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Arts Council England “too posh for pop”, says UK Music

By | Published on Tuesday 10 April 2018

Arts Council England

UK Music chief exec Michael Dugher has branded the way Arts Council England allocates funding as “deeply flawed and unfair” to contemporary musicians.

New analysis of ACE funding by UK Music found that just 8% of the £368 million allocated to music over the next four years is due to go to what it broadly refers to as ‘pop music’. Meanwhile, 62% will be pumped into opera, and 23% to classical music.

UK Music’s criticism comes as Arts Council England begins a new funding period. It has been put in charge of sharing out £1.45 billion of public funds and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to arts projects between 2018 and 2022.

The organisation’s remit is to “champion, develop and invest in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives”. However, with just 8% of music funding going to contemporary projects, Dugher said that ACE “risks giving the impression that it is elitist and too posh for pop”.

“Analysis by UK Music of Arts Council England official figures shows some shocking disparities in the way taxpayers’ money is allocated to music”, says Dugher in a statement. “Opera is a key part of our vibrant and diverse cultural scene in the UK and many of our members are classical musicians. But the current way taxpayers’ money is allocated is manifestly unjust and should be urgently reviewed to ensure all types of music are treated fairly”.

He continues: “It is indefensible that pop music gets just £1 for every £8 of taxpayers’ cash that is awarded by the Arts Council to opera under its National Portfolio. The Arts Council risks giving the impression that it is elitist and too posh for pop. Public funds should be used to broaden the appeal of the arts, particularly among the young, and make every aspect of our fantastic culture more inclusive”.

“The UK music industry contributes £4.4 billion a year to the UK economy – with live music alone contributing more than £1 billion”, he concludes. “But it is vital that we nurture our talent pipeline to bring on the next generation to follow in the footsteps of our world-famous stars like Adele, Ed Sheeran and Stormzy. The Arts Council has an important role to play in talent development so the UK maintains its position as a global leader in popular music, but the way it currently allocates its funding is deeply flawed and unfair”.

The research also shows that brass bands, jazz, world music, folk and choral music will collectively receive 4% of the total fund.

Funding for pop music from Arts Council England has always been low, in part because the record label system was generally seen as a perfectly fine way of funding the development of new talent in that domain.

In 2013, it launched the Momentum Fund for contemporary music, administered by the PRS For Music Foundation. Then ACE boss Alan Davey said at the time that the fund was being launched because the economics of pop had changed, and emerging artists were finding it harder to raise the money required to take their careers to a sustainable level.

Davey was then hauled on to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme to justify allocating half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money to pop music. At this point, he said that there was a need for it due to a “market failure”. This then got the backs of the record labels up, which denied that they were failing anyone. BPI boss Geoff Taylor said that major and indie labels were investing hundreds of millions of pounds in developing new talent, thank you very much.

Some may still argue that pop music is more commercial and therefore less in need of funds than opera. Although you could counter that, if opera is so bloody unpopular that it can’t pay for itself, then why is it receiving so much public money to keep it propped up?

Funding artists more likely to succeed commercially would ultimately be better for the economy as those artists grow their careers and contribute more via their own taxes. You could also argue that pulling some of opera’s funding would force that side of the industry to innovate more and try to pull in new audiences. It’s lasted this long, why not just see if it lives or dies when left to fend for itself?

Why does everything have to be about financial viability though, eh? What’s wrong with funding things that are shit that no one wants? All the things I love the most are rubbish and unpopular. More money for them, I say.