Status anxiety

This is an anxious time for the 700-odd organisations who get regular funding from Arts Council England, and for those who don’t yet, but hope to. They had to submit applications in March and will learn in July whether they will be part of what ACE calls its National Portfolio for 2015-18.

It’s a tough process for both applicants and assessors, though for different reasons. Some of the first might lose livelihoods if their organisations are not successful. Those who decide how to allocate the money may be less vulnerable (though several hundred Arts Council staff have been made redundant since 2008) but you’d need the wisdom of Solomon to make strategic, fair, legal and quick decisions under the world’s untrusting gaze. I observed the cycle twice as a Council member and, whatever else I learned, it included respect for those who do a pretty thankless job.

And it’s not as if the result will be greeted with joy and acclaim. In fact, it’s rarely a very happy moment, since the supply of creativity always exceeds the supply of money. This round may be worse because there’s much less cake to go round. Government funding for the arts has fallen by at least a third since 2010 so the Arts Council will be making more use of the soup stone to feed its hungry brood:

I swear you could taste the chicken and tomatoes
And the noodles and the marrowbone
But it really wasn’t nothing but some water and potatoes
And the wonderful, wonderful soup stone

Shel Silverstein

National Lottery arts funds, distributed by ACE, have offset cuts to grant in aid in the past, and many organisations that lost regular funding in 2008 or 2011 have received it through Grants for the Arts. Different rules govern this money, which means that, in some respects, an arts organisation with lottery funding might be better off. For instance, lottery awards are protected from subsequent budget cuts.

And yet, there’s such a cachet to being a National Portfolio Organisation, or having ‘NPO status’ as those concerned usually call it. Why? How did ‘status’ creep in here? Surely being awarded public money to make art is a sufficient signal of the quality of an artist’s work.

If only. The arts world reproduces society at large, though its citizens often believe it don’t. It really matters who’s first in line for soup.

Oliver Twist