Every three years the Arts Council England (ACE) announces which organisations it will be subsidising until the next round of funding.
Usually there’s a few tears. But the ‘levelling up’ agenda of Prime Minister-before-last Boris Johnson and his erstwhile culture secretary Nadine Dorries had been widely expected to lead to a more dramatic shake-up than usual. Dorries had stated she hoped to move a fifth of London’s funding outside the capital, and there had long been talk of moving London-based companies to different cities in order to achieve this.
Well, today is the day the new funding for 2023-26 was announced, and the headline news is that the London Coliseum-based English National Opera is losing 100 percent of its £12.6m annual funding (its new production ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’ is pictured). Instead it will be given a special £17m over three years to develop a new business model, with the suggestion it moves to Manchester. Exactly what this will practically mean remains to be seen: ENO owns the huge Coliseum (London’s biggest theatre) and it seems unlikely that even a city as big as Manchester could support a programme equivalent to that offered by ENO here. Whatever the case, it’s a shock to the system: ENO has had its financial troubles over the year, but to effectively boot it out of London with no plan is a huge step into the unknown.
Elsewhere, London institutions the Donmar Warehouse and Hampstead Theatre have lost 100 percent of their funding. While this isn’t the same as 100 percent of their income, it’s a massive blow to two great London cultural landmarks, and a bit of a shock for the in-form Donmar which had submitted detailed plans to support local organisations in Kent, the West Midlands and Nottinghamshire. The fringier Gate Theatre has also lost its funding; it had been largely dormant since Covid, but had just relocated to Camden.
The likes of the National Theatre and Royal Court have received modest but painful cuts; the Royal Opera House and Southbank Centre have been hit by bigger ones, while various non-building-based London companies like Headlong and Paines Plough are having to leave town.
Will you actually notice a big difference? It’s hard to say at this stage: it’s unlikely the cuts will actually be fatal in most cases; it would be a surprise if ENO no longer presented in London (especially as it still currently owns the Coliseum). Still, there’s no denying that it’s been a tough day for the arts in London, and all the more difficult for being part of the flagship agenda of a government that doesn’t exist anymore.
If you want to see the hard data for all 990 funding decsions made, knock yourself out.