Letter: Withdrawing ENO funding risks alienating other arts donors


The withdrawal of Arts Council funding for English National Opera (ENO) presents a moral dilemma regarding public benefit and the use of charitable funds (“Stage fright: Arts Council cuts hit capital”, Report, FT Weekend, November 5).

On the day in 1992 when the government announced the purchase of London Coliseum for the nation, and as a home for ENO, I remember Sir Peter Jonas, the opera company’s general director, receiving a call from Garry Weston inviting him to meet first thing the next morning. Weston presented Jonas with a cheque for £1mn to acknowledge and celebrate the government’s purchase and to demonstrate his family’s commitment to ENO’s mission to provide affordable and accessible opera. The Weston donation was the first of many from donors and together with the Lottery amounted to £41mn. This enabled the restoration of the Coliseum for the benefit of ENO and the public.

The Arts Council has now proposed that ENO relocates outside London and that the Coliseum should be used for commercial hire. That was not the intention of the government in 1992 and not the motivation of those who gave £41mn in good faith, that the building would be used for the benefit of the public.

Using public money and charitable donations for commercial hire will be a breach of trust and make a mockery of what constitutes the “public benefit”. The Coliseum should be sold to private operators and the funds generated reinvested in opera and music.

More public funding and access to the arts across the nation is to be welcomed but not at any price. The removal of public funding from ENO will mean the end of the company as we know it and diminish access to opera. Government says it wishes to encourage more philanthropic support for culture but donors will not be inclined to support organisations that are defunded by the state.

John Nickson
Director of Development, ENO, 1989-1992
London W9, UK

Letter in response to this letter:

Arts Council England should rethink its strategy / From Chris Crowcroft, Penrith, Cumbria, UK

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