Saturday, 10 October 2015

How Arts Council England supports Dance

Ballet Rambert performing "Peter and the Wolf" at a wartime aircraft factory
Author Ministry of Information
Source Imperial War Museum
Reproduced under Imperial War Museum Non-Commercial Licence

In Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II Made British Ballet David Bintley explained how how the Second World War was the making of British ballet. In that programme Bintley focussed on the work of Ninette de Valois and the Sadler's Wells Ballet which is understandable as he is artistic director of one of its successor companies but it should never be forgotten that the Ballet Rambert also contributed considerably to maintaining morale by visiting military installations and factories as the above photograph shows (see Our History on the Rambert Dance website).

Even though we faced invasion, nightly bombing and scarcities of all kinds the preservation and promotion of the arts were considered sufficiently important for the wartime government to establish the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts in 1940.  Under the chairmanship of the economist Lord Keynes, the Council supported performances by dancers and other artists throughout the second world war. According to Arts Council England's website, the Council funded 46 companies in 1945 (see John Maynard Keynes and English Ballet 3 March 2013).

The Council changed its name to the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1946 and continued to support the arts in peacetime until 1994 when it was replaced by Arts Council England and its counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Arts Council England was established by a royal charter dated 30 March 1994 which has been renewed and amended several times.  It receives money from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the National Lottery which it invests in accordance with its framework agreement of 29 Oct 2012. Between 2015 and 2018, we will distribute £1.1 billion from the government and some £700 million from the National Lottery to the performing arts. Its funding programme is  summarized in the YouTube video Arts Council England - Our funding ecology and explained in detail in Great Art and Culture for Everyone its strategic framework for 2010 to 2020. The bulk of the Arts Council's funding goes to national portfolio organizations and major partner museums and a spreadsheet which can be downloaded from this page shows the distribution to those organizations and museums.

Approximately 22% of national portfolio funding goes to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Opera North, the Royal Opera House and the Welsh National Opera. Arts Council England has published an analysis of its investment in large-scale opera and ballet (see Arts Council England’s analysis of its investment in large-scale opera and ballet Briefing and Outline). The ostensible purpose of that analysis is
"to understand how these organisations could best be served by likely future levels of investment ..... to be sure that investment decisions would represent best value for public funds, in order to address the needs of the companies and to meet the expectations of audiences."
The paper acknowledges that opera and ballet bring together large numbers of skilled artists, technicians and craftspeople which make a significant contribution to the economy. The Arts Council found that audiences for large and mid-scale ballet increased between 2008 and 2012 while those for large and mid-scale opera decreased during the same period and that new audiences for ballet were developed by works for children and live streaming to cinemas.

The Arts Council reported tensions between companies and theatres:
"In general, the companies are frustrated by what they see as a lack of support from venues for their attempts to broaden their repertoire, the refusal to share detailed audience data and the imposition of booking fees and restoration levies. The venues for their part often feel that the companies regard certain weeks to be ‘theirs by right’, do not value the venues’ expertise in selling tickets, and do not consult over repertoire, prices and education programmes."
The paper considered that there was "considerable scope to build audiences for the full range of opera and ballet repertoire" which can be achieved by venues and touring companies working more closely and effectively together. Arts Council England stated that it will  expect companies and venues to agree ambitious audience targets. There is scope for companies to pay more attention to the role that repertoire plays in attracting audiences but at the same time theatres must recognize that all parties have an interest in developing audiences for less familiar work. Funding is to be conditional upon such co-operation and if theatres are not prepared to co-operate the companies will be encouraged to find alternative venues.

Arts Council England recommended an overall decrease in funding for opera and ballet by 7.3% reducing their share of national portfolio investment from 22% to 21% although Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet will actually get an increase. All the opera and ballet companies will be required to plan for live screenings and the Royal Opera House is expected to work with other companies to make the most of opportunities presented through digital broadcasts. The inclusion of Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet in World Ballet Day may be an early manifestation of that policy.

Another general recommendation was for "dance hubs" to be developed in Birmingham and Leeds.  In its recommendation to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Arts Council England said:
"We are proposing that, in addition, we ask the company to work with the City of Birmingham, Dance Xchange, the Hippodrome and other interested parties to make Birmingham into a regional dance centre, building a broad dance culture in the City, capable of increasing audiences and attracting and retaining talent in the city."
The Arts Council also believe that
"Leeds has the potential to become a major regional dance centre. We suggested that Northern Ballet should work with Phoenix, Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Dance and others to explore how they might work collaboratively to build a broad dance culture in Leeds, capable of increasing audiences and attracting and retaining talent in the city."
All good stuff though it should not be forgotten that a major city does not need a big ballet company to be a dance hub as Manchester proves with the Northern Ballet School, Dancehouse theatre, KNT, the Lowry and the Palace theatres not to mention the Chancellor's announcement of a £78 million investment in the Factory (see Let's bring the Royal Ballet to The Factory Manchester 11 Dec 2014).

This is the first of a series of articles that I plan to write about public funding for dance in the UK. In future articles I hope to discuss funding in other parts of the UK and guidance on applying for funding from Arts Council England and other bodies.

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