Funding of the arts and heritage - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Oxford Playhouse (arts 121)

    — Strong cultural provision is essential for the UK's population.

    — Oxford Playhouse makes great use of its current levels of subsidy, presenting and producing excellent art and broadening the reach and depth of public engagement with the arts.

    — Government investment in the arts is far outweighed by the economic and social return on that investment.

    — Most cultural provision is not funded through public subsidy but the public subsidy allows stability of infrastructure, innovation and creative development of the art, and a wider social impact.

    — The arts is extremely vulnerable to cuts in local authority funding, a downturn in the economy and reductions in private support, and many organisations will close as a combined result of these reductions in income.

    — The less creative output we deliver, the harder it is to raise private sources of funding.

    — Partnership working already happens in the arts, and whilst we should encourage more, we need to protect the geographical spread and quality of provision across the country.

    — Central government cuts will lead to a greater percentage reduction of provision as organisations are tipped towards closure.

    — A lean Arts Council is well-placed to protect frontline services and maximise the benefits from public investment in the arts.

    — We support the changes to the Lottery funding to revert to its original intention.

    — We are concerned by the removal of some of the arm's length quangos, particularly in terms of the speed of decision-making, lack of consultation and apparent lack of planned alternative delivery mechanisms.

    — Philanthropy is an important part of the mixed economy of the arts, and should be encouraged, but it will not replace public funding.

What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level

  1.  Life without culture is not an experience many of us would choose; at least not once we have come to know the value of great art. Imagine never being introduced to a world of theatre, dance, fine art, museums, literature or film. How hard would you fight to make that introduction for every person in this country?

  2.  Oxford Playhouse uses its funding in two particular ways; to ensure the excellence of its programme, and to make as many introductions as possible, by broadening the number and range of people who pass through its doors. We are committed to opening the doors and making culture part of as many people's lives as possible.

  3.  With less subsidy, we will not be able to make and present as many shows as we do now, the breadth of the programme will narrow, and the quality will be difficult to maintain. The international work, the contemporary dance, the shows for young children and the home-grown work of local artists are all particularly costly areas and would be affected. We would produce less shows ourselves, so there would be less provision for the touring circuit, and we would have to employ less people. With less artistic development, less touring product is created, less artists nurtured, less commissions to playwrights and less calculated risks are taken on new and innovative art, which drives the sector and indeed the creative industries forward.

    "Art funding is not about encouraging limp dependency but allowing things that would not exist to come alive and in the process make us more so"

    Antony Gormley

  4.  The provision for the arts and the access of the public to the arts deserves its place on the list, not least because of how little it costs to maintain the current levels of provision, and how much money is ploughed back into our economy by the sector. The UK currently creates a world-class range of culture, and as a result of sustained and careful investment, the sector is flourishing, leading to massive tax returns, international export and growing audience figures. The return on investment is massive, in terms of VAT and tax, in driving tourism, in regenerating towns and cities and in terms of the improved well-being of members of our society.

  5.  In the last financial year alone 191,180 people saw an Oxford Playhouse show at the theatre, in our studio, off-site, or on tour.

  6.  Most cultural provision is not solely reliant on public funding. For example, Oxford Playhouse with an annual turnover of £3.8 million, raises more than 87% of its income from other sources and yet it is the 13% of funding it receives from ACE and the local authorities that allows it to really make a difference. As well as the areas of quality arts mentioned above, the subsidy allows tickets to be made available and affordable for those who cannot afford to pay more, eg schools in hard to reach areas, families on low incomes, community groups such as those in hostels, refugees, those recovering from long-term illness or the disabled. Targeted work to introduce newcomers to the theatre takes place all the time, and succeeds. Our Learning team work with over 15,000 people each year, offering a range of participatory activity for all ages. The provision is heavily over-subscribed, and we target it towards people who have less or no current engagement in the arts. Responses to work placements, training opportunities, holiday schemes etc are overwhelmingly positive. The feedback from one young offender that a week-long drama course was "life-changing" sums up what the arts can achieve.

