The (Arts) Battle of Britain Takes Spotlight

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Enter stage left: Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of England’s National Theatre. On Oct. 1 he introduces the theater’s annual report, says he wants to highlight “enormous short-term issues” for regional theatres, and complains that any further financial cuts would be “madness.”

Enter stage right: Maria Miller, the British culture secretary, who this week in a London Evening Standard article thrusts home at arts-world leaders. She criticizes them for making statements “close to pure fiction,” adding that “accusations that this government neither likes nor supports the arts are disingenuous in the extreme.”

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Sir Nicholas Hytner

She slashes at Hytner, complaining it was “outrageous” for him to claim that “the government has done next to nothing to encourage philanthropy.” She referred to Hytner’s November comments at an event, supported by Olympics opening ceremony director Danny Boyle, to raise awareness of funding problems for regional theatres.

A Nov. 28 article in The Guardian notes:

It was the second time she had publicly taken on Hytner this week. On Monday, at a Conservative party fundraising event, she said that cultural organizations have had “enough” funding, and denied Hytner’s assessment, made in October, that there is a “clear and present danger” to regional theatre in the current climate of cuts.

Today, now center stage, Hytner blocks Miller’s assault, steadies, and-according to The Guardian-responds:

Sir Nicholas Hytner has challenged the culture secretary, Maria Miller, to find common cause with the arts world and shake the perception that she “is not prepared to fight our corner”… Hytner said he was puzzled by a minister “who accepts that investment in a country’s cultural life is inherently good, and also that it has a substantial economic benefit. And yet her primary message [to the arts] seems to have … had a large element of reproach … for somehow draining the nation’s resources.”

He added: “I need to know where she stands, and I am afraid where she appears to stand is that we’ve got to suck it up.”

Hytner, in today’s interview went on to challenge Miller to take proper responsibility for the dire situation facing regional theatre:

Maria Miller

The Guardian noted in its Nov. 28 article that, in the 2010 comprehensive spending review, Arts Council England’s budget was cut, in real terms, from ¬£449.5m to ¬£349m by 2014. Arts Council England is the nation’s public cultural agency. The total cut was 30%. ACE asked to pass on cuts of only 15% to “front line” organizations. The article noted:

Hytner added: “The arts represent less than 0.1% of total public expenditure. The minimum requirement we’re asking for is that it should be protected. A reduction beyond the 30% the Arts Council has already received would unquestionably signify a withdrawal of support.”

In October, CFR reported that Arts Council England announced job and budget reductions, including a 21% cut in payroll and a 50% slashing of property costs.

Specifically, that means the elimination of 117 positions, reducing the national agency’s workforce from 559.5 full-time posts to 442, and dropping the number of executive directors who support the agency’s executive director from eight to four.

Along with the staff cuts, the agency is planning the following key changes:

  • leadership of artform and cultural policy expertise distributed geographically across the organization – everyone will have a local and national focus
  • property costs will come down by 50 per cent through reductions in the size of offices
  • major offices will be located in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, plus some smaller local offices to keep the Arts Council close to the arts and cultural sector, and to local government
  • five areas covering London, the South East, the South West, the Midlands and the North replace the Arts Council’s current regions and areas.