‘We’re barely hanging on’: England’s cultural jewels fall into the red

‘We’re barely hanging on’: England’s cultural jewels fall into the red

A new arts advocacy organisation claims that the hardships faced by even elite organisations like the Royal Shakespeare Company impoverish the whole nation.

Most of the largest state-subsidized cultural organisations in England, including several globally recognised venues and arts brands, are now running at a loss. The Cultural Philanthropy Foundation (CPF) collected financial data for a new national lobbying organisation called Culture Makes… the data showed the dire situation of theatres, galleries, and museums that receive regular state funds.

The fact that these national treasures have succeeded is often seen as an honour. However, 73 of the 100 groups that get the most yearly funding from Arts Council England recorded a loss in their end-of-year accounts, which averages out to be around £300,000. Among them is the Royal Shakespeare Company, which, in spite of some strict budgeting, has gone into the red by a few thousand pounds. Although not all of these prestigious locations and cultural destinations are in debt, a number of them are. Furthermore, many have failed miserably in their efforts to break even, despite the fact that commercial profitability is not necessarily the end goal since some amount of subsidies will always be needed.

Caroline McCormick, chair of the CPF and organiser of the lobbying drive, said, “It was very striking how hard it is for even these top institutions, known as the arts council’s National Portfolio organisations, especially as they are already pulling all the available financial levers.” The lobbying drive is scheduled to begin in May with the goal of influencing policy prior to the next general election. “Everything is so near to the bone now.”

By highlighting the value of British culture and refuting the idea that it is an extravagance or something to strive for only in better times, McCormick intends to advocate for its preservation.

“The arts do not have a trickle-down effect,” the speaker said. “Now that we know, that is untrue. We are also unable to depend only on charity for the arts since there aren’t enough rich people contributing.”

RSC, Edinburgh International Festival, Bristol Old Vic, the Women’s Prize Trust, Hastings Contemporary, Theatre Clwyd, Lyric Theatre Belfast, Northern Ballet, Southbank Centre, Picturehouse Cinemas, Talawa Theatre Company, National Museums Liverpool, and Shakespeare’s Globe are just a few of the nearly forty cultural organisations and providers who have already endorsed the campaign.

The RSC’s joint interim executive directors, Sandeep Mahal and Vicky Cheetham, told the Observer that “the arts and culture have immense power to transform the lives of all who encounter it.” They also said that their organisation is proud to be joining Culture Makes at a time when funding cuts and economic uncertainty are already challenging the wellbeing of people and communities across the nation.

“This campaign will support the case for growing critical public and private funds to ensure we have a thriving arts and culture sector that is a beacon to the world and help to build our collective understanding of the economic, creative, social, and physical power that exists within the UK culture sector,” they said.

Smaller provincial groups are already in danger of disappearing due to the broader arts crisis brought on by rising living expenses, a genuine drop in state support, and the elimination of certain local council funds. However, the impact on larger establishments has also emerged, despite the widespread recognition of the significant importance of a flourishing British creative industry.

Sydney Thornbury, the CEO of Wakefield’s Art House, a contemporary gallery, said she became involved in the campaign because she had seen the positive social and communal effects of art. In addition to fostering connections and community cohesion, “we bring asylum seekers, refugees, and the local community together to create art together,” the speaker said.

“We have revitalised almost empty retail malls, assisted tiny creative enterprises in expanding into their own stores, and sparked networks of neighbourhood business owners—all while contributing to the reduction of disruptive conduct, boosting community pride, and producing some amazing art. Are we doing well financially, though? No. Like everyone else in the arts sector right now, we’re barely surviving because we’re seen and supported as “just” arts groups.

McCormick, who is also the head of the fundraising firm Achates, said that last year’s charity giving report revealed that, for the first time in over a decade, arts generosity had fallen to less than 1% of overall gifts. In fact, she said, the lowest members of society were contributing far more than the wealthiest. The new approach presents culture as an essential component of any successful nation, much less one that benefits from Britain’s history in the arts and entertainment.

McCormick said, “It is not a question of the arts being at the top of the pile as something you get up to.” “Despite the fact that certain performances are exceptional, it’s not an elite phenomenon. In actuality, it operates in reverse. It is the simplest foundation upon which everything else must be built. However, the arts community has to develop a new vocabulary to convey this. An enormous task has to be completed, and someone has to do it.

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