...for years I have been saying that it's about time that the Arts Council looked at their historic patterns of funding and gave them an almighty shake-up. If you happened to be on the receiving end of regular funding it might not have been roses all the way, but unless you made a major hash of things it was unlikely that your core funding would be stopped. If you were an emerging company or artist it was therefore extraordinarily difficult to receive more than the odd one-off grant as the majority of available dosh was taken up by RFOs (no, not UFOs but Regularly Funded Organisations) and the status quo was steadfastly maintained.
Amazingly, surprisingly, bravely, the Arts Council has just announced that 195 organisations will not have their grants renewed in April 2008. 746 (or 75% of) RFOs will have funding increases of at least inflation, with 45 receiving increases of between 50 and 100%, and 41 in receipt of more than 100% increase in their grants. In addition about 80 arts organisations in England will be invited to become new RFOs.
The list of the inevitably very unhappy 195 (all of whom however have an outrageously brief window of opportunity to lobby against the decision) is expected to be made known in the new year, but the news is inevitably breaking as each organisation opens its black bordered letter. Once we know all the organisations at risk (and my in-box is already giving some indication of what is under threat) and just as importantly the organisations being invited to take their place at the funding table, I may come to regret my in principle admiration for this move, but the decision to rethink the funded arts landscape is one I must applaud.
What we will have to scrutinise is whether the funding decisions actually back up the Arts Council's stated aims of supporting artistic excellence, increasing engagement and participation, funding arts more equitably across England and increasing support to the visual arts (although I'm not sure about this latter aim considering how visual arts appears to be thriving like never before). If the resulting raft of RFOs don't reflect this, and if those cut are strong embodiments of one or more of those aims, the sector should claim scalps.
18.12.07 postscript - the Guardian leader seems to agree with me. Their arts correspondent doesn't. I fail to see why we should have to wait for the information on who is affected- surely it should be in the public domain now so that the decisions can be held up for external scrutiny before it's too late to reconsider what may be death blows to many?
9.1.08 update - Bungled seems to be the word being bandied about regarding the HOW surrounding these changes, and I have to say I agree. You would have thought that the Arts Council would have been scrupulous in following their own guidelines in disinvesting (ghastly word) in organisations in order to gain understanding if not actual support for carrying out what after all should be their role; ie making big decisions based on transparent criteria on who should continue to be funded and who should enter as new recipients of a regular grant cheque.
10.1.08 update - The ructions continue, and ACE faces the flack.
27.1.08 - The Arts Council backs down, a bit.
1.2.08 - The outcome.