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'We can't all go to the Royal Opera House': funding is too London-centric, says arts chief

Senior figure in Prince Charles's arts charity calls for a radical rethink of priorities and funding

A senior figure in the art world warned yesterday that the arts sector is focusing on a "London-centric, middle-class elite" while failing to reach the majority of the British population.

Colin Tweedy, vice-president of Arts & Business, one of the Prince of Wales' charities, is calling for a "radical" rethink of priorities and a possible redistribution of public funding to increase arts participation and interest beyond the capital.

He told The Independent: "81 per cent of all private philanthropy is in the capital. Most – around 75 per cent – goes to just 25 institutions ... But [across] the rest of the UK ... the balance is not there. The focus is on what I would call a middle-class elite. We are failing – profoundly, if we're not careful – to engage the majority of the British population."

Out of a total £658m in private investment in the arts, London received £488m in 2010-11. With a 7.8 million London population, the benefit is £62.50 per head, compared with the rest of the UK population (54.2 million) who received only £3.60 per head.

Mr Tweedy said: "We must be ruthless about encouraging culture everywhere if we believe it transforms lives ... The London institutions have a greater opportunity to raise money from the private sector. I'm not here to say 'cut their [public] funding to zero', but I think we have to look at priorities. It may be that [London] funding would have to be cut. We need to address these issues, rather than ... saying no one should be cut."

Arts & Business, whose president is Prince Charles, pioneered business sponsorship of the arts in the UK.

The [beneficial social] role that arts can play within communities is all the more important after last year's riots, Mr Tweedy said, adding: "We need to address these issues because they're social. The arts must remain relevant to the people if we want to transform our communities. We need to address the fact that the majority of British people are not able to go the National Theatre or the Royal Opera House."

Some may argue that the arts can never reach the majority. But Mr Tweedy points to the inspiration of Newham Borough Council in east London where some 7,000 children have been given a publicly funded, free musical instrument and two years' free tuition thanks to the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales.

"He has one of the poorest parts of Europe's population, but he has this absolute passion," said Mr Tweedy.

There was a mixed response yesterday.

Tom Morris, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic and director of the National Theatre's award-winning War Horse, objects to redistribution, saying: "In order for the regions to be healthy, London has to be incredibly healthy as a cultural centre."

But Stephanie Sirr, chief executive of Nottingham Playhouse, said: "We are a very London-centric country... It's a big worry."

Cash cuts: Threatened sites

Etruria Industrial Museum

The last steam-powered potters' mill in Britain survived threats to its future in 2010. The site, which dates back to 1856, is once more in danger of closure as Stoke-on-Trent City Council consults on £24m spending cuts. Stoke's 17th-century museum Ford Green Hall is also under threat.

National Museums Liverpool

The organisation, which runs the Walker Art Gallery and Museum of Liverpool, said it needs to cut jobs and charge entrance fees to meet £3m funding cuts. Director David Fleming said the situation's "very bad and getting worse", adding it would try to keep the museums open.

The Museum of Nottingham Life

Nottingham's council is planning to close the museum to the general public, and only open it to groups and schools in an effort to save £40,000 a year. The city's Civic Society has called the move "very sad and very shortsighted". The museum is housed in five 17th-century cottages and shows social history over the past three centuries.

Northern Ballet

The Leeds company is to receive 25 per cent less this year than two years ago, a cut of about £800,000. Chief executive Mark Skipper said the cuts will "severely impact the potential achievements of the company just as it embarks on a bold new future". He added that it will not be able to commission new work, or travel as much as before.