We cannot offset arts cuts, say philanthropists

Some of Britain's most prominent philanthropists who have donated hundreds of millions of pounds to the creative industries are warning that private giving will not bridge the gap left by imminent cuts to state funding for the arts.

A number of leading arts benefactors have argued that philanthropy cannot fill the hole that the threatened 25 to 40 per cent cuts under the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review will leave if they are pushed through later this summer.

Arts organisations have already received letters preparing them for this potential outcome. Their words came as the Arts Council warned that 30 per cent cuts over the next four years would mean severing the funding lifeline to at least 200 arts organisations out of 850 which it currently funds, with the subsequent loss of thousands of jobs.

Philanthropists including Sir John Ritblat, who has given to the British Library and the Wallace Collection; Anthony D'Offay, the art dealer who sold his private collection to the state for a fraction of its market value; Lord Stevenson, who has funded the Tate; Dr Keith Howard, who has given millions to Opera North; and Terry Bramall, who has helped arts in the north and Midlands, have all signed a letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

It warns that philanthropy is in addition to, not a substitute for, state funding. Addressing the Government's enthusiasm for the American arts funding model which relies heavily on philanthropy, they call for tax incentives that echo that transatlantic model (which offers philanthropists tax breaks in their lifetime) that the Treasury does not have in place. It also points out that such private giving has seen a significant drop in America, in the harsh current financial climate.

Leading figures in the art world met to discuss the likely outcome for audiences at home and Britain's reputation abroad if the threatened cuts are pushed through.

The director of the Tate Galleries, the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Serpentine Gallery, Sadler's Wells Theatre and the South Bank Centre warned that if swingeing cuts were made, theatres would be left in darkness, blockbuster art exhibitions would be a thing of the past, leading museums and galleries could close and institutions would no longer be able to invest in young artists and dancers, or build new venues across the country. They said cuts of 30 per cent would cause irreparably damage to an industry which generates at least £2 for every £1 invested.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate Galleries, said that on a 10 per cent cut, the gallery could still "maintain the character of what we do" but any more than that would cause far-reaching damage. Major exhibitions would pass the capital by, he warned, because galleries would not be able to bear their share of the cost of mounting them. "We risk turning the clock back 20 years," he said.

Vicky Heywood, chief executive of the RSC, said ticket prices could see a rise, in the worst case scenario. "We would be mounting less productions, employing less actors and designers, we would probably have to increase ticket prices and we would travel less around the country... What is going to happen will lead a long legacy, it will not be a short-term problem," she said.

Julia Peyton Jones, director of the Serpentine Gallery, warned that private philanthropy could not make up the government shortfall. "The question of whether philanthropists will step in to fill the gap is not realistic," she said.

Alistair Spalding, director of Sadler's Wells, looked to the Government to spread cuts over four years of budgeting instead of introducing savage cuts in the first year. "If cuts come suddenly in the first year, very many arts organisations will simply disappear," he said.

Funders of the arts

* Dr Keith Howard, founder of the Bradford-based academic/professional publisher Emerald Group. Said to have given millions to Opera North in Leeds.

* Anthony D'Offay, pre-eminent British art dealer. In 2008, sold his £125m collection for £26.5m to the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate Gallery.

* Sir John Ritblat, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wallace Collection in London. Gave £1m to fund the Sir John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library.

* Dennis Stevenson, a life peer who sits on the cross-benches in the House of Lords. Has funded the Tate, Aldeburgh Music and many music charities.

* Terry Bramall, former chair of the social housing construction firm Keepmoat, based in Doncaster. Has given widely to arts in the north and Midlands.

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