British arts groups feeling the sting of funding cuts

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British arts groups feeling the sting of funding cuts

LONDON - Hundreds of British arts organizations had their public funding slashed or eliminated Wednesday, the result of government spending cuts aimed at tackling the country’s deficit.

The government-funded Arts Council England must cut 15 percent from the amount it gives to art, music, theater, dance and literature groups by 2015 - which still leaves it with almost 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) to hand out.

The council said that instead of “salami slicing” - cutting 15 percent from everyone - it wanted to create a smaller but stronger portfolio of groups. So some have been cut off entirely, while others have seen their funding increase.

“We have taken the brave path of strategic choices, not salami slices, which has meant some painful decisions,” said council chair Liz Forgan.

The council had funded about 850 groups, but that has shrunk to 695 - chosen from 1,330 applicants. More than 200 groups will have their funding cut entirely from next year, while many others face reductions.

The result was a day of turmoil for arts organizations. Those facing deep cuts were disappointed but defiant. Those who got off lightly were reluctant to celebrate.

Tom Morris, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic theater - which saw its funding frozen - said the Arts Council had been “set a riddle to which there is no fair solution.”

“There is no way to make this scale of cut without making horrible and unpopular decisions,” he said.

Several major institutions, including the National Theatre, the Royal Opera and English National Ballet, have received cuts of about 15 percent to their annual funding.

Those who saw funding disappear include northern England’s Northumberland Theatre Company and the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, southwest England.

Respected stage company Shared Experience also saw its grant of more than 360,000 pounds ($580,000) eliminated. The company said it was “devastated but determined to survive.”

But some companies are seeing increases - from innovative stage company Punchdrunk to the British Federation of Brass Bands - and 110 organizations are being funded for the first time.

Big winners include London’s Young Vic theater, the Whitechapel Gallery in east London and English Touring Opera, which all got hefty funding boosts.

For a decade before the financial crisis began in 2007, Britain spent hundreds of millions of pounds building, renovating and expanding museums, galleries and theaters. Some fear that artistic golden age is now under threat.

Ivan Lewis, culture spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said the cuts would have a “chilling impact” and mean higher ticket prices.

“I fear a return to the 80s and 90s when the arts were for the few, not the many,” he said.

The government was unsympathetic, saying that in tough times, everyone needed to share the pain. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Arts Council was “in a much better position than many other parts of the public sector.”

The government plans to cut 80 billion pounds ($128 billion) from public expenditure over the next four years.

Hunt said the government would take steps to encourage private arts philanthropy, and had increased the amount arts groups get from national lottery profits.

The council has been told to cut its overall budget by almost 30 percent by 2015, and says it will reduce administrative costs by half to meet the target.

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