A senior figure in the art world warned yesterday that the arts sector is focusing on a "London-centric, middle-class elite" while failing to reach the majority of the British population.
Colin Tweedy, vice-president of Arts & Business, one of the Prince of Wales' charities, is calling for a "radical" rethink of priorities and a possible redistribution of public funding to increase arts participation and interest beyond the capital.
He told The Independent: "81 per cent of all private philanthropy is in the capital. Most – around 75 per cent – goes to just 25 institutions ... But [across] the rest of the UK ... the balance is not there. The focus is on what I would call a middle-class elite. We are failing – profoundly, if we're not careful – to engage the majority of the British population."
Out of a total £658m in private investment in the arts, London received £488m in 2010-11. With a 7.8 million London population, the benefit is £62.50 per head, compared with the rest of the UK population (54.2 million) who received only £3.60 per head.
Mr Tweedy said: "We must be ruthless about encouraging culture everywhere if we believe it transforms lives ... The London institutions have a greater opportunity to raise money from the private sector. I'm not here to say 'cut their [public] funding to zero', but I think we have to look at priorities. It may be that [London] funding would have to be cut. We need to address these issues, rather than ... saying no one should be cut."
Arts & Business, whose president is Prince Charles, pioneered business sponsorship of the arts in the UK.
The [beneficial social] role that arts can play within communities is all the more important after last year's riots, Mr Tweedy said, adding: "We need to address these issues because they're social. The arts must remain relevant to the people if we want to transform our communities. We need to address the fact that the majority of British people are not able to go the National Theatre or the Royal Opera House."
Some may argue that the arts can never reach the majority. But Mr Tweedy points to the inspiration of Newham Borough Council in east London where some 7,000 children have been given a publicly funded, free musical instrument and two years' free tuition thanks to the Mayor, Sir Robin Wales.
"He has one of the poorest parts of Europe's population, but he has this absolute passion," said Mr Tweedy.
There was a mixed response yesterday.
Tom Morris, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic and director of the National Theatre's award-winning War Horse, objects to redistribution, saying: "In order for the regions to be healthy, London has to be incredibly healthy as a cultural centre."
But Stephanie Sirr, chief executive of Nottingham Playhouse, said: "We are a very London-centric country... It's a big worry."
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