Statement from Bristol Old Vic | Bristol City Council Funding

30 Nov 2023

You may have seen the news that Bristol Old Vic is among the 14 arts and culture organisations in line to lose out on City Council funding in Bristol next year, according to recommendations published this week.

While we are obviously disappointed, we know the council have had to make many tough decisions in the current climate. 

Here are our thoughts on the bigger issues at play.

From Bernard Donoghue, Chair of Bristol Old Vic Board of Trustees:

Bristol Old Vic won't be a recipient of Bristol City Council (BCC) investment from April 2024, after almost 30 years of very welcome support. Though this was in part anticipated and built into our planning for 2024 onwards, it will impact the organisation – the scale and amount of work we're able to deliver and the local, national and community partnerships we can continue to develop. 

As an organisation in annual receipt of funds from Arts Council England, albeit standstill, the scale and reach of our creative programme will remain intact and the building open year-round to provide creative opportunities for the tens of thousands who come through our doors each year, despite the unbelievable rise in operating costs we're experiencing. 

Local authority budgets are under extreme pressure, and council leaders across the UK are having to make tough decisions. We welcome the fact that Bristol City Council is still able to provide some cultural investment to other organisations in the city against this climate. We also acknowledge absolutely that the community organisations prioritised by BCC will provide much-welcomed cultural engagement opportunities for people across Bristol. 

The investment made by BCC into arts and culture looks to have dropped in real-terms, and by a lot when inflation is factored in. You might conclude that is to be expected.  

But we must reframe investment in arts and culture as exactly that: an investment. It delivers not only the well-documented benefits to social value, but also an economic return at a factor much greater than the original investment. Our sector is larger than the telecommunications sector and on a par with the food and beverages sector. It’s a smart, reliable investment. The Culture sector is a key consideration when companies are thinking about relocating or planning investment into new premises. It is one of the biggest contributors to civic pride.  

And if Bristol wants to maintain its renowned status as a place for world-class arts and cultural, it needs to sustain revenue investment in the organisations that can provide the major infrastructure required to deliver those world-class experiences for artists and audiences into the future. 

We get that BCC has a budget to wrangle. But the decision to remove revenue investment from several world-class and uniquely Bristolian organisations is short-term thinking.   

The news coincided with the international research company McKinsey publishing a report into the impact of the UK's art sector. It clearly articulates to policy-makers and funders the impressive and direct contribution the sector delivers for the UK economy.  

In Bristol, our concern is that short-term funding decisions are exacerbated by the council's lack of a long-term strategy for arts and culture in the city. 

Bristol deserves - and needs - a coherent strategy and city-wide vision for arts and culture. One that genuinely reflects the talent in and output of the sector as it is now, one that recognises and embraces the strategic opportunities the sector can bring to the One City strategy. One that frames investment in the sector as a driver of growth, and a major reason for making Bristol a city of choice for so many people and businesses. Without it, Bristol risks losing a competitive edge at the very moment it needs it most. 

We remain committed to open dialogue with BCC and other city stakeholders to make this happen. Collaboration and creative thinking will get us there.  

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