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Arts Council England: 2023-2026 Investment Programme - facts and opinions

Updated: Feb 9

There are mixed responses to the outcomes announcement of the Arts Council England (ACE) Investment Programme, the most vocal of which came from those that either celebrate their success and those that were unsuccessful in their bid. The main driver behind the perceived shift in investment appears to be the government's levelling up agenda, providing additional support and opportunities to the traditionally under-invested regions of the UK and diversify the growth among the different places.

I will not be discussing whether I feel certain organisations deserved funding or losing out as I am not privy to the specific details of expert reviews, assessment criteria and what the individual organisations put forward in their bids. Having worked in the public funding sector (science and healthcare, not arts) for a few years, I can guarantee you that sometimes the best organisations and world renowned people in a given field can put forward very poor bids. While funders can put some faith in a place/person based on their track records, they also have to assess what are put in front of them. Instead, I will be looking at the bigger picture and what this means for the arts industry.

Looking at the numbers between the 2018-2022 and 2023-2026 investment programmes, the number of organisations funded actually went up by 18% and the amount of funding per year going up by 21%. Despite the perception that London is losing out, the investment into London today had been high and despite the levelling up agenda, still saw a 5% increase in successful organisations and 6% increase in funding.

Other than the organisations that are continuing to receive monetary support from ACE, the other winners are the 277 organisations that did not receive any money from the 2018-2022 programme, but managed to secure support from 2023 (22% London, 19% Midlands, 28% North, 19% South East, 12% South West). It is clear from this, that while some regions benefited more than others, overall, all regions of the UK are receiving additional more support from ACE. You may be thinking how can there be 277 new organisations when there is a difference of 154 between the 2 funding rounds? Well, this is due to the fact that the ones who were previously funded are not included in the figure of 990 from 2023-2026.

In the 2018-2022 programme, almost 39% of the funding went to London. Despite the levelling up agenda, there remains 34% funding going to London. While it is a shame that some of the established organisation such as the Donmar Warehouse and English National Opera were unsuccessful in the 2023-2026 programme, there are quite a lot of new London organisations that benefited from this. This direction of travel is not unique to the arts, it is something that is applied in the healthcare sector also, ensuring fairer business competition and equity of access.

Despite the changes in investment in the different regions of UK, it is perhaps fortunate to see that ACE maintains a diverse portfolio across different art disciplines, without any apparent significant changes to specific disciplines. Similar, this is more or less reflected in the new organisations funded for 2023-2026, perhaps with a smaller increase in visual arts.

Though this may mean a set back for some organisations, the diversification of investment to other parts of the UK can, in principle, enhance access to artists and audiences in the long run. The organisation that are not offered support from 2023 instead can apply for the Transition Programme to help them devise their strategies to exit the ACE portfolio.

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