It is a government-funded body dedicated to promoting the performing, visual and literary arts in England. Since 1994, Arts Council England has been responsible for distributing lottery funding. This investment has helped to transform the building stock of arts organisations and to create lots of additional high quality arts activity.
The Arts Council of England was created in 1945 when the Arts Council of Great Britain was divided to form the Arts Council of England, the Scottish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Wales. At the same time the National Lottery was established and the Arts Council of England became one of the distribution bodies. This increased responsibility saw the Arts Council of England grow back in size to the point where it was larger than before the 1987 restructure.
In 2001 Chairman Gerry Robinson announced a further restructuring in which the Arts Council of England would be merged with the existing Regional Arts Boards to form a single organisation: Arts Council England.
Arts Council England has a national council of 14 members including the Chairman. The national council meets 5–6 times a year and is made up of representatives of the arts community with 9 of the members also representing the regional councils and one seat reserved for a representative of the Black and Asian community. The 9 regional councils also have boards of 14 members made up of representatives of their regional arts community and local government. The 9 regional councils are:
The appointment of the Arts Council England Chief Executive is made by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, a position held by Peter Hewitt since 1998. Each regional council had an Executive Director and each artform has a specialist advisor. The Arts Council England divides its funding into the following headings:
The Council attracted criticism from the Parliamentary select committee responsible for its oversight for supporting a Lottery funded programme to subsidise UK film production that resulted in a series of films that failed to find distribution. There was also a series of costly capital projects such as the Royal Opera House and the Lowry Centre that required additional funding. In the case of the Royal Opera House the select committee found the Arts Council had broken its own procedures. In 2005 it was announced that the Arts Council England's budget was capped resulting in an effective £30m reduction in its budget.
The Arts Council of England funds a controversial cultural festival, the Festival of Muslim Cultures.
In March 2006, the Arts Council announced a review of its National Office that would "enhance efficiency and delivery while continuing to provide respected and focused arts leadership and drive", whilst proposing to lose 42 posts, mainly arts specialists, so that the organisation will no longer have dedicated national leads for areas including contemporary music, interdisciplinary art, moving image, architecture, broadcasting, opera, social inclusion, disability, and so on.
The Arts Council England also has a highly controversial music policy. They consistently spend more than 90% of their music budget on Opera, at the expense of other music styles. For example, jazz has an equivalent audience size but receives less than 1%. This policy is clear evidence that Arts Council England has an unusually limited view of accountability that is expected by public bodies in the UK. This point was raised in Chris Hodgkins's 1998 paper Jazz in the UK. More recently it was raised in the House of Lords by Lord Colwyn on 11 May 2006 as documented in the Lords Hansard Columns (1058 to 1060).
In July 2006, BBC journalist Kirsty Lang asked Arts Council England Chief Executive Peter Hewitt on Radio Four's Front Row whether they planned to ask in their Public Value Inquiry whether the public wanted so much of the money spent on opera, he said no.