It's decision time: the Arts Centre or the Opera House will have to close if funding gaps left by slashed arts funding aren't plugged, an independent report commissioned by the government has warned.
Commissioned by the former Assistant Minister for Economic Development, the report by BOP Consulting, who specialise in creative and heritage economy analysis, explained that the island's lack of investment in the arts sector was one of its biggest challenges.
It described the level of funding as "strikingly low" and "significantly lower than elsewhere", mentioning that in 2016, the States spent just under £4.8million on cultural initiatives (0.68% of their total expenditure).
In comparison, the average spend on cultural services in the EU is of 1% of total government expenditure. Where the Isle of Wight and the Isle of Man spend £91 and £79 respectively per person on culture and heritage, Jersey only spends £46.
The report notes that funding has not kept up with increasing costs and has even been “significantly cut at points.” Andrew Goodyear, Chairman of the Jersey Arts Centre, recently told Express that the Arts Centre grant had been cut by 5% in 2013 and hadn’t changed since then, incurring real terms cuts. He said the theatre was having to go into "critical" measures to continue to operate, and was fearing a curtain call.
Pictured: Since 2010, the total shortfall on funding for culture, arts and heritage organisations has been around £2.3 million.
Taking inflation levels (RPI) since 2010 into account, BOP's report also showed that the annual funding provided for arts now stands at nearly half a million less than eight years ago in real terms, with the total shortfall over the period amounting to £2.3m. “The island’s leading cultural organisation are constrained and threatened by this financial context,” the report said.
Amid these challenging circumstances, the arms-length arts organisations were praised for being “enterprising and tightly managed” and having responded “with no little success to what is essentially standstill funding for almost a decade – a real terms significant decrease.” Even though savings have been made, the funding limitations are “constraining” the delivery of services much further and the organisations’ ability to adapt and develop.
Insufficient money spent on maintaining the buildings was also described as a poor idea in the long-term, given that it will now require more money to refurbish the whole buildings than little adjustments over the years would have cost.
“Critically,” the consultants said, “there is a real threat of the potential loss of valued services, as they struggle to adapt to new and unforeseen challenges.”
Pictured: If funding continues to reduce, the Arts Centre or Opera House is likely to be forced to close down.
Without real change, the report's warning was stark: either the Arts Centre or Opera House will "undoubtedly" have to close.
The venues were described as complementary, with the Arts Centre providing a civic space and focus, while the Jersey Opera House hosts more commercially-focused productions. As well as leading to a reduction of the island's overall cultural offering, the closure of either venue was also described as being likely to spark public outcry.
Issues around the lack of funding for arts organisations have been in the spotlight since the island's culture leaders - Andrew Goodyear, Philip Hewat Jaboor and Pierre Horsfall - first raised the alarm in an open letter to election candidates back in May. Their SOS, which was followed by bids for top-up grants, is yet to be answered.
Mr Goodyear warned that the Arts Centre was currently running with a significant structural deficit, and that additional funding had become critical for the association to be able to continue to operate until the end of 2019.
Pictured: Deputy Montfort Tadier described the wait for news on which growth bids have been accepted as "sub-optimal."
Treasury Minister Deputy Susie Pinel confirmed earlier this month that the States' 'Investment Appraisal Board' was reviewing various business cases for funding. “Many requests have been received and there is very limited contingency funding available to allocate,” she explained. “All of the requests are being considered by the new Investment Appraisal Board, which I set up in August to replace the many convoluted and cumbersome ways to request additional funding.”
Speaking in the States Assembly last week, Deputy Montfort Tadier, the Assistant Minister for Culture, acknowledged that many organisations, including the Arts Centre, were "in a position of uncertainty as to whether and what funding they will be getting for the next year." He said he hoped that the Assembly would know within the next week what growth bids or general business funding had been accepted for the arts departments as well as for sports, describing the wait as "sub-optimal."
Commenting on the report, the Assistant Minister said it provided "a very useful overview" of the CAH sector in the island. “It highlights many positives, confirming that Jersey punches above its weight in the range and quality of its culture, as well as emphasising the vital cross-cutting role it plays in terms of economy, education, international diplomacy and general wellbeing," he added.
“However, it also presents significant criticism of the relatively low levels of government funding that have been dedicated to CAH over many years, highlighting challenges that, both strategic and structural that will need to be addressed in the short and medium term, as well as a variety of recommendations.”
Pictured: The creation of a culture, arts and heritage cabinet would bring together arts organisations and Government policy makers.
To avoid any future issues around funding, the report identified five priorities where investment would provide strategic advantages and help mitigate escalating maintenance costs. These include addressing Jersey Opera House's £300,000 annual maintenance costs, refurbishing the Arts Centre, starting work on Elizabeth Castle and Jersey Museum for £4.95m and £9.8m respectively and adjusting the maintenance grant for the Jersey Heritage portfolio.
The report also recommends the creation of a Culture, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which would bring together the arms-length organisations and government policymakers. The Cabinet would meet to support and advise on the implementation of a cultural strategy and to discuss new opportunities.
BOP summed up: “Jersey punches above its weight in the range and quality of its culture—from the rich array of arts in the community groups to a growing creative industries sector to the professional and skilled organisations that are the spine of the Island’s culture.
"Maintaining the range and variety of this cultural offer is important."
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