Gerry Robinson laments `underfunding' of the arts in England

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GERRY ROBINSON, chairman of the Arts Council, appeared to be going native yesterday when he declared that the arts in England remain "dramatically underfunded". The Government funded the arts, he said, "to half the degree of what would be reasonable".

Mr Robinson was widely perceived to have been put in charge of the Arts Council by the Blair government in order to "sort it out", and to ensure that limited funds are spent efficiently. Yesterday he declared that it could do with another pounds 200m a year which was, he said, "the price of a couple of F1-11 fighters".

Mr Robinson announced that the Arts Council will spend pounds 500m over the next two years. New priorities will include assisting individual artists, black and Asian arts, and bringing art to young people.

A new budget of pounds 1.5m is to be created to help the individual artist. The move, said an Arts Council spokesperson, is designed to encourage "new works, experimentation and risk" - a brief apparently designed to spur on the Tracey Emins and Damien Hirsts of the future. Writers are also to benefit. The Royal Court theatre is to receive pounds 800,000 and the Donmar Warehouse pounds 162,000 over two years, to support new work and new writing.

The council's new priorities also include the "embracing of the diversity of our culture", which in cash terms has produced an award of pounds 500,000 to Diversity 2002, "a major strategic initiative intended to create a step change in the support for black and Asian arts in England".

The project has a wide brief - to encourage new work from black and Asian artists, as well as winning new audiences for black and Asian arts. Some pounds 400,000 over two years is also to be allocated to arts projects which address social exclusion - not, according to the Arts Council, money to be handed out to artists prepared to paint pictures of bag ladies, but projects which take the arts into "communities where they haven't been before". Such excursions have recently included theatrical performances by Eritrean children in London and taking writers such as Irvine Welsh into nightclubs. A further pounds 10m over two years is to go to the Council's New Audiences programme, much of which will be spent on broadcasting and publishing designed to extend the reach of the arts. A new investment of pounds 300,000 over two years will go to theatre for young people, and pounds 1m over three years will be spend on using the arts to improve standards in schools.

A website,, described as "a virtual space for exhibiting and providing information about the arts", is to receive pounds 1.5m.