How the Kosh were mugged: Right of Reply

The Arts Council is to withdraw funding from the Kosh dance company. Mi chael Merwitzer replies
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The Independent Culture
After 12 years and over 1,000 performances, at the height of our popularity, arts bureaucrats are cutting us. The real issue is who is deciding and how. Following an appraisal in1989, the Arts Council injected massive amounts of money into the c ompany. We were told to expand our base and appoint more staff, which we did. Now they're behaving like a multinational, going in when it suits and all of a sudden pulling out.

We have been annual revenue clients for the last seven years but in December 1993 our £211,000 grant was cut by £50,000. We were also told that from 1995 we would no longer be funded annually. We were in the middle of a two year programme with committed expenditure from 1993-95, including a sponsorship deal with Becks. Lord Gowrie said they were not trying to close the Kosh and that we could still apply for one-off project funding, but as the most that we could apply for is £60,000, that's ab s urd.

They tried to make out that this gave us a year's notice, but that's nonsense. As soon as word gets out, there are immediate repercussions for everyone from the bank downwards. The director of dance claimed that it had been consistently pointed out to usthat the standard of our work had been disappointing. Of the two shows in question, the second had only played London and Bristol and thus could only have had a handful of reports from their Arts Council advisers. Endangered Species won awards and played all over the world yet they never gave us any feedback on that. Despite requests, we did not receive a single report on Klub Anima. They criticised Dinner Dance, which toured for a year although it was six months before they sent us any reports - some good, some bad. When the news about the cuts broke, advisors and Regional Arts Boards sent us positive reports to use in our defence.

Nearly 4,700 people wrote to the Arts Council in just eight weeks. We commissioned an independent marketing consultant to write a report on our work. All this has been ignored. I can understand that people might not like the work - they are entitled to their opinion - but if you are going to cut then you must have proper consultation.

There is no laid down procedure to deal with clients within the Arts Council and no proper representation. There is no system to officially lodge a complaint of procedural malpractice - there are simply no guidelines. It's disgraceful that there is no appeals structure. The new secretary general, Mary Allen, has attached two sentences to the funding contracts saying that she is the head of appeals, thus supposedly creating an appeals structure. Why is there no external mechanism for this?

Never have I come across an organisation handling public money who deal in so secretive a manner. You have to use some criteria to judge work, fair enough, but if you are going to cut you must act in a responsible manner. The greater the potential harm, the greater the responsibility.

We will continue, but it will have to be without them. We continue to receive funding from the London Boroughs' Grants Committee, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the British Council. There is considerable demand for our work, which will keep us busy for the next two years at least. Inevitably the majority of this will be international, since UK touring will suffer without Arts Council support. My confidence in justice has been eroded."

Michael Merwitzer is director of the Kosh. He was talking to David Benedict