Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by TYA-UK Centre of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (arts 150)

Support for Professional Theatre for Children and Young People


Three of your questions relate particularly to professional Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA)

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

What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable;

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one;

To the question, What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale we would point to many existing examples of collaboration and networking within our sector. Further desirable developments are support for smaller independent companies from larger organisations and the establishment of touring circuits and marketing networks

In our view, only those few theatre companies with their own buildings, or with a special niche audience, may benefit from donations from business or philanthropists. Worldwide, there is no evidence that reliance on private donation produces a healthy, innovative service for all: on the contrary, artistic standards are highest and innovation is strongest where public support is high.

Summary of key points

· Government has a duty to ensure a regular entitlement for all children to see live theatre, alongside other arts and cultural experiences

· UK has professional theatre companies able to deliver such a service, provided the established infrastructure for delivery is not damaged by cuts

· Quality has steadily improved over the last fifty years with continuity of public funding

· International exchange and collaboration has spurred artistic development

· Current funding structures favour individual artists, events or productions rather than the continuing service children need to develop lifelong enjoyment of the arts

Theatre for Children and Young People

1.1. Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to participate in cultural life.

1.2. To give effect to this, Governments should ensure that experiences of the arts are available to all.

1.3. For both social and financial reasons, children need special help in accessing arts experiences.

1.4. More than 200 professional theatre companies are today dedicated to the production of theatre for young audiences in the UK. Over the last 50 years, such companies have achieved widespread acceptance among local authority promoters, arts funders, parents and teachers.

1.5. There are valuable and significant benefits to the nation of a population aware of and open to the imaginative stimulus of the arts.

1.6. Theatre is the art form of social interaction. It therefore carries powerful messages about the way we value our society, our neighbours and those close to us.

1.7. Theatre and Drama are highly popular. The shared experience of live theatre adds an invaluable social dimension and has a natural accessibility, but children need to be encouraged to experience the full range of possibilities live theatre can offer.

1.8. The UK’s theatrical heritage is a great cultural achievement and perhaps our most significant contribution to world culture.

The facts

2.1. There are 10 million people of school age. A reasonable estimate of the current annual audience for professional theatre for young audiences in the UK is between 4 and 5 million.

2.2. Over 200 professional companies have been identified as dedicated solely to the production of live theatre for young audiences, which they tour to schools and venues. Some 50 of these currently receive public funding. Many more companies provide occasional performances for children.

2.3. Most experiences of live performance for children are in schools, or at a theatre venue to which children are taken in school time.

2.4. While it has become possible in recent years to gather more information from the internet about activity in this sector of the performing arts, accurate facts are not easy to assemble. No public body keeps records on what theatre children see or how good it is.

Improving Quality

3.1. Arts Councils aim to make funding decisions on criteria related to artistic quality. However, they are naturally influenced by the attitudes and policy of the Government of the day.

3.2. In the UK, unlike elsewhere in Europe, instrumental criteria are often applied to the arts for children and young people by Government, teachers and even arts funders. Dedicated theatre for children is sometimes justified solely on the grounds that it supports other learning.

3.3. Not only have all children the right to participate in cultural life, and to be exposed to experiences of the highest artistic quality, but we suggest that arts and culture in themselves are an essential part of a full life, informing positively all other aspects of human experience.

3.4. While artistic judgements are always subjective, experienced observers agree that the artistic quality of professional Theatre for Young Audiences in the UK has steadily improved over the last fifty years. This has largely been because of increased exposure to the excellent practice evident in certain other European countries and conscious efforts by the members of our association and others to share experience and develop skills.

3.5. We have an established and experienced cohort of artists and producers able to use limited resources with imagination and flair.

3.6. The principal drawbacks to the present system supporting the delivery of high quality theatre to young audiences are:

3.5.1. A framework of public funding which is based on patronage of a few major organisations rather than support for the whole ecology.

3.5.2. Poor liaison between DCMS and DFE

3.5.3. A level of funding too low to enable richer creative ensembles to be maintained and developed

3.5.4. Low expectations from public, venue presenters and schools

3.5.5. Higher priority given to instrumental uses and financial returns than to artistic excellence


4.1. Government should accept responsibility for ensuring that all children and young people are able to participate fully in cultural life.

4.2. An appropriate agency, based on best practice here and abroad, should be charged with delivery of a programme of entitlement for all children and young people to see theatre of the highest possible artistic quality.

4.3. Public funding should be at a level appropriate to the needs of young people and in relation to their number within the population. In practice this would imply an allocation rising from the current 6% of current spending on theatre to an amount nearer 20%.** Given their lack of independent financial resources, children deserve a higher proportion of public subsidy than adults.

4.4. Cuts to local authority venues and arts services which support the presentation of theatre to young audiences should be avoided where possible or alternative channels of distribution actively established.

*TYA – UK Centre of ASSITEJ is a membership organisation devoted to raising public awareness of the value of theatre to children and young people. It is a registered Charity. With our colleagues in 80 other countries around the world we share knowledge and exchange experience about our field of theatre.

** In 2010 values, an appropriate funding package to support a flow of quality productions by 100 companies, reaching 10 million children a year, would be £20 million. (Current ACE spending is £6.5m) This represents a sustainable 50% of costs.

September 2010