Chris Marr is an alumnus of Spektrix.
The arts in England mutually held their breath today, as ACE announced the winners and losers in the race for 2015-18 funding. You’d have been hard-pushed to miss the announcements on Twitter, as NPOs, Grants for the Arts and other pots of cash were shared out. The Guardian have a good run-down of the announcements here.
Success for some comes inevitably with frustration for others, not least Paul Miller who, in his first day as Artistic Director of The Orange Tree Theatre, learned that they had lost their status as an NPO.
Whilst there’ll be a flurry of insight and analysis into these announcements in the coming days, we’d like to throw our voices into the mix. Spektrix sits in two worlds - arts and technology - with most of us having worked with theatres and other arts organisations. We’re interested in how arts organisations make their money and our work is about helping them to become better at this. We’re in a bit of a unique position here, so I’ve asked around the Spektrix office to see what the feeling is about these announcements.
Michael Nabarro, Managing Director
“Today’s announcement from Arts Council England regarding investment plans for the next three years held few surprises. The arts funding landscape in the UK remains depleted and challenging. ACE’s priorities and regional balance will be hotly debated but one thing is inescapable. Alongside the battle for strong state support, we need a parallel strategy to re-think how we generate and sustain revenues.
A consensus is building around the idea that philanthropy is the great untapped opportunity in British arts fundraising. With traditional funding sources drying up, identifying and communicating with high net worth individuals in the audience will be essential to future success.
The low-level, benefit-based membership schemes we’ve relied on in the past are no longer fit for purpose. Within them however could be supporters with the potential to ‘move up’ and become major donors. Too many arts organisations struggle to articulate a compelling case for philanthropic support, and need to develop skill sets that will enable them to identify and reach out effectively to wealthy individuals. Getting both those elements right has to happen, and soon.”
Paul McGuinness, Account Manager
“The most recent Arts Council England funding decisions will undoubtedly present some real challenges for many organisations. Some have already been working hard on ambitious plans in light of the changing landscape of funding for the arts. The 29% cut to funding for the ENO just one of the leading stories, but artistic director John Berry was quick to draw attention to their recently announced business plan, saying 'Our wider initiatives are designed to foster close commercial partnerships, produce more work more efficiently and attract new audiences – all deliverable at a lower cost to the public purse.'
Just one element of their exciting plans is to open up their central London home, the Coliseum, to visitors throughout the day. They are working in partnership with a major restaurateur and hospitality investor who will fund and develop a new cafe and redesigned restaurant and bar. I think it is a great example of maximising on the potential of venue spaces to create new revenue, enhance the experience for audiences and bring new visitors through the door. Having spent a number of years working at a venue which is always open to the public, I have seen first hand how people can feel a real connection with the arts simply by spending time in a vibrant and creative environment.”
Helen Gage, Team Manager - Support & Projects
“I’m glad to see that, proportionally, more much needed funding is now going to organisations outside London. I’m particularly delighted for Derby Theatre who've been given NPO status for the first time – they've done so much good work since their go live with Spektrix in April 2012."
Ben Park, Account Manager
“What strikes me most is the continued disproportionate spread of funding across the geography of England. 47% of the available cash has been granted to NPOs in London. This is such a contentious issue and the percentage is skewed by the concentration of ‘national’ organisations in the pot (eg. the Royal Opera House, National Theatre and a few others) and by the higher population density in the South East.
But that’s not the whole picture; the rest of England has just as many rich cultural seams as the South East. That’s despite the regions outside of London and the South East having been hit hardest by the recession both in terms of funding for public services and economic downturn in private industry. Economic recovery requires investment in society as a whole and that means investment in our public services, investment in UK PLC and investment in culture across the whole of the country. Concentrating distribution of cash in the areas where most people live or where industry is already producing the largest proportion of GDP seems shortsighted.
There is less public money available for cultural investment and that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, a fact that we all have to accept. In terms of best managing what is available, surely it would be better to focus our attention on reducing the cash flowing to larger organisations that are already in a better position to become self reliant (or at least, more self reliant), redirecting that to organisations that need help to become more self-sufficient?”
Libby Penn, Director of Business Development
“The continued funding cuts feel shortsighted. As we see the economy pick up, we should see a continued investment in the arts. But as our economy strengthens are we going to see an increased investment in the arts or simply a further tightening of belts? Only time will tell, but I for one can't imagine ACE increasing its NPO funding over the next few years. However, I do think there's some truth in the saying that austerity breeds creativity - institutions around the UK need to think more commercially and more creatively about how they can maximise revenue and streamline their operation at the same time.”