The British arts scene has flourished as never before, in the past 15 years ,with rising audiences and corporate sponsorship – all made possible by secure government funding.
However, spending cuts are set to change that winning formula for ever, as ministers urge arts institutions to adopt a US-style approach to fundraising that will rely ever more heavily on philanthropy.
George Osborne, the chancellor, invited key figures from the arts world to the Treasury last Thursday evening to spell out the new funding realities.
They included Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, and Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery.
In a meeting described by one of the participants as “polite but inconclusive”, Mr Osborne told them that the arts would not be exempt from forthcoming spending cuts.
Osborne stated, he expected them to compensate for the shortfall by redoubling their efforts to secure more private funding.
He did not give any figures for the expected cuts, but last month a letter from Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, asked all cultural institutions that were directly funded by the government to make contingency plans for either a 25 per cent or a 30 per cent cut in their budgets.
Arts institutions will now be forced to trawl and in many cases compete for private donations and corporate funding, which are already dwindling.
A survey released earlier this year by Arts & Business, which monitors business funding of the arts, showed that investment fell from its all-time high of £687m to £655m in 2008-09 – despite an average increase in attendances at cultural institutions of 12 per cent.
Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, said it was unrealistic to have expected the arts to be spared from the public spending cuts that will be announced in the autumn.
“The arts are going to suffer just as the schools, universities and hospitals are going to suffer,” he said.
He urged arts bodies to think “more boldly” and to start working together to raise money, in the way that the University of Oxford raises funds as an overarching body, to complement individual college appeals.
But dissenters in the arts world continue to emphasise the importance of public funding in attracting private money. This is completely in line with the ‘American’ approach where donating wings to museums and aggressive cooperate sponsorship is rife.