From where ITC sits in the diversely buzzing Albany in Deptford you could really believe that UK arts in the 21st Century is hitting the spot. Elders fill the café on Tuesday participating in the inspiring, artist-led Meet Me at the Albany project; Heart ‘n’ Soul ensure that learning disabled young people are visible, engaging in quality artistic activity; Fun Palaces are sparking participation right across the UK from their little HQ here, while Kali & Yellow Earth create their work alongside. Independent artists and small companies from all over the country perform here and reach a real community audience. Rosy or what!
‘The wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment… benefiting from £84 per head of ACE funding to theatre and £94 per head of ACE music funding’
How can we still be in this place after so many efforts by Arts Council England to improve their reach and diversity? It is because those efforts are mere tweaking. The systemic wealth gap in the arts has not closed - it is widening increasingly. Interestingly 8% is also the proportion of their funding that the Albany receives from ACE.
Since we are talking statistics here’s another: Of ITC’s 440 member companies fewer than 25% are National Portfolio Organisations funded by ACE and in the latest round of decisions this was reduced even further. 40% of ITC companies work regularly with young people (mostly not the privileged ones) – GLYPT (Greenwich & Lewisham Young Peoples Theatre) – unfunded by ACE - works on some of the most deprived estates in South East London, Dark Horse (soon to become ex-NPO) works with learning disabled young people in Huddersfield, Big Brum (also newly cut) serves thousands of young people in Birmingham.
Many ITC companies are specifically set up to serve disadvantaged, disenfranchised groups and, most importantly, they are not doing it because a funder said there was a strategic need for that work – an artist or group of artists identified the need, cared enough to make work to address that need and then spent a large chunk of their lives delivering that work and serving those people.
Last year when ITC asked its membership ‘why do you do it?’ the vast majority replied ‘because we want to make a better world’. They weren’t joking or filling in a funding application – it was that genuine vision that drove them to work absurdly hard for very little money and still maintain that they loved coming to work each day. Clean Break with women in prison, Oily Cart with young people on the autistic spectrum, Peshkar with Asian youths in Oldham, Red Ladder in working men’s clubs, Ladder to the Moon in care homes, Cardboard Citizens with homeless people, Hijinx with Learning Disabled performers in Wales, Candoco with professional disabled dancers, Deafinately Theatre (the name gives it away), Birds of Paradise with disabled artists in Scotland, 20 Stories High with young artists in the North West….. That’s the tip of the ITC iceberg - our members’ directory will give you the fuller picture and it’s exciting and amazing. I suspect the only group our 440 are not reaching so well is that 8% ‘wealthiest’ above.
I have said this before but, clearly, I need to say it again – time for a redistribution of wealth in the arts! Time to recognise the quiet power to change the world of small, independent arts companies! The second Rebalancing Cultural Capital report entitled ‘Hard Facts to Swallow’ identified a pernicious dwindling in the ACE portfolio of small organisations – they do a lot with a little – how does it make sense to reduce their number? If increasing diversity is a priority (which it absolutely has to be) then let’s have a diverse range of organisations and independent artists enabled, empowered and properly supported to do this. It’s not complicated, it’s obvious.