Doyen of business sponsorship of the arts Colin Tweedy is in rueful mood these days, and for good reason. He’s waiting on tenterhooks to find out whether Arts & Business – the organisation he has built up over 27 years to champion commercial participation in the arts – has become the victim of a stitch-up hatched by his host body, the Arts Council.
The Arts Council, like every other quango, is under intense pressure to make deep cuts in its budget. And the suspicion is growing that, in order to save its own hide, it’s quite prepared to sacrifice A&B – which depends on the Arts Council for over half of its funding.
Naturally enough, that’s not going to be the way the proposal is presented to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. The pitch is more like this: [Much wringing of hands] “…so, Secretary of State, unfortunate sacrifices have had to be made for the greater good of the arts community and we feel Colin’s organisation… well, it does receive quite a lot of private funding, and it’s about time it stood on its own two feet…” Or words to that effect.
Actually, it does receive quite a lot of public money – about £4m a year – which for obscure reasons is within the remit of the wholly subsidised Arts Council rather than being funded directly by the DCMS (the case before 1999 with the then Department of Heritage). Pulling the plug of public finance, however, would not be the best calculated method of ensuring it stood on its own two feet. In fact, quite the contrary. Much of the 45% private funding might disappear if it is not matched by a pledge of public money. And even if it did not, A&B would be crippled by the drastic restructuring that would have to take place to ensure some pale ghost of an afterlife.
It says a lot about the arts world that some would greet this outcome with ill-disguised glee. To them, commerce is a grubby word contaminating the purity of the artistic dialogue. And, let’s face it, Tweedy – tireless champion of commercial support of the arts over nearly three decades – has made a few enemies on this account along the way.
But he’s not without friends, either. And one of them is George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a peculiar irony that Osborne, in whose name these swingeing cuts are being made, was – until his present elevation – a passionate advocate of the engagement of art with commerce. As you would expect, given he sat on the board of A&B.
Maybe the Arts Council should have a rethink. Not just because of Osborne either. The whole idea of doing away with our best-known and most successful arts sponsorship body seems daft, given that public subsidy of the arts is about to crater.
More about this in my magazine column this week.