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Artist aAn Ovewview.
2005.3.16
Support for the arts by public organizations in Britain, Shinko Suga (Journalist)  
Support for the arts by public organizations in Britain, Shinko Suga (Journalist)  
The British system of support for the arts through public organizations lies somewhere in between the continental European systems relying mainly on government funding and the American system which relies mainly on money from the private sector.
The main reasons for this are historical. Britain was one of the first countries in the world where people, led by ideals of freedom and equality, took the power of government into their own hands through citizen revolts, beginning in the 17th century. This was followed by the industrial revolution, which propelled Britain into the position of what could be called the world's first modern nation. In contrast to continental Europe, where patronage for the arts came from the royalty and nobility or the church, Britain early on developed a historical precedent in which an increasingly prosperous middle class was able to support the arts to a considerable degree.



Public support that is not government driven
The British Museum was created when the doctor and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane donated his collection of specimens to the British government in 1753. Money was raised through a nationally run lottery and in 1759 the British Museum opened as the world's first museum open to the general public.
The Tate Galleries that stand on the north bank of the Thames River in London is a museum of modern and contemporary art that was created in 1897 when the wealthy sugar merchant, Sir Henry Tate, donated his contemporary art collection and a fund of 80,000 for construction of a museum to house it provided that the government provide the land for it to be built on.
In the still evolving central area of London there are about 40 theaters, most of which were built from the latter half of the 19th century into the early 20th century as privately financed commercial theaters. From these examples we see that, historically, support for the arts in Britain has basically not been government directed. The basic format is one in which the various arts organizations draw up their annual plans of activities and if those projects are considered worthy they will receive some degree of public funding.

The history of the Arts Council of Great Britain
The Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) is a nationwide organization now independent from the national government that was founded in 1946. This organization is an outgrowth of The Council for the Encouragement of Music and Art (CEMA) founded in 1940 and its reorganization as the ACGB enabled British art organizations to pursue their activities in a more stable and supportive environment.
There was a time when the ACGB was quite a generous supporter of the art, but in latter half of the 1980s former Prime Minister Thatcher put an end to the expansion of funding for the arts and put in place a policy that in effect reduced the amount of government funding for the arts. This forced the art organizations to strengthen efforts to solicit funding from corporations and individuals.
In 1994, when a national lottery was reinstated for the first time in 170 years, some 28% of its profits was designated to the support of programs for the arts and sports that could no longer be supported sufficiently by tax money. As a result of this new source of funds, the Arts Council of England (ACE) was able to allot some one billion pounds to projects for refurbishing the major organizations, redevelopment and construction between March of 1995 and June of 1999. This included large-scale construction projects for the Royal Opera House, the Tate Riverside Museum and the British Museum that are now either finished or ongoing.

Re-evaluation of support for the arts
The end of the 1990s brought reviews by the various arts organizations in Britain concerning what forms support for the arts should take in the future. One of the reasons for the start of these reviews was that, more than a half century after its founding, the ACGB was hearing criticism that its system was out of date.
Another factor is the trend toward a shift of governance from the central government to the regional governments that began in the mid-80s. When we speak of Britain we are actually speaking of the largely Anglo-Saxon England and the traditionally Celtic Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with their distinctly different historical, religious and cultural backgrounds. The desire of the latter group to achieve greater autonomy from the central government has been growing in recent years.
In light of this, the ACGB divided itself into four bodies in 1994, the Arts Council of England (ACE), the Scottish Arts Council (SAC), the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) and the Arts Council of North Ireland (ACNI). Until this split, the ACGB had received its lump budget from the national government and proceeded to allocate funding to the various regions, but under the new organization the four councils began to receive their funding for the arts directly from their respective regional governing bodies.
Meanwhile, the arrival of the Blair government in May of 1997 brought a new policy line that involved both a strengthening of the power of the central government and an increase in the practical governance responsibilities asked of the regional governments. This shift had an influence on support for the arts. The biggest change was that the role of Ace became mainly one of deciding on and implementing policy for support of the arts for all of England and the organization itself began to slim down. Under the new system, the actual job of allocating funds has been shifted to ten Regional Arts Boards (RAB) in the different districts of England, and in the future these RAB will surely play a primary role in the allotment of funds for the arts. These changes are based on the idea that allocating funds by an organization that is closer to the actual artists, art organizations and local audiences will result in more timely and efficient use of the funds available.

 

Main organizations of the British arts support system


 
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