Thursday, 28 October 2010

Arts Cuts and WNO


When I first started this blog I never imagined I would be discussing funding cuts and fiscal years, but following last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review my hair demanded I return and take a look at what has gone on. The short analysis is this – the arts, as was expected, have taken a rather large kick in their collective non-gender goolies.

The longer analysis goes something like this...

Over the following four years 29% will be cut from Arts Council England’s (ACE) budget with a (largely) blanket 6.9% decrease in funding for organisations announced this week for the 2011 – 2012 fiscal year. “So what?” I hear you say, WNO are a Welsh company.” Well, they are a Welsh company, but they also tour to many cities in England and, as such, a sizeable chunk of their funding comes from ACE. £6.29 million (2011 – 2012) to be precise, which is down from the current (2010 – 2011) £6.76 million. This is leaving a (circa) £650,000 gap in WNO’s funding for 2011 – 2012.

But this is just the beginning of the fun. The crucial decisions with regards to long-term funding will take place in spring of 2011 when ACE announces its plans for the 2012 – 2015 fiscal years. WNO could see its funding increased, decreased, or stopped altogether depending on how ACE tackles the £100 million pound budget savings it has to make.

The troubling aspect, from WNO’s point of view, could be a significant decrease in what Dame Liz Forgan (Chair of the Arts Council) described as a budget for strategic opportunities for artistic work - this will be reduced by £21m (64%) next year. This supports work such as touring…In the future we will be asking funded organisations to take on more responsibility for furthering our strategic goals, particularly in the areas of touring and audience development. As ACE describe WNO’s funding as towards core costs of 14 weeks of touring to seven cities in England it would appear that WNO’s funding may come under the budget for strategic opportunities for work, although as usual the devil, or the angel (in this case), could well be in the detail.

What ACE’s final decision will be is, of course, impossible to tell, but it would be foolish not to envisage calls from English based organisations demanding the end of WNO’s funding, despite the fact that WNO tours to cities in England that Opera North and ROH do not visit. Far be it for me to suggest such a thing but perhaps folks who take in WNO performances in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Oxford and Southampton may like to voice their opinions to ACE, or their local MP’s, over the coming weeks and months...

But before ACE delivers its crucial decision on the 2012 – 2015 fiscal years focus will shift to the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and its December funding announcements. Will they cover WNO’s ACE loss for 2011 – 2012 or will they be forced to lessen their support? With a far smaller budget than ACE (ACW records for 2008 – 2009 showed that their grants totalled £22 million, £4 million less than ROH’s ACE grant alone for the same period) ACW’s ability to help WNO will be lessened even further following last week’s CSR given that the Welsh Assembly Government (ACW’s principal sponsor) is facing a £1.8 billion fall in its budget over the next four years. It’s been previously suggested that ACW will look favourably on WNO given its proven track record and the knock on financial benefits it creates for businesses in Wales, but if ACW’s own budget is squeezed then they can only do so much to support WNO.

All of this leaves WNO, like many other organisations, holding its breath. Inevitably the financial restraints will inhibit ability to invest in new productions, and audiences may have to put up with more revivals than they would like. But given a choice between revivals or new productions I will take revivals any day of the week if it means keeping the core strength of WNO intact, the chorus and orchestra, to avoid the disturbing fate of Scottish Opera with its dismantled chorus and part-time orchestra. Not that I would want WNO to retreat into a cocoon of Italian Top Ten Hits. Lothar Koenigs' appointment has undoubtedly breathed new life into WNO and it is important that he has a strong say in the make-up of future seasons.

It seems ridiculous that in the same year WNO produced an unforgettable Meistersinger, which was received with ecstatic abandon from Cardiff to the Royal Albert Hall via Birmingham by, among others, HRH Prince Charles and an emotional Stephen Fry on BBC TV that its future might about to be drastically affected through no fault of its own. Ask audiences, those far removed from London, just what it means to have WNO tour to within reach of their villages and towns and I suspect the words grateful and happy (a simple, but enjoyable emotion) will be mentioned quite often. You need look no further than this blog for evidence of the wonders of WNO. I am, at heart, a generally very cynical person – it’s true I’m afraid. So it’s a mark of WNO’s moreish addiction that I’ve kept up with this blog.

In writing this post I may be imagining the worst for WNO (what do you expect – I’m Welsh!). The case may be that WNO emerges with greater funding. Or, who knows, maybe one of the Ryder Cup entourage who attended WNO’s special performance on the eve of the contest might like to invest in the company? What I do know is that the endgame for the CSR is only a few months away, and the reality is that many organisations will suffer. Some will sadly disappear, and I assume larger organisations will suffer as well. All I can hope is that WNO isn’t one of them. Because at the end of the day WNO is made up of people who earn their living from giving people something that money can’t buy. Joy.

Orchestra and Chorus of WNO Wach auf!

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