York 4 – 1 Bradford, opera, bums on seats & other Arts Council funding tidbits


The Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (forerunner to the Arts Council) players rehearse Shaw’s ‘Village Wooing’, watched by a group of wartime women factory workers

I realise it’s old hat to bang on about the amount that the two jewels in the Leeds arts crown – Opera North and Northern Ballet – get in funding from the Arts Council, but it is a bit odd, isn’t it?

I mean, I realise that they both put on stuff that is probably fab to watch and costs a lot to produce, and I know that they aren’t just Leeds companies, but national touring ones … but I cannot for the life of me work out why the esoteric cultural pleasures they provide are so massively subsidised by the state.


This morning the Arts Council announced which of its “National Portfolio” organisations are getting what for 2018-2022. So I looked up the annual attendance figures for some of Leeds’ big hitters (you can see the full list of who got what here) to see how the funding works in terms of subsidising bums on seats (ACE funding divided by audience).

bum94 quid?!!!

I know the figure might need to be tweaked a bit in terms of other … erm … outreach outputs of the company, but it feels to me like a pretty solid example of how some state-funded art is just a redistribution of money (whether from tax or lottery) from the poor in society to those in upper and middle income brackets.

(There’s a lot of that kind of redistribution about lately – and from where you’d least expect it)

There’s a bit less to moan about this time around about the imbalance in Arts Council cash awarded to London and the rest of the country. Funding outside London has been increased by 4.6% for the 2018-22 period. Hurrah! Arts organisations in Bradford, for example, are benefiting from this largesse and will get more than double what they did for 2015-18. Hurrah! Again.

Except that even with this boost, Bradford, a city of 520,000 souls, gets £3.50 each year per head of population from this big Arts Council pot. In York it’s over four times that, at £15 per head. In Leeds (with its two national/touring companies) it’s not far off £30.

And another perennial curiosity while we’re at it.

The amount given to Opera North and Northern Ballet this morning for the next four years (£54m) is greater than the sum of ALL the money given to all the organisations in Bradford, Sheffield, Kirklees, Calderdale, Barnsley, Hull, Rotherham and Wakefield COMBINED.


To be honest, as I looked through the list of the Leeds winners this morning, I couldn’t help asking myself what would happen if someone pulled the plug on national state funding of the arts. Who would be poorer? And why?

And I couldn’t help ask myself how in heaven’s name did we cope before 1945, when John Maynard Keynes set what was an amateurish wartime spirit-raising operation on its way to becoming the cultural behemoth (and supreme arbiter of taste) that it is today?

Anyone got any answers?

In the meantime, I’m planning a trip to go and see Ed Stones & The BD3 at Parkside Social Club in Keighley: state subsidy nil.

Come along.


State subsidy nil





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