Sam Mendes says Arts Council England funding reduction decision ‘short-sighted’

The proposed plans include new investment to 276 institutions who join the programme.
The proposed plans include new investment to 276 institutions who join the programme. The proposed plans include new investment to 276 institutions who join the programme.

Academy-award winner Sir Sam Mendes has criticised Arts Council England’s (ACE) new funding programme, which will result in grant reductions to the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, insisting it will “wreak long-lasting havoc” on the wider industry.

The registered charity announced a new national portfolio of funding for museums, libraries and other art organisations for 2023 to 2026, which includes new investment to 276 institutions that previously weren’t part of the programme.

It means a total of 990 institutions will share £446 million each year, up from 714 organisations previously, resulting in institutions such as the Donwar Warehouse and others seeing a cut to their annual funding.

Filmmaker Sir Sam, who is founding artistic director of the Donmar, said: “Cutting the Donmar’s funding is a short-sighted decision that will wreak long lasting damage on the wider industry.

“The Donmar has been at the heart of British theatre for three decades, and has a hard-won legacy of punching well above its weight in both its ambition and reach.

“It is a world-renowned and hugely influential theatre, and the UK cannot afford to put it at risk.”

Meanwhile Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington, said: “When I played Henry V on stage at the Donmar at the start of 2022, it was the realisation of a dream I’d had since watching the play as a teenager.

“The experience of watching that play as a young student was the inception of my desire to work in this industry.

Kit Harington to star in Mary’s Monster
Kit Harington to star in Mary’s Monster Kit Harington recalled performing at the Donmar Warehouse (Ian West/PA)

“I was lucky enough to perform the same part that so inspired me to local students on the Donmar stage … these schools’ performances were the most thrilling shows we put on.

“It is vital and essential that students and young people are not denied opportunities to see live theatre like this in the future.”

The Watcher actress Noma Dumezweni added that the Donmar is a “vital venue” for British theatre and described the loss of subsidy as “devastating”.

Meanwhile, the English National Opera has been removed from the ACE’s portfolio entirely.

Instead, the company will get £17 million over three years to develop a “new business model” with a suggestions of a move from London to Manchester.

During a press conference on Friday, ACE chairman Sir Nicholas Serota said the increase of funded organisations was partly a reflection of the increase of applications as well as the Cultural Recovery Fund established during the pandemic highlighting “many” arts organisations they had not been working with.

Sir Nicholas said: “I think it became clear to us that there was an enormous quantity of activity that really demanded support and certainly deserved support so it was natural in way that if we could, to increase the number of organisations within the portfolio.”

As part of proposed plans, ACE also announced £43.5 million investment to organisations outside London contributing to levelling up for the next three years. It will see a 95% increase in investment across 78 designated areas, towns and cities, including Blackburn, North Devon and Mansfield.

During the press conference Sir Nicholas said: “This investment means that we are supporting more people in more places. We’ve invested so that as many people as possible in England can enjoy the very best of creativity.

“This means no matter where you live, and whatever your background, you will have culture close to your homes. We’re supporting excellence and talent everywhere.”

New Tate Modern Extension
New Tate Modern Extension Arts Council England chairman Sir Nicholas Serota (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Royal Opera House in London was another prestigious institution seeing a cut to funding following the ACE’s national portfolio announcement on Friday.

In a statement, it said: “We support the wish to invest in the arts across the country, and warmly welcome all new entrants to ACE’s national portfolio.

“Nonetheless, we face significant financial challenges going forward, alongside our colleagues in the sector, sharply increased energy costs, rising inflation in material costs and suppressed box office revenue as tourism recovers from the pandemic.

“In the face of these severe economic headwinds, we will do whatever we can to remain at the heart the cultural life of the nation.”

However, under the ACE’s new strategy, the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry will be awarded an increase to its core annual funding to over £1 million.

London stock
London stock London’s Royal Opera House will see a cut in funding (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Chief executive Laura Elliot and creative director Corey Campbell said they are “absolutely delighted” and “hugely grateful” for the funding.

In a statement, they added: “Over the next three years, this investment will be pivotal in enabling an evolutionary step change for the Belgrade, as we continue to develop our vision.

“The additional funding will enable us to expand our work into key levelling up areas, build a cultural offer that is developed with and for the people of Coventry and wider region, and proudly share it with the world.”

Hannah Essex, co-chief executive of Society of London Theatre (Solt) and UK Theatre said the announcement will be “greatly welcomed” by some, while also being “incredibly challenging” for others who will be faced with “very tough decisions” in the coming months.

She said: “As theatres face a gruelling winter and crippling energy bills, even those who do receive funding won’t be able to achieve what they have in the past – creatively and as civic centres within their communities.”

Following the announcement, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Thanks to this new government funding package, spreading more money to more communities than ever before, people living in areas from Wolverhampton to Wigan and Crawley to Chesterfield will now get to benefit from the deep economic and social rewards culture can bring.

“We continue to support our icons such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Shakespeare Company, but today’s announcement will see organisations in places all too often overlooked get the support they need to transform access to the arts for everyone – no matter where they live.”

Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, said the body is “deeply concerned” by the impacts of the announcement, whose members include the Royal Opera House, Donmar Warehouse and the English National Opera who “face the uncertainty of a move out of London”.

She said: “We are shocked and dismayed at the over £50 million worth of government cuts to London’s arts funding in today’s Arts Council England announcement.

“If the UK has an ambition to continue to be a leading cultural centre we must avoid politically motivated decisions that hinder rather than help support and underpin the fragile ecology of the cultural sector.

“Bectu is calling for an urgent summit with impacted venues and the Mayor of London to discuss the consequences of these destructive cuts. We will be doing everything we can to support our members and advocate for them.”