Local arts organisation groups reject criticism by MPs of “disproportionate” funding for London boroughs

Gandini Juggling 'Smashed Masters 2014'. Pic: Ludovic des Cognets

Gandini Juggling ‘Smashed Masters 2014’. Pic: Ludovic des Cognets

Local arts organisations have rejected “unreasonable” claims by MPs that London receives a disproportionate amount of the Government arts subsidy.

Organisations in the Eastlondlines boroughs, which received 19.2 per cent of London’s 2014 funding from Arts Council England, stressed they needed the money to survive.

However there are large disparities within the figures. Analysis by ELL shows that Hackney received the second highest funding among London boroughs; 10 times more than Croydon.

A report published last week by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said: “London has long received a disproportionate share of arts funding…The Arts Council is well-placed to restore some balance. It must do so with greater urgency if it is to realise its declared ambition to engineer the provision of great art and culture for everyone.”

Although the report highlighted a funding bias towards London, it also stressed that the Arts Council was forced to intervene in the wake of spending cutbacks.

All London boroughs decreased spending on culture in 2013. More than 20 per cent of boroughs do not have a dedicated arts service, though all four ELL districts do.

Arts Council Funding Graph. Pic: Jazmin Kopotsha.

Arts Council Funding Graph. Pic: Jazmin Kopotsha.

The figures show that ACE allocated arts companies based in Hackney a total of £2,710,592 in 2014. Westminster was the only London borough to receive more.

This compares to £216,614 received by organisations in Croydon. Lewisham and Tower Hamlets companies were granted significantly more, receiving £1,809,609 and £1,742,168 respectively.

Lower figures for Croydon may reflect a lesser level of arts-based activity than in Hackney or Lewisham. Croydon filmmaker, Matthew Morgan, told ELL last week that Croydon and south-east London in particular “don’t have a very good reputation for arts…it is so sad, as there is a huge demographic for good theatre and other arts, as well as hoards of talented young artists with no real outlet.”

In recent years, Hackney has established itself as a centre for artistic activities, particularly radical and fringe arts.

Gandini Juggling, which has been based in Hackney for seven years, was granted £73,603 to take its production of Smashed on tour throughout the UK. Finance assistant, Tara Boland, said: “There is a lot to be stimulated by in Hackney. 10 years ago Hackney was a cheap area to live in. Many other artists live here which makes it attractive for other artists.”

Boland pointed out there was an abundance of arts rehearsal spaces in Hackney. This contrasts with Croydon, which arts groups claim is suffering a space shortage due to cutbacks.

“The work and connections are in London”

Boland said the company needed the Arts Council funding to take its production on tour because most UK venues were unable to afford the show.

She said the comments by the committee were “strange and unreasonable’’ given that Gandini Juggling has performed across the UK.

“If you look at how many companies are based in London, the proportion who are successful isn’t high. People believe the work and connections are in London.”

“It’s a slightly political debate that’s a catch-22. Are the artists [in other regions] making applications? [The government] needs to make work in other areas and encourage artists to live there.”

Funding from other sources is becoming scarcer

The Arts Council also gave £73,000 to Four Corners, a photography and film centre in Bethnal Green, to fund its artists in residence programme FATHOM.

Four Corners' FATHOM programme. Pic: Will Jennings

Four Corners’ FATHOM programme. Pic: Will Jennings

Carla Mitchell, development director of Four Corners said: “We applied to the Arts Council because this is the only fund specifically aimed at arts projects of this kind. There are other trusts and foundations that support arts projects but funding from other sources is extremely difficult to find, and becoming scarcer.”

Mitchell said the issue of funding for London is critical for Four Corners, as a small arts charity based in east London.  She said the report of excessive funding going to the capital is “the result of the overwhelming proportion of funding that goes to the nationally significant arts organisations, Royal Opera House, Tate Gallery etc”.

“This argument fails to recognise the smaller arts organisation that make up a vital network of London’s arts infrastructure, which will be penalised if this goes ahead.”

“It would be interesting to see what proportion of funding really goes to the majority of smaller arts organisations in London if the large grants were taken out of the equation.”

“A lot of the money we receive goes back to the artist”

Turf Projects, an arts collective based on the outskirts of the city, was granted £3,106 from ACE towards Putt Putt #2, a crazy golf course exhibition at Ruskin Square, Croydon.

Turf Projects Putt Putt. Pic: Jim Stephenson

Turf Projects Putt Putt. Pic: Jim Stephenson

Alice Cretney, co-director of Turf Projects, said: “We are a part of London but have a particular focus as a collective of working with artists and artist-run spaces from around the country. This means that a lot of the money we receive goes directly back to these artists.”

Turf Projects worked with curator David McLeavy, who is based at S1 in Sheffield, and artists from Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle on Putt Putt #2.

Cretney said: “All the curators and artists were paid a fee, which was funded partly by ACE’s Grants For the Arts scheme. The project was also funded partly by Stanhope & Schroders, Croydon Council, Croydon Partnership, We Are Couch and DWPub.”

“I hope that the Arts Council will be able to see the benefit we have has a collective on artists from around the country. It also has a positive effect on the artists, not just financially but in widening awareness of their work in Croydon.”

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