Anthony Everitt is resigning following a torrid year, marked by rows over orchestras, theatres and cuts in funding. The 54-year-old former journalist will leave the post he has occupied for four years at the end of March, a full 12 months before his contract expires. He will write a weekly arts column for the Guardian newspaper and undertake other writing and media projects.
Stressing that the controversy over plans to remove grants from two London symphony orchestras had 'nothing whatsoever to do with my departure', Mr Everitt conceded that it had been a difficult six months. 'With a time of financial crisis, it is extremely difficult for a body like the Arts Council to make cuts and get consent from the communities facing those cuts.'
He warned that the episode should not be seen as the 'final saga' in the Palumbo-Everitt era, but as a 'prelude to the Gowrie reign'. Lord Gowrie, who takes over as chairman from Lord Palumbo on 1 April, would have to administer a 12 per cent cut in grants over the next three years.
From his own experience, Mr Everitt knew that everyone agreed to the principle of funding fewer organisations better, 'but had their fingers crossed behind their backs hoping it wouldn't be them (to be cut). People will consent to the theory, but when it comes to the practice it's very different.'
The press conference Mr Everitt called yesterday to explain his reasons for leaving was a characteristically affable affair - a friendly chat over sandwiches and a glass of wine in the council boardroom. He explained 'that a decade is quite long enough with any organisation'. He had consulted Lord Gowrie, who agreed that the arrival of a new regime would present the ideal opportunity for a clean break.
The arts, he said, were flourishing, the national lottery was on the way and the restructuring, which from April will see separate boards for England, Scotland and Wales instead of a single council for Britain, was complete. But he added: 'The arts world should feel let down by the Government. The arts is the single thing we are internationally famous for.' Yet, compared with total government spending, central funding was 'peanuts'.
Mr Everitt had found his 10 years with the council 'frustrating and exhausting. One of the biggest disappointments has been that at the top of the Arts Council we've had much less time for actually thinking about the arts and going to arts events, because so much of our time has been spent . . . with bureaucratic and political activities.' But with the changes in place, this was a problem his successor would not have to face. As to who that will be, he had 'no idea'.