Arts Council England’s Investment Programme: what’s happening?

Today's decisions involve a relatively small amount of money, but will have a big impact.

Today, Arts Council England will announce the cultural organisations it will support with regular public investment for the next three years.

What is Arts Council England?

Arts Council England invests public money into arts and culture for the benefit of everyone in England. It is a ‘non-departmental public body’, which means it has a role in the process of national government but is not part of a government department.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own separate bodies, which allocate funding in different ways.

How is it funded?

In 2021/22, Arts Council England received:

  • 73% of its funding from the government.
  • 27% of its funding from the National Lottery.

How much does the government spend on Arts Council England?

In 2021/22, the government’s spending on Arts Council England was £12.16 per person for the year, or 23p per week.

Total government spending on all services was £13,166 per person in 2020-21 (official figures for 2021-22 have not yet been published), of which £21.76 went to Arts Council England. That’s 0.17% of total government spending.

0.17% is high by historical standards, because of the Culture Recovery Fund which was awarded exceptionally in 2020 to help cultural organisations survive the pandemic. In recent years, the figure has generally been below 0.1%.

However, this relatively small outlay achieves a very big impact.

How much does the Arts Council’s investment matter to cultural organisations?

The Arts Council’s investment currently makes up 29.1% of annual income for the average 'National Portfolio Organisation'. These are the theatres, museums, galleries, arts centres, music venues, festivals, carnivals, touring companies, etc… receiving regular funding from the Arts Council across England.

In 2020/21, during the peak of the pandemic, the Arts Council’s investment accounted for 36.9% of income on average, as earned income from ticket sales collapsed.

Search for a National Portfolio Organisation near you to see how much of its income came from Arts Council England last year.

What does the Arts Council’s regular investment enable?

Every organisation applies to the Arts Council to do different things, but generally speaking, regular public investment makes a big difference to:

  • Viability. The costs of putting on events and maintaining companies of people often far exceeds the income obtainable from ticket sales. This is especially true since the pandemic, and in the wake of the energy and cost-of-living crises. Arts Council investment helps to close the gap, and makes things happen.
  • Accessibility. Ticket prices are generally lower than they would be without public investment. Organisations can use their funding to subsidise and widen access to more and new people.
  • Quality. By creating space at one remove from commercial pressures, public funding can allow artists to take risks and make the leaps that challenge us to think differently – one of the great benefits of the arts to society.
  • Sustainability. Public funding is important where longer term investment is required – anything from the initial cost of a new venue to the infrastructure of trained staff that keep visitors safe and happy.

How does the Arts Council decide which organisations to fund?

1730 organisations applied with financial statements and information, an activity plan, and information about how they would meet the 'investment principles' outlined in Arts Council England's new 10-year strategy Let's Create.

The Arts Council has made decisions with this strategy in mind, but also with finite resources. The annual budget available for NPOs is around £428m, but applications exceeded £655m. Real-terms funding of Arts Council England fell by 16% between 2009/10 and 2019/20, even as it was asked to take on additional responsibilities including museums, libraries and Music Education Hubs. The percentage of unrestricted funding has fallen significantly.

In February 2022, Nadine Dorries (then Culture Secretary) asked Arts Council England to redistribute an extra £24 million of its existing budget to 109 places outside of Greater London, as part of the Government's 'levelling up' agenda. London-based organisations have been asked to consider moving their base outside of the capital.

Does the Arts Council just invest in organisations? What about individual artists?

The Arts Council’s regular funding of organisations is only one strand of their funding, but a significant strand. In 2020/21 it accounted for 45% of their outgoings.

Individual artists are often supported through Arts Council-funded organisations, and they can also apply for direct funding, called ‘Project Grants’. These are awarded on a rolling basis, rather than every three years.

Arts Council England's investment supports the whole cultural ecology - everybody benefits, directly or indirectly, from a society in which creativity and culture is encouraged and supported.

Update: Arts Council England has announced the 990 organisations who will receive funding through their 2023-26 Investment Programme. We've published a follow-up article with the key data.

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