ACE Funding: Is Classical Music and Opera “Upgrading” Stealing Peter to Pay Paul? | Opera and classical music functions
Former Conservative Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries wanted to ‘increase’ funding for the arts. As the Arts Council of England announces huge cuts to ENO and others, we look at the impact on classical music and opera in London and beyond
Earlier this year (there are two Prime Ministers!), Nadine Dorries, then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, proposed a strategy to “level out” spending on the arts:
“Over the past decades, a huge amount of money has flowed to London-based organisations, while other parts of the country have not received their fair share. That’s about to change with a £75m arts boost. Every penny of this money will go to organizations outside of London.
In recent days we have seen Arts Council of Englandto this in the publication of their budget allocations for the period 2023-2026, and voices have already been raised. Last February, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, sounded the alarm on behalf of the capital:
“The Government’s decision to drastically cut funding to London’s arts organizations will not only deal a devastating blow to our city’s creative sector, but will also hurt the UK’s recovery from this pandemic…London has some of the most deprived communities from the country. Reducing arts funding for these communities is the opposite of a race to the top.
Khan wasn’t wrong, and in terms of classical music and opera funding in London, the glitches certainly creaked. PLO, Philharmonie and OSL will each lose around £200,000 a year for the period 2023-2026; the royal opera saw its annual stipend reduced from around £25.2m to £22.3m, and the Southbank Center faces a reduction from its current £18.7m to £16.8m. The biggest news, however, is that English National Opera saw his current £12.6m annual grant scrapped completely, with a strong suggestion (and a sweetener of £17m to spend over three years) that he revise his business plan and leave London.
While, for those of us who live in the capital, this represents what seems like a handful of cruel and unnecessary cuts, there are those who will see them in the light of ‘about time’. While this is all clearly part of the current government’s strategy to ‘get up to speed’, and naturally for art lovers any reduction in budgets for their support is an affront, we could also consider how the Arts Council England replied to Dorries decree, because, to a generally liberal-leaning thinker, ACE’s revised allocations seem perhaps out of step with what one would expect from the current government (with its growing reputation for a xenophobic stance and a finger right in the “culture wars” cake) face; it’s almost as if ACE answered with a raspberry.
“…in terms of classical music and opera funding in London, the glitches have certainly creaked”
Of course, the upgrade strategy was played very obviously. Where London-based organizations have lost across the board (in pure theater terms, Donmar and the Hampstead Theater have each had their grants cut altogether), there are increases across the board for regional organisations. In classical music and opera, Birmingham Opera House, for example, sees an annual increase from £486,000 to £586,000; the choir group Ex cathedra (also based in Birmingham) will see its grant increased from nearly £59,000 to nearly £117.5,000; Liverpool Lighthouse will now receive a grant of £135,000; English touring opera earns an additional £400,000 a year. The mystery here, however, is the loss of 100% ACE funding for Britten Sinfonia; it is a Cambridge-based organization with a very East Anglia-centric reach (with obvious strong links to Aldeburgh); in their recent press release, they state “we will continue to press our case”.
Beyond this, however, we are seeing an increase in funding for groups and organizations that promote ethnic minority cultural activities: Liverpool’s Africa Oye Festival (the biggest celebration of African culture in the UK), for example, receives an additional £51,000 a year; the Chineke! Foundation (promotion of ethnic minority orchestral and choral music) will now receive £700,000 a year; the intercultural group ShivaNova will be allocated £92,000 each year; Based in London Pegasus Opera Company (which champions singers from ethnic minorities) will receive £200,000 each year; the Institute of Jewish Music will receive a stipend of £128,000.
Emphasis is also placed on musical creation by young people: British youth opera, Music for young people, National Youth Choirs, NYO, Orchestras for all and National Youth Marching Bandfor example, all have additional funding, and the British Association for Music Education (Music Mark) will receive £400,000 a year.
It is suggested that funding be directed to more innovative organizations; Aurora Orchestra (whose USP is to play without a score) sees funding increase from £93,000 to £143,000; Manchester Collective (a much-loved Manchester-based organization that promotes new music) receives a grant of £120,000.
Of course, those of us for whom the arts are an important part of our lives might argue that there should be no cuts and that increased spending on the arts is imperative in order to promote cultural diversity. and geographic; yet such is the fate of the arts – to be an easy target in times of austerity (self-inflicted or not). There will be those who will see the halving of Glyndebourne Tour Opera House‘s grant as a tragedy (removing the grassroots regional reach of the organization, leaving its core unfunded by the state to carry on with its exclusive reputation), and those who consider it right that his premiership be challenged. Similarly, there are likely to be differing opinions on the drastic reduction in funding for NWE. For twenty years, the question has arisen as to whether London needs two operas, especially since one of them, within the framework of the universality of surtitling, insists on continuing a program of operas translated into English; it’s a model that seems outdated, and personnel changes at the top in recent years may have signaled the need for change. Maybe ACE provided the push before ENO could jump.
• Full details of proposed funding can be found at Factsheet of the 2023–26 ACE investment program.