Merry Old England? Not So For Some In The Arts

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is one of hundreds of British arts organizations whose budgets were cut.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is one of hundreds of British arts organizations whose budgets were cut. Eric Richmond /Harrison & Co. hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Richmond /Harrison & Co.

While politicians here bicker over budget cuts (including some that affect public radio and television) hundreds of British arts organizations felt the belt tighten significantly Wednesday.

The Arts Council of England, a government-funded agency, must chop 15 percent of the amount it doles out to music, theater, art and dance companies by 2015. Rather than lopping off an even 15 percent from every organization — which the council called "salami slicing" — they instead cut funding completely to some 200 groups (including the Northumberland Theatre Company), reduced others (English National Ballet) and actually supplied increases to still others (English Touring Opera).

These "strategic choices" decreased the number of organizations the council funds from roughly 850 to 695. Still, the cuts leave the council with nearly $1.6 billion to give to arts groups. That seems big for a UK population of 62 million. Maybe it's not a fair comparison, but just so you know: Congress gave the National Endowment for the Arts $167 million last year for our country of 307 million.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the OAE in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

One of my favorite groups that suffered a "salami slicing" is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The period instruments ensemble was cut 14.9 percent. William Norris, the OAE's communications director, told me he was actually a little relieved. While the cut "isn't ideal," he said, "it could've been much worse." He also says the orchestra — unlike many other British arts organizations — has an alternate funding source.

The OAE is a smart ensemble that has no music director but instead collaborates with some of the world's best conductors on an ad hoc basis. It makes recordings led by the likes of Gustav Leonhardt, Rene Jacobs and William Christie, and also has an active outreach program. For instance, next Wednesday brings "Baroque from Scratch," where adult amateur musicians get a chance to rehearse and play Handel's Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music alongside the OAE professionals. The next night, when the orchestra plays a concert of Vivaldi, Corelli and others, tickets are cheap and even free to the unemployed.

So here's hoping the OAE and other arts groups can absorb the cuts and keep going strong, even with newly bruised budgets.

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