Today will be a traumatic day for Britain's arts organisations. The Arts Council, the quango that distributes state subsidies to them, will announce swingeing cuts as it passes on government reductions to its budget.
Arts campaigners tend to stress the economic and social contribution that culture makes to society. But both the arts and the Arts Council would do well to note the words of Sir Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre, who said at a public meeting last week that "utilitarian argument" about art, such as its value to the UK economy, takes away "the very thing that makes it alluring – that is, its mystery and its joy."
It is this indefinable but essential quality that the Arts Council must safeguard. Today's announcement is likely to see funding cut completely from scores of organisations. Other arts bodies will suffer reductions to their annual grants.
While the closure of many bodies is an uncomfortable prospect, it is nevertheless preferable to an across-the-board cut, which would leave all publicly funded companies under-resourced and unable to give audiences what they deserve. But there will be deep unease if the Arts Council concentrates its cuts on the smallest, the least vocal and those outside the capital. The big boys in London – the Royal Opera House, the English National Opera, the National Theatre – cannot have all their money protected while others go to the wall. There must be no sense of of a two-tier system of funding, and consequently of provision.
Certainly, the arts should also see this as a moment to maximise earning opportunities and think more about the needs of audiences in terms of ticket pricing and accessibility. But the spotlight today is on the Arts Council and the responsibility it has to preserve the cultural fabric, not just in London but across the nation and across the arts. It will need to show fairness and take the needs of every region into account. This often unaccountable body will also need to give strong and public rationale for decisions that may condemn companies to closure, and deprive audiences of so much mystery and joy.