Taking Circus Seriously

Feature in Issue 14-3 | Autumn 2002

As the Arts Council of England continues its restructuring process, Annabel Arndt reflects on the place of circus within the funding system.

The Arts Council of England is currently in the middle of a 90-day negotiation with their union so cannot be specific about different roles within the new organisation until after those 90 days have passed. What they have said is that they formally recognise circus as an artform. Where before there have been inconsistencies in the way in which circus is viewed across the country, with there now being one national funding organisation, these should be cleared up. ACE have decided to place circus in the newly named theatre department – this was previously drama. Every theatre office across the regions will have circus listed as an area for which they are responsible – something the heads of departments will have to take on board.

The bad news is that it would appear that the newly created role of circus officer at the Arts Council will disappear; instead there will be an officer at regional level responsible for circus with the Director of Drama at ACE having overall responsibility. This can be compared with the way carnival is being treated, with the difference that the officer at regional level for carnival will be a Senior Officer and the circus officer will not.

With the exception of lottery funds, circus will now be on the same playing field as any other theatre company. So theoretically circuses/circus companies will be able to access exactly the same level of funding as theatre companies.

The Arts Council has recently set up a new National Circus Advisory Group. They have assembled a group of key people representing all aspects of circus. ACE sees the role of the group to be a strong and active advisory system to advise ACE and the rest of the funding system.

At a time of such structural change, it can only be good that the group has been set up at this point so that it can monitor the way in which circus is prioritised within the Arts Council. At the first meeting, Drama Director Nicola Thorold said that she would be looking to the group to do just that, to ensure that circus will be treated as a priority – a very important role if there is to be no senior officer solely responsible for circus at central office.

The new group will also be involved in the assessment of the National Touring Programme, a fund which has so far distributed £445,000 to circus projects.

Another role for the group will be to lobby ACE at higher levels on their funding priorities. It was recently announced that an additional £75 million pounds has been allocated to the arts from 2005/6. We will of course be working hard to ensure that the Council members who set ACE's priorities will understand the important role circus plays in our cultural lives, its historic underfunding and how readily it fulfils their strategic aims.


This article in the magazine

Issue 14-3
p. 4