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What the ENO Crisis Means for the Arts Sector

Charlie Griffiths is an alumnus of Spektrix.

Events at the ENO raise some interesting and important questions the arts. Image credit.

In the continuing drama that is the ENO’s funding crisis, ACE recently announced it is dropping the ENO from the Arts Council’s National Portfolio for 2015 - 18 and instead entering into a “special funding arrangement” which is conditional on the ENO meeting milestones set by ACE.

Lots of speculation has been made about the internal politics that have lead to this point, including two high level exits from senior staff after disagreements with the Artistic Director. But actually, the ENO events highlight a very difficult problem which all arts organisations have to deal with in one way or another: how to balance the art against all the other things you have to think about when you’re running a building, like being financially sustainable and growing audiences.

What the ENO events show is that no other sector has to deal with this in such an acute way. Where else would you hear about a business where the realisation of an extraordinary product eclipsed everything else? To put it into context, it would be a bit like if we at Spektrix developed some incredibly intricate but ultimately useless functionality just for the sheer hell of it without any thought to whether it’s something our business model can support or that our customers need. It’s just not a very likely scenario in any other industry.

The difficulty in the arts sector, is that “arts for arts sake” should absolutely be protected but things get murkier when you’re running a huge, complex organisation in a difficult economic climate. Many will point out that there are organisations who have succeeded at being artistically led and commercially driven, so it is possible. At the same time, even if you have experienced people at top of the organisation with all the right skills to run a complex organisation, being able to negotiate a balance between artistic product and commercial viability is still no easy task.

The fact is it raises some interesting and important questions for many other arts organisations who face similar challenges and as a result, it would be naive to view the ENO as an anomaly gone wrong.