Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Increasing Cost of Friendship

On Saturday 10 Oct 2015 I discussed public funding for ballet (see How Arts Council England supports Dance 10 Oct 2015).  I mentioned Arts Council England’s analysis of its investment inlarge-scale opera and ballet in which the Arts Council announced on page 7 that it will reduce the total funding to the major opera ballet companies by 7.3% in real terms, and shrink their share of national portfolio funding to 21%.  I was, however, pleased to see on the next page that the Arts Council gave Northern Ballet a planning figure of £3.1 million from 2015-16, an increase of £550,000 per annum on its core grant.

By coincidence I received a letter from Mark Skipper DL (well, actually 2 because one was addressed to "Miss Jane Lambert" and the other to "Ms Jane Lambert") thanking me for my commitment to Northern Ballet over the years and expressing his extreme gratitude and that of David Nixon for my past and ongoing generosity.  In the next paragraph Mr Skipper mentioned the numerous cuts and budget constraints that the arts sector (though happily not Northern Ballet) has faced over the years as well as competition from touring musicals from London and abroad.  He concluded
"To preserve a sustainable future for Northern Ballet, we have to become less reliant on Arts Council funding."
Now as an old fashioned liberal I have always been uncomfortable about asking our beer drinking, football supporting fellow citizens to support my passion for ballet which I have to acknowledge is a minority interest.  As Jeremy Bentham put it:
"Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry."
I therefore applaud any initiative to reduce dependence on Arts Council England.

However, it comes as a cost for Mr Skipper's letters announced that the Friends' subscription (though not the Patrons') will rise.  For most Friends the increase is from £50 to £70 a year but for pensioners who have until now contributed £30 per year it is a whopping 133.3% as they can no longer subscribe at a concessionary rate. A price rise that contrasts with negative inflation across the board in the UK.

Now there is no question of my not supporting Northern Ballet. I have done so in one form or another ever since 1985 when I returned to the North. I do so not because I am Northern, still less because I want to attend open rehearsals or receive the other benefits advertised on the Friends and Patrons page but because I love ballet. By the same token I am also a Friend of Covent Garden even though I hardly ever get to the Royal Opera House, Scottish Ballet even though I am not a Scot and the Dutch National Ballet even though I am a Brit.  I will continue to make an annual gift to Northern Ballet and the Northern Ballet Academy to the extent that I have done in the past even if I cease to remain  a formal Friend.

The reason why I may cease to remain a formal Friend is that there are a lot of companies such as Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet that deserve my support and don't yet get it. There are also bodies like The Ballet Association, The Vic-Wells Association and Dance UK which I really should support. Similarly there are schools and students the length and breadth of the country and elsewhere who need help.  The problem with subscription hikes of this kind is that it forces us to make hard choices.

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