Arts Council to scrap annual £12.8m grant if ENO does not comply with government levelling up agenda
The English National Opera says it has modernised and ‘embraced diversity’ and there is no audience need to move from London. Photograph: Grant Smith/View
https://www.theguardian.com-Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent
The main arts funding body in England has insisted English National Opera, one of the country’s cultural flagships, move outside London in order to qualify for future grants, despite the ENO saying there was no “audience need” to relocate.
Arts Council England’s decision to slash to zero its £12.8m annual grant to ENO has caused a major row, with the opera house’s chief executive saying it was an “absolute travesty”.
ACE cut £50m a year from arts organisations in London in its 2023-26 settlement, announced last week, to fulfil a government instruction to divert money away from the capital as part of the levelling up programme.
ENO had been expecting to lose up to 15% in its grant, but was “bemused and baffled and shocked” by the 100% cut, its head, Stuart Murphy, said. The opera house has been given £17m to move, probably to Manchester.
ENO was told the day before the settlement was announced that its annual grant was being scrapped, with ACE indicating on Friday that a move to Manchester should be considered, Murphy told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row arts programme on Monday.
“To have £12.5m [a year] removed in 20 weeks’ time, uprooting one of the great arts companies that has led the way in the opera world, modernising, embracing diversity … and successfully attracting new audiences, is an absolute travesty,” he said. “When you compare what has happened to us versus other opera companies or other arts companies of scale we are bemused and baffled and shocked.”
ACE said: “We require English National Opera to move to another part of England if they wish to continue to receive support from us. We raised Manchester as an option and English National Opera initially received that idea positively.
“ENO’s future is in their hands. At this early stage we have announced our funding plans, and now we hope to engage in detailed planning with them. This would involve ENO reshaping their business model and finding a suitable location outside of London.”
According to Murphy, ACE’s feedback before the settlement announcement was “glowing” and ENO had been praised for widening audiences and increasing diversity. “We were told we were absolutely on track,” he said.
But now ENO was faced with “turning around to 300 incredibly skilled world-best musicians and costume and makeup and technical staff and saying: ‘Come April 1 you either shift to Manchester … or you’re out of a job’.”
He said neither the Leeds-based Opera North, the Factory International arts centre in Manchester, expected to open next year, nor had Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, been consulted on the proposed move.
“We have not seen any audience need for opera in Manchester,” he said.
A petition set up by the opera singer Bryn Terfel called on ACE to reverse its decision. It said: “The careers of singers, musicians, technical staff, creatives and other skilled workers, both permanent and freelance, will be at risk. Hundreds of thousands of audiences in London and nationwide, on broadcast and digital will be without opera.”
ENO made a “vital contribution to London’s global cultural status as well as supporting their levelling up agenda nationwide and their groundbreaking ENO Breathe NHS programme for long Covid sufferers. ENO is Opera for Everyone!”