Arts Council England today announced a huge overhaul of funding the country’s arts scene, shifting millions of pounds away from London over the next three years. Prestigious venues, such as the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and the Southbank Centre, have had their subsidy cut, while for others it has been removed entirely, including the Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead Theatre and English National Opera, though the latter has been offered financing to change its business model, which may see it move to Manchester.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, responded with a statement saying: “Many of our world-leading cultural organisations will be left devastated by this announcement of over £50 million worth of Government cuts to London’s arts funding.
“These cuts could not have come at a worse time as arts organisations already face a triple whammy of spiralling operating costs, soaring energy bills, and the impact of both the pandemic and the cost of living crisis on audience figures.”
He went on to say “London’s cultural organisations contribute billions and power our capital’s economic comeback as well as the wider UK economy every year which is why they need continued investment. A strong London equals a strong UK that’s why I am urging the Government to think again and reconsider the consequences of these detrimental cuts.”
Ros Morgan, chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents more than 600 businesses in the capital’s centre, including cultural institutions including English National Opera, the Royal Academy of Arts, BAFTA and the National Gallery, called the cuts “a devastating blow for the West End,” adding that the “arts and culture sector is what makes the whole of London so successful and vibrant.” She called the changes “wilful damage to the arts sector and to London as a whole”. and urged the government to “go back to the drawing board to reconsider the consequences of these drastic cuts on the UK.”
Venues affected have also responded. Read their statements in full below.
London organisations who have had their funding cut entirely and are no longer national portfolio organisations
Statement from the Donmar Warehouse and high-profile supporters
The Donmar Warehouse and many of its supporters have today criticised the decision to cut its Arts Council England funding from April 2023 as self-defeating and damaging to the theatre ecology.
The Donmar has long been internationally recognised as one of the greatest producing houses in the world, home of high quality theatre with the highest of production values, with a commitment to accessibility and community at the heart of its work. This has been made possible by a combination of the support of donors, audiences, and government subsidy. The theatre has historically delivered £5 in private finance for every £1 contributed by ACE, significantly amplifying this investment.
Adam Kenwright, chair of the Donmar Warehouse commented: “The Donmar’s impact is wide, its voice powerful and the stories it tells are essential, making today’s decision a disappointing day not just for the Donmar, but for future generations of theatre makers. Since 2000 the Donmar has been supported by government to deliver high quality work on and off the stage that is accessible to the widest possible audiences. As we look ahead to our future, excellence and access will remain at the core of our mission. We will find a way to continue to deliver for audiences, the sector and our communities.”
In their application to ACE, the Donmar had committed to support the Government’s Levelling Up agenda by creating a fund using private support to amplify public funding, driving private money and building skills in Kent, the West Midlands and Nottinghamshire around headline projects, supporting local organisations to build skills and capacity. This was to have built on the Donmar’s work taking projects on UK tour (most recently Blindness, which helped theatres reopen post-pandemic in 2021) and into schools. Without public subsidy, this will no longer be viable. The Donmar was planning to support 17,000 children and young people over the investment period through this work, but this is now at risk.
The Donmar’s investment in diverse and emerging artists feeds the commercial sector in the UK, and is a trailblazer for British creative industries globally. The company has long been at the forefront of nurturing talent – not just with the Resident Assistant Director Scheme which has influenced the theatre landscape across the UK for the past 30 years, with alumni including Lynette Linton (AD, Bush Theatre), Rupert Goold (AD, Almeida Theatre and formerly Royal & Derngate Northampton) and Robert Hastie (AD, Sheffield Theatres); but also CATALYST, their paid skills development programme for future artists and administrators. This short-sighted and self-defeating approach in removing all subsidy will impact not only the company itself, but the essential training ground it offers, and the benefit to the entire theatre community.
Sam Mendes, film and stage director and founding artistic director of the Donmar: “Cutting the Donmar’s funding is a short-sighted decision that will wreak long lasting damage on the wider industry. The Donmar has been at the heart of British theatre for three decades, and has a hard won legacy of punching well above its weight in both its ambition and reach. It is a world renowned and hugely influential theatre, and the UK cannot afford to put it at risk.”
Kit Harington, actor: “When I played Henry V on stage at the Donmar at the start of 2022, it was the realisation of a dream I’d had since watching the play as a teenager. The experience of watching that play as a young student was the inception of my desire to work in this industry. I was lucky enough to perform the same part that so inspired me to local students on the Donmar stage…. these schools’ performances were the most thrilling shows we put on. It is vital and essential that students and young people are not denied opportunities to see live theatre like this in the future.”
Noma Dumezweni, actor: “There is nothing else like the excitement of live theatre - the connection, sense of communion and its shared experience. And the Donmar is unparalleled for creating that sense of deep connection with audiences so close to the performers. It is a vital venue for British theatre and the loss of subsidy is devastating”
Statement from English National Opera
Today’s announcement marks the start of a new chapter for the English National Opera (ENO).
