those in the regions, new companies and those undertaking the more experimental work are most likely to have difficulty attracting these sorts of funds and any government incentives to encourage individual (and business) is to be welcomed.


The proposed changes announced do not currently affect the Arts Council, but it is worth saying that whilst there are sums of public money to be distributed there is a need for a body to undertake this informed by a strategic overview of the sector. The Arts Council has received a good deal of criticism in the last few years but it has undergone several major reorganizations and there is little chance of a consistent overview and the formulation and execution of effective long-term policies if there is the constant need to plan for the next restructuring and downsizing.

August 2010

[1] The Small a nd Middle Scale Opera a nd Music Theatre Sector i n England , July 2010, Graham Devlin Associates commissioned by OMTF. N ot yet published .