One of the ballet world’s biggest stars has accused Arts Council England of ‘simplistic’ decision-making by siphoning arts funds out of London.
Tamara Rojo, the outgoing artistic director of the English National Ballet, told the BBC that “punishing” the capital would help no one, expressing concern for the UK’s future as a global center for culture.
A bitter battle has erupted over ACE’s decision to cut £50m a year from arts organizations in London in the 2023-26 settlement to comply with a government instruction to divert money away from the capital as part of its leveling programme.
A number of UK arts organizations have been completely removed from ACE’s national portfolio, including the English National Opera, whose £12.8m annual grant has been slashed to zero and has been told it will have to move outside London – possibly to Manchester – if it wants to qualify for future grants.
ENO chiefs have challenged the decision, saying it would decimate the 100-year-old company. Public figures such as Juliet Stevenson, Maxine Peake and Melvyn Bragg have lent their names to protests, accusing ACE of “cultural vandalism”.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said on Wednesday that the ENO was not welcome in the city if it did not want to move there from London. “If they think we’re all heathens here, that no one would go, then I’m afraid they don’t understand us and therefore don’t deserve to come here,” he said.
The ENO has said it is not against moving to Manchester, but against ACE “randomly picking a location without any consultation” and proposing an “unrealistic timetable”.
Rojo is leaving the ENB this week for San Francisco Ballet after 10 years at the helm. The ENP will experience a 5% drop in income.
The Spanish dancer, who arrived in the UK as a relatively unknown figure before becoming a director of the Royal Ballet and then the ENB, said cultural institutions in capitals stimulate creativity and bring prosperity, cohesion, identity, investment and tourism.
She said she was very grateful to the UK because “all my career has given me is because Britain opened its arms to a Spanish immigrant who spoke no English”.
But she said post-Brexit visa rules risked preventing others like her from coming to the UK. “I would not have passed the English exam. And since I hadn’t accomplished anything yet, I wouldn’t have had the points to get a visa, she said.