Rumours that the National Campaign for the Arts is closing have been firmly denied by its new chairman ‒ but the organisation will change, said the actor and director Sam West who has written to subscribing members to set the record straight.
Instead, he hopes the NCA, founded 25 years ago by arts lovers such as Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell, will be remodelled and launched into new campaigns, possibly with a new name.
The NCA was created out of an anxiety about Margaret Thatcher’s government’s cuts to arts funding and an Arts Council which was perceived to be out of touch with artists and arts organisations. It was financially supported by professional bodies like the Musicians’ Union, Equity, the Society of London Theatre as it now is, and the stage technicians’ union BECTU. It developed into a valuable research tool which helped to arm challenges to subsidy reductions and other issues.
But the agreement with the original funders expired in 1998 and it became a subscribers’ organisation, losing its research role. Instead, it took up the vital cause of arts education, produced influential reports and organised key conferences.
But in 2011 and 2012 the NCA found itself in trouble, losing its director, Louise de Winter, and chair, Joan Bakewell.
‘The NCA has had a difficult year as the double squeeze on local and national arts funding drove subscription funds down,’ Mr West has written to the membership. ‘We haven’t been operating as we would have liked. The board has taken every step to cut costs to the bone, but we can’t continue in our present form.’
There are new economic models for the arts, and new possibilities to be determined, he said. ‘There are big challenges ahead, not least in Newcastle; if the 100% arts funding cut goes through there, many other local councils will be thinking “We could do that”. The sector must be mobilised, but how?’
He said he is determined that the NCA should be part of a debate to be sparked by a series of conferences organised by the What Next? group starting in February, where he hopes to speak.
‘I’ve been on the board here for six years and in the lead up to the conferences I’m delighted to have been voted chair of the NCA. Continuity in such things is important,’ he told Classical Music. ‘We hope that out of the discussions next spring a new public-facing campaign can build on the foundations the National Campaign for the Arts has laid during the last quarter of a century.’
For all its influential chairs and hardworking directors (doing the job part-time now is Laura Willoughby), the NCA has lacked influence and exposure in recent time. Sam West, however, looks likely to change that. He is as passionate a campaigner as his parents, Timothy West and Prunella Scales, have been, education is his current priority, and he is a skilled speaker, admired thinker and part of the new generation of theatre stars.