Brooke retreats over devolution of arts funding

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The Independent Online
THE Government bowed yesterday to lobbying from orchestras and art galleries and stepped back from its original plan to switch their funding from the national Arts Council to new regional arts boards.

Instead, Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, told Parliament yesterday that about 60 arts organisations would be devolved in 1994 as opposed to the 90-plus suggested two years ago.

Although Mr Brooke said that this would not create a two-tier system, there is now a group of arts organisations which will have a quasi-national status, funded by the Arts Council; and a second regional group where organisations will compete for money with other institutions, street festivals and village fetes.

Anthony Sargent, head of arts and entertainment for Birmingham City Council, said that regional identity had no meaning.

'You have national identity or you have local identity. You just do not have regional identity. People wake up in the morning proud to be British or proud to be a Brummie, but never proud to be a West Midlander,' he said. He thought that the final method of delegation had been too simplistic, with all the theatres delegated and all the orchestras kept as national organisations.

In his own area the City of Birmingham Touring Opera, with a high public profile, had been kept nationally funded, but Kokuma, the black dance touring company 'with little political clout', had been delegated to a regional arts board.

The Arts Council keeps the big four national companies - the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company - the South Bank Centre in London, most touring companies and a select list that includes all four London orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Halle, the Liverpool and Bournemouth orchestras and the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

It will keep some art galleries, including the Ikon in Birmingham, the Arnolfini in Bristol, the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford and the Serpentine and Whitechapel in London.

In the regional group are many of the country's best-known theatres, including the Bristol Old Vic, the Manchester Royal Exchange and the Birmingham Rep. Only the Royal Court in London, a centre for new writing, stays a nationally funded theatre along with the RSC and National.

Mr Brooke said that he would send in consultants to examine the Arts Council itself, adding that it should consider 'subsequent contracting-out of those services which do not constitute . . . grant allocation and client assessment'. This was taken to mean that it should cease its campaigning role.

Mr Brooke said yesterday that the benefit of delegating arts organisations to the regional boards was that funding decisions could be taken at grass roots by people using the institutions.

However, it is understood that the Secretary of State is considering allowing the Arts Council to distribute from the new national lottery to arts bodies, which would once again give it a major funding role.

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