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ACE National Portfolio 2023-26

16th Nov 2022

Image courtesy of The Lightbox

Welcoming more representation and highlighting some surprising omissions.

Arts Council England has announced its National Portfolio, the list of organisations that will receive annual funding from 2023 – 2026. ACE has said it will be investing £446 million per annum to bring art, culture, and creativity to more people, in more places, across the country.

The announcement, delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, was clearly an important day for the visual arts in our region. As ACE knows all too well, the visual arts sector, like many sectors, is currently operating in a particularly tough financial environment, brought about by rocketing running costs, a severe contraction in local authority support and, for some, the loss of EU programmes as a potential source of funding. 

ACE has responded to the prevailing call to ‘level-up’ the places and communities that have traditionally received less public investment. The sector has embraced the shift in investment following ACE’s Let’s Create 10-year strategy. For example, the new National Portfolio includes more equitable representation for female-led organisations and those whose leadership identifies as from the Global Ethnic Majority. But there is more work to do, particularly for disability-led organisations who are still under-represented in the Portfolio.

The Lightbox in Woking, Surrey, a CVAN South East network partner, is one of the new entries to the visual arts National Portfolio in the South East. Sarah Brown, Director of The Lightbox, said: 

“The Lightbox is incredibly grateful to be awarded Arts Council England National Portfolio status for the first time as we celebrate our 15th year anniversary. We know that it is a hugely challenging time and this year marks an important milestone in our organisation’s history. The vital support from ACE will allow us to positively transform the lives of people across Woking and beyond through art and creativity.”

Alongside the Lightbox, the South East welcomes four more visual arts organisations being awarded NPO status for the first time, including Devonshire Collective in Eastbourne, Future Foundry in Dover, Art Classes Group in Slough and Jelly in Reading. Additionally, we are delighted that four existing CVAN South East network partners received uplifts in NPO funding, including Hastings-based Project Art Works, as well as Towner Eastbourne, and Brighton-based Disability Arts Online and Photoworks.

While the sector recognises that tough funding choices have to be made in this process, we are still digesting some surprising omissions. Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village in Surrey, Pallant House in Chichester, alongside Lighthouse and Fabrica (both in Brighton), will be leaving the National Portfolio for 2023-26. We are very conscious of their situation, and a number of partners in our network have contacted us to express both their concern and a desire to collaborate ever closer. We trust that Transition funding, and other ACE programmes, will be available to them.

Due to applicant confidentiality ACE does not release the list of organisations not selected, but it is understood that the number of applications was high. It should not be overlooked that standstill funding, in effect a real-terms cut, was the most common outcome for NPO’s reapplying in this round, albeit an outcome they had expected. Amongst these, CVAN South East’s share of funding was confirmed until 2026 as part of Modern Art Oxford’s NPO. 

For the South East of England, the ACE announcement underscores the extraordinary diversity, quality and innovation of visual arts organisations serving our region. From Milton Keynes to Dover, this region supports a population of over 8m and has a vibrant cultural ecology, but many areas of multiple deprivation. The South East is a region where many artists find the conditions to sustain themselves, in creative communities like Margate, Hastings, Brighton, Reading and Oxford. To ensure a healthy future for our visual arts, ACE must not be distracted from backing those organisations consistently engaged in the, perhaps quieter, work of developing artists early in their careers. Whatever their NPO status, our region’s visual arts organisations will now hope for a much-needed period of stability in the next three years. 


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