Written evidence submitted by English
Touring Opera (ETO) (arts 55)
This submission comes from James Conway, General
Director of English Touring Opera (ETO). The submission is specific:
running an arts organisation with a turnover of £2.7 million
and a very large number of productions and performances up and
down the country is like running any small non-building based
businessall consuming. Like most people in my position,
time for advocacy is recreational: and I urge caution when reading
fine submissions, as you must consider how people have the time
to make them, if they are effective and efficient producers/presenters/artists.
I apologise for the direct language. I don't
get to read enough reports.
A. The impact that the recent, and future,
spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the
arts at a national and local level
A1. Funding goes up and down. In the past
15 years there has been considerable consolidationand expansionin
the theatre sector, expensive rescue packages for the orchestra
sector and three opera companies, and predictable increases in
subsidy to the largest national institutions. Some of the effects
have been wonderful. Recently, some very imaginative and responsive
work from the ACE has enabled many large and small arts organisations
to survive since the economic downturnorganisations that
had come to depend on earned income from Trusts and Foundations
and from wealthy donors, traditionally unreliable in times of
low interest and high uncertainty.
A2. Recent cuts in ACE funding, passing
on some of the cuts from the DCMS, have been "un-nuanced",
as ACE would say. That means a percentage cut across the boardnot
unreasonable in the timescale, but unhelpful all the same. Percentage
cuts across the board have worse effects on efficient arts organisations
than they do on relatively less efficient arts organisations.
I think that addresses what is called the "tipping point"
theory: cuts of 30% will make the most efficient arts organisations
unviable, and the least efficient even more top-heavy. I estimate
(broadly) that it means 45-50% less will go to practising (and
expensively trained) artists.
A3. I run what I would call a "bare-knuckles"
organisation, with no fat whatsoever to trim in the efficient
(and inspiring, but that's a different question!) production and
touring of opera in England. By its nature, opera makes intensive
demands in terms of paid personnel: singers, orchestra, crew and
a small marketing/fundraising team are all required. You cannot
just decide to do it with 10%, or 30%, fewer artists. The challenge
is to find the level at which the rehearsal and production costs
are most effectively spread over a tour which gives optimal access
for audiences right around the countryand this is what
we have achieved, whilst receiving the lowest subsidy per performance
of any opera company in the UK (ie 20% of the average opera company
subsidy per performance).
In truth, greater efficiency is possibleby
small expansion! With 15% more ACE funding, we could tour to five
more cities in England over five weeks, "providing the service"
(as one now speaks of making art) for a fraction of the cost of
any other "provider".
A4. Touring organisations will suffer disproportionately
from simultaneous cuts at national and local level. After support
from ACE, the largest percentage of income is earned at the box
office, shared with partner theatres. As these partners are adversely
affected by local authority cuts, touring companies will findinevitablythat
these partners pass on some of their local cuts to the companies
they hostwhether through reduced income shares and/or increased
B. How arts organisations can work collaboratively
in order to reduce duplication of effort and ensure greater value
B1. Great ideaif it wasn't for the
fact that arts organisations have always been thinking about this,
if their leaders have a sense of responsibility for the public
funding they receive. When I took over English Touring Opera eight
years ago, it was ailing: £250k deficit, poor critical reputation,
minimum wage, no prospectsan out of date business model.
Part of trading our way out of this deficit (rather than relying
on an ACE rescue package) was to create a new business model,
and consider mergers, collaborations, and contracting out. Since
then we have had eight significant co-productions, but no merger.
In order to share a (leased) photocopier, or (free, an in kind-donation
from a big law firm) computers, or an already bargain-basement
office, it would be inefficient for English Touring Opera to move
in with English Touring Theatre, surprisingly (but the figures
are done), or with English National Opera, which has no interest
in or understanding of touring. Either move (or, for example,
a merger with a commercial company like Grange Park Opera) would
cost us more to do what we do already. I imagine plenty of other
people have costed the same exercises, and re-imagined themselves
every few years (certainly enough arts organisations have had
significant interventions from consultants, experts in the business
who might otherwise be doing useful jobs): it's best to assume
that it's not a new idea to think of sharing.