  7.  When we remove barriers to culture, more people come and benefit from all that great art has to offer.

  8.  Oxford Playhouse is facing a significant reduction in funding from all quarters; city and county councils and ACE. The University of Oxford, a major funder, has already reduced its support as it cuts departmental budgets. The combined impact is substantial, and seriously jeopardises the organisation's future.

  9.  The theatre relies heavily on ticket income (64%), other trading (14%) and private donations, sponsorship, trusts and foundations (9%). All of this income is also under threat. We work very hard to secure private income, and have increased our success in this area as we have increased our programme activity. The more benefits we pass onto the community, the more creative we are, and the more donors want to support it. Scaling back our activity due to core funding cuts will further reduce the support we're able to lever from the private sector and donations.

  10.  We have already received a 0.5% cut from ACE in this financial year which although mid way through a year we are able to manage, and we respect the fact that ACE and the DCMS have worked hard to minimise the impact on funded organisations. Loss of core funding means it becomes hard to sustain delivery and stay open, let alone plan and make strategic choices. Commitments are made between nine months—two years in advance and future cuts in the region of 25% will have a massive impact on the work we are able to deliver, much of which we are already committed to.

  11.  To manage cuts above 10% would mean a significant restructuring across our operation which would jeopardise the organisation's future, particularly if forced to take place within a short time span. The knock-on effect to audiences would be significant, and the theatre would be less able to support the numerous touring theatre and dance companies who visit it.

What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale

  12.  Arts organisations can and do work collaboratively and imaginatively. Oxford Playhouse regularly co-produces shows, and is already in discussions with a touring theatre company about pooling our resources and sharing producing and administrative capacity which would mean that we can make shows happen which might otherwise never get off the ground, and ensure that far more people are able to see the production. We create shows with local, national and international artists.

  13.  New initiatives eg Playhouse Plays Out were conceived and developed with the idea of working in partnership to open up some of Oxfordshire's fantastic locations to residents and visitors and to introduce new people to live performance, challenge assumptions of what theatre is all about.

  14.  Local arts organisations including Modern Art Oxford, Oxford Inspires and Pegasus Theatre are exploring ways in which we can work collectively to generate better bargaining power with suppliers and share services if possible.

  15.  Obviously it is important to remove unnecessary duplication, and to maximise the benefit from created work, but equally it is important to retain the strength of provision across the regions. It is not enough to focus funding on preserving the world-class organisations in the capital and in the major cities of the country. A network of venues to present live performance, and supporting high quality artists to deliver outside of the major cities is essential to ensure diversity, growth and audience development in the sector.

  16.  Efforts have been made to support and enable producing theatres to tour their work, but there is more that can be done in this area to gain maximum benefit from the original investment.

What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable?

  17.  The current arts budget is tiny; it costs 17p a week per person, which is far exceeded by the economic return. That funding helps to create and sustain world-class arts and artists, attracts tourists and businesses to work in the UK and with the UK overseas, drives the creative industries and contributes significantly to improving society and the well-being of individuals. Inevitably, if it is reduced, less will be achieved.

  18.  There is so little fat to trim from the arts sector, which operates efficiently and inspiringly, creating much with very little. The Arts is already a sector which relies heavily on people working for low wages, and volunteers. Oxford Playhouse currently operates over six days a week for up to 13 hours a day and employs a core staff team of 30 full and part time employees with a further 50 people working on an irregular basis and over 100 volunteers giving their time for free. 90% of these staff are employed on salaries of less than the average UK salary of approximately £24,000 pa.

  19.  The knock-on effect of cuts will tip many arts organisations over the edge, and have a significantly greater impact on provision.