For the past four years, the ENO has been reimagining what a modern opera company should look like, building new audiences and reach beyond London.
Whether increasing diversity on and off stage, in the pit and in our audiences, supporting important national institutions such as the NHS in their Covid response with ENO Breathe and increasing our presence on broadcast and digital platforms with brilliant operatic work, the ENO has repeatedly been at the forefront of innovation for the entire opera industry.
Today’s offer of investment from Arts Council of £17 million over the next three years will allow us to increase our national presence by creating a new base out of London, potentially in Manchester. We plan to continue to manage the London Coliseum, using it to present a range of opera and dance whilst maximizing it as a commercial asset.
The ENO has vision and purpose and we aim to support the levelling up agenda by reimagining opera for future generations across England.
Statement from the Gate Theatre
Chair Shami Chakrabarti said:
The Gate Theatre has received the news of a 100 per cent cut in its Arts Council funding. Cutting the arts is always a political choice. Undermining a radical theatre that has amplified otherwise unheard voices for over 40 years is devastating.
This follows our move to an accessible venue in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the UK with huge wealth disparity. This Saturday we will end a successful run of a timely play about Britain’s hostile environment for immigrants.
We send our solidarity to other leading arts organisations who have also been cut. We will shortly announce our next season of work and appeal to our wonderful supporters, audiences and creative community for their support. Whilst some would divide and rule, the Gate will continue to bring people together through theatre.
Statement from Hampstead Theatre
Artistic director Roxana Silbert and executive producer Greg Ripley-Duggan said:
Hampstead Theatre is disappointed and saddened by Arts Council England’s decision to cut the theatre’s funding.
We will now consider how best to ensure the future of a company which nurtures and supports so many writers and which has for so long been an essential part of British theatre. In the meantime, our current programme of new plays will continue as announced and we thank all our supporters for their ongoing commitment to our work.
Statement from the Barbican
We are very grateful for the funding ACE has provided us over the past years, and fully appreciate the changing landscape. We are delighted that several companies with whom we have close relationships, including Ballet Black, Boy Blue and Complicité, have been successful in their applications.
London organisations who have had their funding cut, but remain national portfolio organisations
Statement from the National Theatre
Rufus Norris, director and chief executive, and Kate Varah, executive director, said:
Government investment in the UK’s world-class creative sector is instrumental in its success. We support the Arts Council’s decision to increase overall support for the sector; the whole of the country needs a vibrant and sustainable cultural life that supports world-leading creativity, community building and economic impact. The National Theatre is a charity that plays a unique role in that ecosystem and works in partnership with organisations nationwide.
We’re grateful for the funding support for the National Theatre from Arts Council England announced today, especially given the difficult times that many people are facing. While a reduction to our ACE funding will present challenges, we remain committed to creating and sharing outstanding live and digital theatre with audiences nationally and globally.
We know that some colleagues across the industry have received difficult news today. As it has always done, the National Theatre will continue to work to support the sector and those colleagues who face an uncertain future.
In the 5 years pre-pandemic half of our UK audience was from outside London, and as a national organisation, we are uniquely placed to support arts education for young people in every region and provide world class training and skills development for the UK’s unrivalled creative workforce.
The funding received by the NT is the bedrock which enables us to multiply UK Government investment through self-generated income, including through significant fundraising and box office. We are grateful for all those who continue to believe in the value of the creative sector’s contribution to society, now and in the future.
Statement from the Royal Opera House
Alex Beard, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said:
We learned today that our core Arts Council England grant will be cut by 9 per cent, reducing from £24,471,000 to £22,268,584 per annum, with effect from April 2023.
We are grateful to Arts Council England (ACE) for their continued financial support at such a critical time for the UK’s theatre industry and the wider economy. We support the wish to invest in the arts across the country, and warmly welcome all new entrants to ACE’s national portfolio. Nonetheless, we face significant financial challenges going forward, alongside our colleagues in the sector: sharply increased energy costs, rising inflation in material costs, and suppressed box office revenue as tourism recovers from the pandemic. This grant offer equates to a real terms cut of around £4.7m (19 per cent) to our core funding, and comes on top of the 10 per cent real terms cut we have experienced since 2017/18.
In the face of these severe economic headwinds, we will do whatever we can to remain at the heart the cultural life of the nation – as a landmark national institution, in cinemas right across the UK and online, or through any one of our dedicated learning and participation programmes that embed dance, theatre craft and singing in schools the length and breadth of the country.
We will be discussing the details of our NPO funding arrangement with ACE over the coming months, before a final settlement is agreed early next year.
Statement from the Southbank Centre
Earlier today, Arts Council England announced full details of the 2023-2026 funding for cultural organisations. We’re grateful for the continued significant investment in support of our vision, especially given these challenging times for the sector and many people across the UK.
We’re digesting the news and considering what the impact means for our business model and artistic plans. We remain ambitious and committed to delivering our world-class arts programme and broadening access to culture for all.
We know that some arts organisations have not received the funding they had hoped for and we will continue to work with our colleagues and organisations to support the sector.