Arts Council disability arts funding slumps


newslatestThe number of disabled-led arts organisations with Arts Council funding is set to plunge by nearly a third.

Arts Council England has announced that the number of disabled-led organisations that will be part of its “national portfolio” is to fall from 13 to nine (a fall of 30.8 per cent) from April 2015.

The value of grants to disabled-led organisations will fall from £5.07 million to £4.32 million, a drop of more than three-quarters of a million pounds, or nearly 15 per cent.

Those user-led organisations that succeeded with their funding bids include Shape Arts, which has secured £857,000 over three years, and DaDaFest, which has been awarded £586,000 over three years.

The figures were revealed in Arts Council England’s plans for the three years from 2015-2018, with overall investment in arts organisations falling to £339.5 million in 2015-16, compared with £341.4m in 2014-15 (about £1 billion in total from 2015-16 to 2017-2018).

Arts Council England (ACE) admitted that its national portfolio will be left with just four disability-led organisations outside London once the new funding plans come into force next April, and blamed – in part – a lack of “high-quality applications”.

The ACE figures do not appear to be completely accurate, though, as at least one disabled-led organisation that secured funds, and another that dropped out of the national portfolio, do not show up in its list.

An ACE spokeswoman said it was looking to “change the way we monitor and report on the diversity” of the national portfolio, and that every member of the national portfolio will now need to report back on its progress in ensuring “the diversity of their work and their workforce”.

She said: “Although that is a major step forward embracing the entire portfolio, we are concerned there are 10 fewer organisations with a specialist focus on diversity in this portfolio.

“This is in part due to how we classify organisations and in part a lack of high quality applications.

“We will invest £7.5 million across strategic funds to build capacity among black and minority ethnic and disabled artists and organisations, including carnival development, in this next three years.”

Fittings Multimedia Arts was one of the organisations dropped as a national portfolio organisation (NPO).

Garry Robson, its artistic director, said: “Whilst this news is hugely disappointing for Fittings we are also a little surprised as we are one of the few disability-led theatre companies based outside the capital and our shows as a national portfolio organisation have met with both audience and critical acclaim.”

Although Fittings is working on two major projects with confirmed funding, it will have to cut back on other work unless it secures a fresh injection of funds.

In a statement, Full Circle Arts, a disability arts development agency in the north-west, also dropped as a disabled-led NPO, said it was funded until 31 March 2015 and hoped to secure funding “from other sources during this period”.

Ruth Gould, artistic director of DaDaFest, said: “We are pleased that we have continued to gain NPO status and we do have an on-going positive relationship with the Arts Council.

“However, we do have concerns that such a big cut (nearly 15 per cent) to the funds supporting user-led disability arts organisations will impact negatively on inclusion, engagement and high quality arts by and with disabled people.

“These cuts need to be seen in light of the on-going welfare cuts to disabled people who are the hardest hit in these austerity measures.”

Dr Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together! 2012, said she was “very saddened” by the news that Fittings had lost its national portfolio status, which was likely to have an impact on the disability arts world and its home city of Liverpool.

She said: “Fittings have produced some of the most innovative and multi-sensory performances of the past few years, and always operate from an inclusive, social model context.”

Tony Heaton, chief executive of Shape, said the figures showed that disability-led organisations now make up just over one per cent of the portfolio, which he said was a “tiny” proportion, while their share of funding will be less than 0.5 per cent.

Although Shape’s grant has fallen in real terms, he said he hoped it would be able to apply for a share of the £7.5 million in strategic funds.

Heaton said the picture was “quite bleak” for disabled-led organisations, but ACE did recognise it needed to do something about that.

Meanwhile, London’s Southbank Centre has announced plans for the second Unlimited Festival, featuring performance, dance and visual art from disabled artists.

The festival follows a successful programme which saw 29 pieces by disabled artists showcased during the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

The festival runs from Tuesday 2 to Sunday 7 September across Southbank’s indoor and outdoor sites, and will include work from disabled dancers, cabaret stars, comedians, puppeteers, musicians, poets, film-makers, visual artists and activists.

It will include more than 20 performances, 11 exhibitions and installations, as well as a programme of talks, debates, workshops and free outdoor and indoor activities.

Work presented will include performances by Katherine Araniello, Claire Cunningham, Robert Softley Gale, Julie McNamara, Jo Bannon, The British Paraorchestra, Jess Thom, LIz Carr, Fittings, Heart n Soul, Caroline Bowditch, Graeae and Sue Austin.

Unlimited has also launched a competition for young disabled people to design a slogan and/or image for a tee-shirt that will be exhibited at the Southbank Centre during the festival.

Your Slogan Here is looking for submissions from disabled people under the age of 26 and living in England or Scotland that “address the everyday social, political and personal issues that matter to them”.

Ten designs will be made into a limited edition run of tee-shirts and prints for exhibition at the Southbank Centre, the Shape Gallery at Westfield Stratford City, and other venues.

Entrants should email for an application form. The deadline for submissions is 3 August 2014.

10 July 2014