12 December 2015

Aside: 3 paragraphs talking about identifying sectoral trends in a complex system

This week, The Stage published this article by David Brownlee. The article explores the summarised 'Annual Submission' dataset, provided annually by Arts Council England and based on survey data gleaned from their National portfolio organisations. The data consists of headline financial figures, figures relating to diversity amongst staff and boards, number of commissions etc.. You can find archived annual submissions here. ACE publish a wealth of data on all sorts of things (including successful Grants for the Arts awards) but I don't find their website particularly easy to navigate so the sitemap has proved invaluable on several occasions. I provide these links so that you can immerse yourself in the datasets to get a feeling for what might be happening in our complex system because contrary to the article's headline, I am wary of concluding that "theatre has thrived despite the cuts".

This is a dangerous assertion to make in the current climate: a Conservative government do not want (and will not ever want) to subsidise the arts because of a whole hearted belief in the power of the market. They may want to invest in the arts if they can see a return for the wider economy (hence the shifting rhetoric from many arts organisations) but a market does not allow for subsidy because it dilutes the primary function of price discovery. If theatre is thriving despite the cuts then the market has become more efficient at creating value following the removal of subsidy and the government has a solid case for removing all subsidy so that the full value of theatre can be unlocked. Creating maximum market value is a very different vision to nurturing a healthy, accessible, diverse and vibrant sector and will have very different results.

The National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare company substantially skew any aggregated analysis of ACE portfolio data. If aiming to identify sector trends then they really have to be considered in isolation. In The Stage article, David Brownlee demonstrates a £58m increase in Earned Income across ACE portfolio organisations between 2010 and 2015. By my reckoning, The National Theatre alone has increased Earned Income by about £37m (inflation adjusted) over that period, equating to 65% of the £58m portfolio increase. The National Theatre is certainly thriving despite the cuts but I would be extremely unwilling to extrapolate any further sectoral trends from Annual Submission summaries without access to the raw data and a substantial amount of time (but you'd probably expect that from someone with a blog analysing the finances of individual arts organisations).