Dark days for the Royal Academy?

Can private philanthropy fill the shortfall in UK arts budget?

Susannah Glynn examines the implications of government cuts to The Arts sector

For those involved in the art world, the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in July were simply the latest in a series of blows to have fallen on the culture sector since May. In just over two months the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced immediate budget cuts of 3% for all its funded bodies (which includes most of the major London museums, English Heritage and the Arts Council (AC), itself responsible for providing regular funding for 880 arts organisations across England, from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Southbank Centre to regional theatre and arts projects), has asked them to look into the effect of further reductions of up to 30% over the following four years and scrapped a number of major projects including the new visitors’ centre at Stonehenge. The response from the sector has, unsurprisingly, been damning, with Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota predicting that the outcome of any cuts above 10% will be that ‘theatres will go dark, orchestras will disband, museums will shut’.

Causing almost as much consternation is the suggestion that private philanthropy could plug some of the gap.

“The reality is that all our public institutions are already engaged in public fundraising,” says Dr Charles Samuerz-Smith, Director of the Royal Academy, one of the few institutions that has historically refused government funding.

“The idea that they can increase this to pick up the shortfall is deluded.” For a start, it seems the philanthropists themselves do not believe this is their duty. In a letter sent last month to the Prime Minister, a group of five – including Keith Howard, who has given millions to Opera North, and Sir John Ritblat, who has supported the British Library and the Wallace Collection – stated that they do not feel they should “be expected to make up the shortfall in funding caused by public spending cuts”.

“Research suggests that people in the UK give not to ‘let the government off the hook’ but to complement and enhance public funding”, explains philanthropy advisor Theresa Lloyd.

Then there is the thorny issue of the lack of tax breaks for donors.

“Tax incentives are critical if the government is to encourage the rich to help fund the arts,” says Sir Christopher Ondaatje, whose UK contributions include a new wing for the National Portrait Gallery.

“In Canada, the government has been persuaded to allow 100% tax write-offs against donations to certain charitable institutions. What a difference this has made.” A heavy reliance on philanthropy is also unpopular with the institutions, who fear a loss of artistic freedom.

“If I asked a multinational to back a musical drama about accountancy (Enron), they wouldn’t return my call,” said actor Samuel West in the Evening Standard. There are also concerns that the American system leaves the arts more open to the effects of the recession than in the UK, where ‘mixed economy’ funding which has kept things stable.

“Arts funding is little like a delicately balanced Jenga puzzle” explains Rosie Luff from the Southbank Centre. “Public funds help reassure private donors that this is something worth putting money into. Take away one piece and the lot could come crashing down.”

Colin Tweedy, Chief Executive of Arts & Business, is more positive about this source of funding: “analysis suggests that 40% of the wider cultural sector in the UK currently receives no private investment, which proves that we can grow the contribution of the private sector.” Over the coming months his department will launch awards to acknowledge donors and a programme to train ‘fundraising mentors’ to help arts organisations to raise their own finance. But even Mr Tweedy concedes that this source will meet only 25% of the amount that will be lost in cuts. With the launch of projects such as the Big Arts give, which will aim to encourage funding by matching donations of any size, it looks increasingly likely that we will all be called upon to dig into our pockets.

“The cuts are coming, we have no choice. Without help from everyone the places we love are going to shut. The Golden Age is over.”


This article first appeared on www.phaidon.com

Susannah Glynn is the features editor of Phaidon.com and writes on arts and culture for a number of publications including Country Life. She was previously Assistant Editor at Bonhams Magazine

Above image: Burlington House – Royal Academy of Arts © JohnKirchner.com