The United Kingdom comprises four nations – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, each with its own distinct culture and history. Three of these – England, Wales and Scotland – together make up Great Britain. The population of England is significantly higher than the three other nations combined. Although the following text and the chapters that follow will refer to the UK, the focus will be on England and Wales.
Although there had been ad-hoc legislation governing, for example, museums and libraries in the 19th and first 40 years of the 20th centuries and a Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries was set up in 1931 to advise government, the present UK funding system has its origins in the 1940s. The first national body to support the arts, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) evolved in 1946 to become the Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB), still considered to be the first arts agency in the world to distribute government funds at “arm’s length” from politicians. The Council was primarily reactive – allocating government funds for arts organisations and artists and providing help and encouragement, though for some years it was also involved in direct provision, such as touring of exhibitions. Although legally part of ACGB, Scotland and Wales had their own Arts Councils (the Arts Councilof Northern Ireland was established as an independent body in 1962). Key aims of ACGB were to develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and practice of the arts, and increase the accessibility of the arts to the public. However, a persistent dilemma over many years was the rival claims on resources of maintaining and enhancing the standards of the arts organisations it supported on the one hand and bringing the arts to as many people as possible on the other. Significantly, the various “Charters” giving the Council its mandate to operate never defined the “arts”, and although the number of supported arts organisations grew, the range of artforms was still fairly narrow after 20 years. Film was not part of the Arts Council’s remit (although artists’ films were to be from the 1970s) and while the British Film Institute was established as a semi-autonomous agency in 1933, it was initially poorly funded and its focus until relatively recently was primarily on film education.
The UK Government’s first Minister for the Arts, Jenny Lee, issued a government White Paper setting out a Policy for the Arts, following which the Arts Council’s grant significantly increased by 45% in 1966/67 and a further 26% in 1967/68.
The Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries was given the responsibility for granting aid to national museums in 1963 and became theMuseums and Galleries Commission with its own Charter in 1987.
In the 1960s and 1970s, local authorities began to expand their support, building or refurbishing regional theatres, museums and galleries and multi-purpose civic halls, as well as running their own programmes and festivals. ACGB introduced a “Housing the Arts” fund to encourage the development of arts facilities. However, although government legislation in 1948 (updated in 1972) had given local councils legal authority to support arts and entertainment, the powers were, and remain, permissive rather than mandatory. As a consequence, support was patchy. This was also the period when regional arts associations developed in a piecemeal fashion, either as a consortium of local arts organisations, or set up by local authorities as a reaction to the closure of ACGB’s regional offices.
The 1980s were a decade when political and economic pressures led to a fundamental reappraisal of the funding and management of the arts and culture in Britain. While remaining committed to the principle of public sector support, the Government required arts and culture organisations to look for new sources of revenue to supplement their income. In the years that followed, the financing of arts/culture developed from one in which the emphasis was primarily on public sector support to become largely a mixed funding model with public funds representing a diminishing proportion of the income of cultural organisations.
In 1990 the government asked the Arts Council of Great Britain to develop a National Arts and Media Strategy in partnership with the British Film Institute, Crafts Council, Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils and the regions. This was the first time that an attempt had been made to devise a co-ordinated policy to broadly guide arts funding developments. This process involved widespread consultation within the sector. However, not long after the strategy was published in late 1992, the report was, in effect, “shelved”. In fact, the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium were characterised by fundamental policy and especially structural change in arts and culture. In 1992, a re-elected Conservative Government established for the first time a co-ordinated Ministry to deal with arts, museums, libraries, heritage, media, sport and tourism called the Department of National Heritage. Then, in 1994, a fundamental decision was taken to devolve the Arts Council of Great Britain’s responsibilities and functions to three new separate bodies: Arts Council of England (ACE), the Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) and the Arts Council of Wales (ACW). Each nation therefore runs its own affairs in relation to arts funding.
A significant development was the introduction of the National Lottery in the mid-1990s which brought a major new income stream for the cultural sector. Since 1994, the Lottery has raised over GB£ 40 billion for good causes supporting the arts, heritage, sport, community and voluntary groups (see chapter 7.3).
The incoming Labour administration elected in 1997 renamed the Department of National Heritage as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (and, since 2017, known as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). The Government sought to reduce the number of arm’s-length cultural agencies through a series of mergers on the basis of reducing bureaucracy and minimising administrative spending. The Museums & Galleries Commission and the Library & Information Commission merged to become a new body initially called Re:source and later known as the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England was amalgamated with English Heritage.
The Arts Council of Wales went through a rather turbulent period at the end of the 1990s and early part of the new millennium, the result of several factors not least controversy over its drama strategy. Accusations were levelled at the Council suggesting it had lost the confidence of the arts community, politicians and its staff and it was subjected to several reviews. In 2006, the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sports invited an independent review panel, under the chair of Elan Closs Stephens, to investigate the arts funding and management in Wales, including the role of ACW. and many of its recommendations were implemented. The report recommended how best to manage and grow national ambitions for the arts throughout Wales.
Having undergone several reorganisations itself, including its absorption of the previously separate Regional Arts Boards to become the Arts Council’s regional offices, ACE restructured yet again in 2009, with nine regional offices grouped into four geographical areas covering London, the North, the Midlands and South West and the East and South East. A key driver in the changes was the need to achieve savings, leading to an overall staff reduction of 21%.
More structural change took place following the election of a new Government in 2010, again on the basis of reducing public expenditure. ACE assumed responsibility in 2011 for museums and libraries following the abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the British Film Institute took over some of the functions of the UK Film Council (itself only established in 2000), following that organisation’s abolition. The National Archives Council assumed responsibility for providing strategic leadership to the archives sector and advising government on its development. In addition, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport faced significant staff reductions.
Although the new millennium brought a considerable increase in central government support for the arts in England (especially from 2000-2005) to address previous underfunding, since 2011, the cultural sector has faced considerable challenges as the result of austerity, leading to significant reductions in public funding at national and local levels. Between 2010 and 2014, Arts Council England saw its grant-in-aid from government fall by one-third. Without the Lottery, it is doubtful whether many of the (often pilot) schemes and projects would have come on stream.
In 2016 the UK Government issued a Culture White Paper, the first in more than 50 years. Among other things this restated the principle that everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, but also that every publicly funded cultural organisation should increase opportunities for the most disadvantaged citizens to access culture. It also said that culture should enhance the UK’s international standing and it recognized the need for cultural investment, resilience and reform. However, with no serious evidence of a major relaxation in austerity policies and with the appointment in 2019 of yet another Secretary of State for the Culture (the eighth in nine years), it appears likely that the outlook will remain challenging for those in the cultural sector, at least in England. Moreover, there are concerns that the UK referendum decision to leave the European Union will have adverse consequences on employment opportunities, talent recruitment, European touring, and lead to further public expenditure reductions (see chapter 2.9).