B2. What I do feel about this issue is that
some very impressive quangos do not share their data effectively,
or give their advice very usefully. I believe that they are estimable
organisations, but I have not found them useful in touring policy
or practice, or in terms of fundraising expert advice. Nor has
an organisation for which I have worked been asked to share data
or expertise acquired with the support of the tax payer.
C. The level of public funding that is both
necessary and sustainable.
C1. Public funding for the arts makes jobs
and makes money. Art makes life more bearablerich, even.
This has been well demonstrated by advocates more eloquent than
I, and ACE has a pile of documentation relating to this. It is
a mistake to regard public funding as a sort of donation. The
Arts contribute greatly to the overall economy and are a source
of prestige for the nation. Actual government support, though
an easy, highly visible, target, is a tiny part of the overall
budget for the country yet the Arts budget yields such visible
and valuable rewards for its employees, participants and audiences,
as well as for the economy as a whole.
D. Whether the current system, and structure,
of funding distribution is appropriate
D1. We need the ACE. It may be no harm in
the short term that it is leaner, and that it concentrates on
the prudent, imaginativeeven visionaryinvestment
of funds from government. It would be a mistake for DCMS to take
on more direct funding, and a burden imperilling their important
role. ACE advocacy has been valuable, and its research over the
last decade is a terrific resource; in leaner times, it may be
regarded as luxurious.
E. How business and philanthropists can play
a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level
E1. Business and philanthropists do already
play a significant role in funding the arts. In each case the
support describes a partnership, an exchange.
Business wants (in general) opportunities for
branding, corporate entertainment, and corporate PR, and there
is a measure for each of these. It is welcome, important, and
especially well suited to certain manifestations of performing
and heritage art.
Philanthropy is more various; usually it is
a trade-off for an exclusive experience that will be witnessed
by others: a well documented gift, signalling taste, prestige,
and "love of man" (philanthropy). Some organisations
(in the performing arts, examples that spring to all minds are
Glyndebourne, ROH, LSO) have excellent opportunities for prestigious,
exclusive experiences, and they already have enviable expertise
at harvesting appropriate corporate and philanthropic funds. Genuine
philanthropists are rare: they may just relish supporting the
theatre in their county town, the opera that comes to it, or the
work that this company does in the local special school or day
centre for people suffering from dementia. Our pitches may persuade
them to develop a nascent interest in people in their community
who are shy of the local theatre (let alone Glyndebourne) for
reasons of age, disability, or social status. In truth, this work
has been generously supported by trust funds, and it is likely
to be so supported in the future, despite low interest rates.
Other countries are very envious of the support given by UK trusts
and foundations to the arts.
E2. Corporate sponsorship and private philanthropy
is already significant, and it is likely to become more so if
state support does not waver. Certainly we all get the message
that we all need to invest more timeand money!looking
for it. It is important to realise, however:
that serious players in the arts have
no resistance to corporate or private investment, and years of
experience raising it;
that wealthy people in Britain are utterly
dissimilar to wealthy people in America (I was raised there!);
that philanthropy is not a substitute
for subsidy in the UK context;
and that that UK context is a thriving,
creative, internationally celebrated cultural scene.
E3. A strong point: trying to set a model
percentage for public/private/earned income in arts organisations
will never be helpful, or intelligent. Touring performing arts,
for example, will never be able to achieve the percentages that
may be achievable in prestige buildings. My former Development
Manager and current friend is now Development Manager at Glyndebourne,
so no softy. He has been able to describe the many ways in which
people and companies line up to support and share the exclusive
Glyndebourne brand, and I thrill to hear it. Supporting quality
work at your local arts centre, at popular prices, in the company
of normal, "big society" peopleutterly inclusive
workwill always have a much harder time, as successive
Chairmen of ETO (significant, canny philanthropists, each of them)
have pointed out.