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one

  20.  The breadth, knowledge and strategic importance of ACE as a distribution network for funding the arts is incredibly valuable. Nurturing and supporting artists, having a geographical overview of the distribution of the arts, striving for an increased audience for all aspects of the arts and supporting the delivery of the arts is vital. The reduction in staffing and administration costs that ACE has already made it an increasingly lean and efficient operation, and we applaud the organisation's commitment to protect frontline delivery of the arts. Using the historical reserves helped to mitigate the effects of this year's cuts and it is hard to know how an even smaller set-up can continue to distribute funding without making less flexible, less informed decisions which favour repetition, caution and safety against audience and artist development and aspirations of great art for everyone. Flexible funding terms for organisations will help to ensure that decisions are made regularly about the strength of delivery against targets, and we would encourage a balance between geographical reach and equity, and investing in those organisations who are on an upward trajectory, making the money work hardest and most efficiently in pursuit of both great art and increasing the breadth, quantity or experience of audiences.

What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations

  21.  Oxford Playhouse welcomes the intention to restore the National Lottery to its original purpose by allocating 20% of the NLDF to each of the good causes of the arts, heritage and sport. The intention to do so over two years allows time for adjustment and the phasing out of BLF programmes which protects existing commitments and allows for a phasing of change.

  22.  The change will have a significant impact on the arts, increasing the number of grants awarded through Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts programme. This funding stream is heavily over-subscribed, and currently, projects which would deliver excellent art to a wide-range of people are not able to be funded.

  23.  Oxford Playhouse has successfully received grant funding to tour theatre productions, and would like to do so in the future. The theatre produces live performance at the highest level in terms of quality, reach, engagement and participation. We are committed to broadening people's entitlement to the arts, deepening their understanding and enjoyment of culture, helping to bring together the local community, and to maximising the value for money of all investments in the arts.

  24.  A recent lottery funded tour was a co-production with Ireland's Druid Theatre of J M Synge's classic The Playboy of the Western World. This was a world-class piece of theatre, which thanks to an ACE grant, was able to tour in the UK to five regional theatres where it was seen by 12,219 people. We also ran a major symposium on cultural identity which featured playwrights, directors, academics and poets, and was attended by academics, students, writers and interested theatre-goers. In addition, 486 people attended 20 free post-show discussions and workshops thus creating a lasting legacy to the production.

The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm's-length bodies—in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

  25.  The arm's length principle has long been recognised and valued by successive governments and the various arts communities. It has served the sector, and most importantly, the public, very well in terms of ensuring an independent over-view, expertise and a long-term custodian's approach to maintaining and developing art-forms and audiences. The recent changes in terms of abolishing the Film Council and the MLA seem to have been made very quickly, and with little consultation or planning for the alternatives. Without them, administration costs are certainly saved, but has more been lost? Deploying public money to the best possible use is surely best done by those with a deep-rooted understanding of the art form, its developmental needs and how best to widen public access?

Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level

  26.  Of course they do, and they already are playing a long-term role in supporting the arts, but this cannot and should not replace public funding. Many businesses have already cut back on their investment in the arts, and philanthropists are in great demand. It is important to recognise that it is tougher to secure funding and sponsorship outside of London and when not operating at a national level. It is also important to note that many organisations are already working hard and succeeding in this area, but that there isn't money waiting to be proffered to the arts as funding dries up. It is also very hard to raise funds for the nuts and bolts—for salaries and running costs, rather than imaginative projects and new activity.

Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

  27.  Yes; this can only be a good thing. Encouraging and enabling more philanthropic giving without spending frontline delivery money on doing so is a good thing. Oxford Playhouse has developed a committed core of regular donors and we are continually seeking to increase this network. Oxford Playhouse has also been successful in submitting a project to the Big Give to raise funds to secure our community engagement officer post for the next three years through encouraging individual giving. However, it needs to be acknowledged that many successful arts organisations are already tapping into private funds and as stated above, it becomes increasingly hard and competitive to sustain. Many trusts and foundations are reducing their grant levels due to interest rates, and private donors are clear that they donate in addition to government funding rather than instead of it.

September 2010





 
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Prepared 30 March 2011