TAITMAIL ENO and Jerwood: all change
The Arts Council’s handling of ENO and the way it carried out Nadine Dorries’s instruction to slash arts funding in London with English National Opera being expelled from the capital was at best amateur at worst incompetent, but with this week’s joint announcement from ACE and ENO the dust seems to have cleared revealing - what?
Because the move is going ahead with a funding package that, perhaps unexpectedly, seems satisfactory to all concerned. For years ENO had been on at the Arts Council about being allowed to tour productions so that it could make some more money from them and reach new audiences, and it was refused because of the arcane systems of preferences ACE operated – WNO, Opera North, Scottish Opera, all had to have elbow room, and venues big enough to stage grand opera around the UK are few. But now the change will happen, from a new base ENO has identified but won’t announce until December.
The first cack-handed instruction had ENO packing up lock, stock and barrel and urgently leaving London where it owns its own large opera house (the gift of the government) for another town or city, possibly Manchester. It has now agreed to go somewhere, maybe Manchester, but it will also still be able to programme a full season in London.
And while it has lost its £12.8m a year National Portfolio status, ENO’s getting £24m for the move and six years, not three, to complete the operation. Over the next three years ENO will get £35.46m from ACE, not that far short of what it would have been getting anyway, with a return to National Portfolio funding thereafter heavily hinted at.
ACE’s long-term aim of getting first class performance to the regions is being served, ENO gets the regional profile it has always wanted, and London’s international status as the UK’s pre-eminent cultural centre is not diminished, at least not by this.
It could all have been accomplished without the sturm und drang of the last eight months or so, if ACE had not accepted the absurd deadline Dorries gave it and been able to discuss it over months with ENO like grown-ups instead of imposing the thing without prior notice. And it has nothing to do with “levelling-up” which no-one is mentioning any more. At the risk of repeating a mantra, keep politics out of the arts.
Which is something Alan Grieve was always determined to do, almost manically, with his baby Jerwood which, like ENO, is something of a maverick whose independence has been paramount in all its dealings, but steadfastly without any involvement of the Arts Council. He famously refused a National Lottery grant that was offered because he thought there would be too much bureaucratic interference.
But after more than 30 years at the helm of the charity he created on the instructions of his one-time boss, the pearl magnate John Jerwood when he died without heirs in 1991 (Grieve had been Jerwood’s lawyer), this week it was announced that the two charities he built, the Jerwood Foundation and Jerwood Arts, would merge and Grieve – now 95 – had stepped back to become “chairman emeritus” in favour of Rupert Tyler, a business development specialist who has chaired Jerwood Arts since 2020.
Grieve has a Dickensian soft-spoken charm than can lay out convincingly the simplicity of a scheme, coupled with a forensic grasp of finance that trebled the Jerwood bequest. He has been bold and taken risks and when they have not gone entirely to plan he has shown remarkable flexibility. The name appears all over the cultural sector, from the Jerwood Library at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to the Jerwood Vanburgh Theatre at RADA to the Jerwood Hall at LSO St Lukes. The Jerwood Space in Bermondsey is the main rehearsal venue for West End shows.
His schemes haven’t always come off, like a Midlands sculpture park he had set his heart on, but he has moved on without regrets. He commissioned his son Tom to design a Jerwood Gallery for Hastings which won architectural prizes, but he fell out with the management and cut all ties; this year it was handed over to the local council which has given a lease to the management of what is now Hastings Contemporary.
Since he set up the foundation it has channelled over £110m in capital and revenue funding in support of the arts and education in the UK. He set up Jerwood Arts in 1999 as a separate charity with an endowment of £25m for programmes like the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards, the Jerwood Survey, Jerwood Composer+ at the LSO and the Jerwood New Playwrights at the Royal Court. The foundation would get on with the capital adventures.
For the last five years or so Jerwood Arts has been run by Lilli Geissendorfer whose background is as a theatre producer. She put her own stamp on the charity’s activities, sending a gush of fresh air through it. She forged partnerships with other charitable organisations like Art Fund, Wolfson, Esmée Fairbairn, Linbury, and devised new schemes to get to the roots of creativity. Like injecting £1m into organisations to give a boost to early-career creatives, introducing an emergency £660,000 scheme with two other charities that would ensure music makers and performing artists could carry on working through the Covid-19 emergency and beyond, and introducing, with Weston, a bursary scheme to lift promising talent out of the binds of socio-economic indiversity and exclusion.
But Geissendorfer leaves today to become deputy director of the Creative Policy and Evidence Centre, and her role will be taken on by Lara Wardle, the foundation’s executive director, making a punctuation mark at least in the Jerwood story. How the next chapter opens should become clearer when a strategic review by the experienced producer and explorer of funding sources for the arts Kate Danielson, “to ensure that the organisation is best prepared to continue to support excellence, ambition, and commitment for public benefit”. No date has been given for her report’s delivery.
For arts funding has changed and, even before Covid decimated freelance income, cultural organisations of all dimensions were being pressed to up their earning. Subsidy was down, business sponsorship in steep decline, and philanthropy was to be the saviour, with the limited resources but deep experience and market knowledge of charitable trusts and foundations leading the way. They each have their own specialities, none are the same, but together they have become vital to our creative infrastructure.
Grieve has seen trusts and foundations like his as the key to future arts funding, but streamlined, and the Jerwood seems to be going through a second streamlining in the last decade. He has seen himself as the last of the Victorian entrepreneur philanthropists in the mould of Andrew Carnegie, Lord Shaftesbury and John Passmore Edwards, and he has no interest in the judgement of those he doesn’t respect. But his creature is going through a modernisation which is being steered by the next generation in the person of the foundation’s executive director, and he will watch from his armchair emeritus with total confidence. Lara Wardle is his daughter.