Image credit: Paul Ayre This article, written by Kevin Osborne, is also published on his LinkedIn page.
The UK’s growing Black, Asian and minority ethnic population* inevitably means that the racial funding gap** in the arts will widen over time. To close it we either need to double down on cuts to large London cultural institutions or come together as a sector to argue for a significant increase in government funding to the arts.
In November, Arts Council England (ACE) announced a significant increase in the proportion of its NPO budget going to racially diverse organisations, from 2.4% to 8.4%. As a result, from next year ACE will distribute its funding more closely in line with the size of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic population, which at the start of the spending review was c.14%.
But by the time ACE announced its spending plans, updated census data put the UK’s ethnically diverse population at 18.3%, and in London 63.2% of the population identified as being from an ethnic minority. This demographic shift means ACE needs to more than double its investment in ethnically diverse organisations to achieve racial equity.
To pay for this increase, the difficult decisions ACE made to make cuts to major London-based institutions like English National Opera (ENO) and the Royal Opera House would need to be consolidated and further cuts implemented.
Power at play Can we close the racial funding gap and continue to fund incumbent institutions?
ACE has left the door open to future funding of organisations whose grants were reduced or cut in the last spending review. As CEO Darren Henley CBE said,
Reinstating funding to the likes of ENO while continuing to meet its commitment to racially equitable funding would require a significant increase in ACE’s current budget to c.£2.1bn. This is how it breaks down per annum:
- The amount required to bridge the racial funding gap in NPO funding from 2023 – £44.1m pa
- The projected increase in the racial funding gap at the next spending review (2026-30) due to continuing growth of the Black, Asian and ethnically diverse population – £4.92m pa
- The reinstatement of funding to London organisations – c.£22.4m pa
- Inflation, estimated conservatively at 5% – £22.3m pa
Total: £93.72m p/a
This represents a 21% increase in ACE’s current budget, from the current level of £446m to c.£540m per annum. So, across the next four-year funding period from 2026-30, ACE’s budget would need to exceed £2.1bn.
A 21% increase in ACE’s budget is ambitious given the economic climate and can only be achieved if the arts stand together in their call for more money. Achieving the funding needed to close the racial funding gap and maintain the financial support to large incumbent arts institutions will not be possible if there is infighting between ethnic groups and/or artforms.
We all in this together?
There are three years until the next spending review. Unless the arts sector – black and white, classical and non-classical, London and regional – come together to fight for increased funding, we won’t be able to achieve racial equity without further cuts to incumbent organisations.
Within any such collective action, the onus of achieving an additional £93.72m per annum must be shared, and those with most power and influence should shoulder more responsibility.
The recent Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee meeting scrutinising ACE’s spending review demonstrates the power of the large classical music organisations. Through their lobbying, they were able to haul ACE executives in front of a committee of MPs to explain spending cuts to organisations like the ENO and the Welsh National Opera.
No such scrutiny has ever been undertaken regarding the racial funding gap, something which has led to excellent organisations being cut or, worse, excellent new initiatives never seeing the light of day.
In the lead up to the last spending review, large incumbent arts organisations had little if any interest in actively supporting racial equity beyond their walls. They must now lend their political heft to the campaign for racially equitable funding in the arts sector more broadly, while lobbying for increased overall funding.
Given the scale of the ask we must be clear about our priorities. Any increase to ACE’s budget must first be spent on closing the racial funding gap.
Why the racial funding gap needs to be top priority
As the UK continues to become an ever more multi-racial society, our leaders will inevitably become more diverse. How we give all leaders the funding to build the future charities, social enterprises and businesses they aspire to – and the UK needs – becomes an increasingly pressing question.
Reversing recent cuts to major arts organisations without first achieving racially equitable funding would be to prioritise incumbent classical music institutions – who already receive 80% of ACE’s music budget – over racial equity.
We cannot sweeten the pill or minimise the implications for those who argue for exceptionalism over racial equity. Exceptionalism – sometimes coded as ‘excellence’ – is an outdated device for the exercise of power and privilege. If we are genuinely all in this together then it’s incumbent on large institutions to share limited resources equitably.
So, I call on leaders of the major arts institutions to support the campaign for racially equitable funding in the lead up to ACE’s next spending review. It is their responsibility not only to campaign for the preservation of their own organisations but also to struggle for the right of all communities to reimagine and build the arts organisations of the future.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the racial funding gap in the arts. Our shared belief must be that in doing so we will fully harness the UK’s leadership potential, drive an even more excellent, inclusive, culturally relevant and robust sector.
Now is the time for the major arts institutions to demonstrate that we really are all in this together, by fighting for increased funding, or accepting with equanimity any cuts needed so that resources can be shared fairly. It is this second condition that is important in demonstrating the togetherness or not of the sector.
Accepting cuts is necessary; to close the racial equity gap in the arts is the ultimate sign of unity. Anything else would represent division and an arts sector divided against itself cannot stand.
Kevin Osbourne is CEO at MeWe360
*We recognise the diversity of individual identities and lived experiences and understand that various terms used in this piece to describe ethnicity are imperfect and do not fully capture the racial, cultural and ethnic identities of people that experience structural and systematic inequality.
** The racial funding gap is the difference between what a funder distributes to ethnically diverse communities and what this funding would be were it in proportion to the UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic population.