As far as the performing arts are concerned, there’s nothing really controversial about the cuts, or indeed the increases. What remains at issue is the value—in both political and “real” terms—of making the cuts at all. It’s almost too wearisome to point out that the arts make money for this country, or that television and the film industry leech off their creativity, or that life is not worth living without them.
I’m no economist, but the amounts of money are so small, so piffling, that the cuts Arts Council England have been compelled to make look merely vindictive. But these are brave decisions, and evidence that the Arts Council has studied the form and tuned into the zeitgeist, and avoided blundering into uninformed no-mans-land, which is what happened with the last round of cuts three years ago. So I guess it’s two and a half cheers for Dame Liz Forgan, the ACE chairman, and her chief executive, Alan Davey, for discharging a difficult task with tact and discretion.
That said, I’m slightly shocked by the mortal attacks on Dance Umbrella and the Almeida Theatre in Islington, and the obliteration of the lively touring company, Shared Experience, even if the latter’s function might have been superseded by Rupert Goold’s Headlong, which remains on the across-the-board funding “standstill” (factoring in inflation, a 2.3 per cent cut, which, over three years, is 11 per cent in real terms). Other invaluable enterprises receiving a similar cut are the Bush, Donmar Warehouse, Kneehigh, the Tricycle in Kilburn, the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the Warwick Arts Centre.
It would be difficult to argue with the total withdrawal of support from the Derby Playhouse, the Northcott Theatre in Exeter or indeed the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. And I’m frankly astonished by the doubling of support for the Arcola, newly ensconced in an atmospheric venue in Dalston but wobbling artistically, and the 141 per cent increase for the fashionably lauded Punchdrunk who don’t yet match their site-specific daring with intellectual muscle or performance intensity.
What’s always missing from these exercises by government and the Arts Council is any philosophical thought or inspiration. The point of subsidy in the first place should be to keep ticket prices low, even outside London. Subsidy is also best spent on innovative art, so that the public—which, as George Bernard Shaw said, never knows what it wants until you give it to them—is led along by inspirational artists in a joint civic enterprise. Here’s hoping that that civic enterprise will not be irreparably damaged by this week’s announcements.