Following negotiations, Arts Council England is to provide the English National Opera with £11.46mn of National Lottery funding for the next financial year. The funding is outside of ACE’s National Portfolio through which the ENO previously received support, and is a 9% cut from previous funding.
Arts Council England agreed yesterday (17 January) it would invest the sum in the ENO for April 2023-March 2024. This is to sustain a programme of work at the ENO’s home, the London Coliseum, and help the ENO start planning for a new base outside London by 2026.
A joint statement issued by ACE and ENO said that further investment for 2024-2026 is also available in principle, subject to discussion and application. The two organisations are now aiming to reach agreement by the end of March this year on a further two years of funding.
The statement explains:
“An overall three years of investment would help the ENO transition over time to a model where it can deliver an innovative opera programme from a base outside London while continuing to perform at its London Coliseum home. The shared ambition is for the ENO to be in a strong position to apply to the Arts Council’s National Portfolio of funded organisations from 2026, from a new base outside London.”
It also says that the funding will see the ENO undertake initial development work on a new business model from 2026/27 which will outline the level of public-facing work it plans to deliver both outside and within London; an analysis of options for the future use of the Coliseum, and an outline of the revenue and capital funding needed to transition from the current to the new business model.
Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England, said the grant would provide the ENO with stability and continuity while it plans its future but warned too that ACE’s financial resources were finite.
“The funding announced today is on top of a £30million per year National Portfolio commitment to opera and the many talented people who work within it.
“Our financial resources are finite, and today’s investment balances the public’s desire for high quality arts and culture of all kinds in towns and cities all over England, and the ambitions of artists and creative professionals working across England’s arts, museums and libraries.”
Commenting on the decision, Stuart Murphy, CEO of the English National Opera, said:
“We are pleased to have agreed £11.46m of funding from Arts Council England to take the ENO through to 1 April 2024. Negotiations now turn to investment for 2024-2026, which, in opera planning terms, is imminent.
“While we fundamentally disagree with ACE’s decision to remove the ENO from the NPO list having met or exceeded all success criteria laid down, we nevertheless continue discussions with ACE in good faith and look forward to agreeing funding levels for 24/25 and 25/26 which would allow us to continue to deliver the best of the ENO for out-of-London audiences – at a level London audiences have experienced for almost 100 years.”
The ENO said the funding would enable it to continue offering subsidised tickets. It will also allow it to continue ENO Breathe, which is available via 85 NHS Trusts, and ‘Finish This’, available in over 200 schools across the country.
Concerns over funding reduction
However, in a separate statement on the decision, it also said that the money was a 9% cut from its previous funding, and that the delay in confirming this funding meant its plans for the season ahead would have to change. This will include postponing a number of new productions as well as its current Ring Cycle, in partnership with the Met, which was due to continue with a new production of Siegfried next season.
The ENO also voiced concerns over future funding, and its ability to now deliver on the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.
Questions over removal of National Portfolio Organisation status
It said it was still in the dark as to why ACE decided to remove its status as a National Portfolio Organisation, despite it meeting or exceeding all the criteria set: one in seven of the ENO’s audience are under 35, one in five of its principal performers are ethnically diverse and over 50% of its audience are brand new to opera.
It is now hoping for some clarity over the future as ‘negotiations for investment for future years continue.’
In November last year, Arts Council England announced its 2023-26 National Portfolio programme, with 990 organisations to receive a share of £446 million per year. According to ACE, the investment round was the most oversubscribed portfolio to date with 1,723 applications requesting over £2 billion. English National Opera was not awarded funding this time, which also means the loss of its National Portfolio Organisation status.
Defending its decision, ACE said it was driven ‘by strategy and by a commitment to provide a fairer spread of investment across the country’. It also said its decision delivered on instruction from government to invest in benefitting areas outside of London, to increase investment in the rest of the country by 2026 and to reduce its overall current investment in the National Portfolio in London by £24 million per year.
Instead, Arts Council announced that it would ringfence £17 million funding for the ENO, outside of the National Portfolio – and subject to application – to help the organisation develop a new business model over the next three years that will see them creating a new base outside of London while maintaining a presence in the capital and continuing to offer performances from the Coliseum. The £11.46 million announced yesterday comes from that ringfenced investment.
The decision was questioned by the ENO, with its response including a petition to get its ACE funding reinstated. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee also called upon Arts Council England’s Chief Executive Darren Henley to give context to the decision to no longer fund it as a National Portfolio Organisation.