CBSO ‘devastated’ as top orchestra to lose 100% of local funding in Birmingham arts cuts

22 February 2024, 16:41 | Updated: 22 February 2024, 16:50

Kazuki Yamada with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Kazuki Yamada with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The UK’s second city will lose almost all its council funding for the arts and music over the next two years, in a move that has been termed “cultural vandalism” by creatives.

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World-leading arts organisations including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the Repertory Theatre, will lose all its city council funding over the next two years.

Birmingham City Council, Europe’s largest local authority, effectively declared bankruptcy last year.

As part of cost-saving measures, the cash-strapped council announced on 21 February that all grants will be cut by half this year, and 100 percent by April 2025.

Over two years, the council will make £300 million worth of cuts to services – the largest budget slash in local authority history.

The CBSO said it is “devastated” by the plans and what they could mean for the future of music-making in the city.

Chief executive Emma Stenning told Classic FM “it’s a really sad day for Birmingham”.

“Just imagine life without the arts. I think we all got a sense during Covid about what it was like to not have access to live performance ... and I think we’ve got to be really clear that the arts and culture are a vital part of our daily lives.

“The arts are also a primary driver for tourism and investment in the city. So I think there’s some short-sightedness here.”

The world-leading orchestra is set to lose its grant of £630,000, while Birmingham Royal Ballet will lose its grant of £154,000.

Ella Taylor and the CBSO perform The White Lotus theme live at Classical Pride

Sangita Myska, a presenter on Classic FM’s sister station LBC, said: “The effect will be to deprive the people of Birmingham and surrounding area of access to multiple facilities.”

The CBSO has received funding from the council for the past 104 years. A statement from the orchestra said: “The cut will of course have lasting impact on the breadth and depth of work that we can deliver for the city, but nonetheless, we are determined to remain an essential part of Birmingham’s cultural landscape.”

Alongside cuts to the musical life of the city, 25 out of 36 libraries will also be closed.

Irish writer Jane Casey described the move as “cultural vandalism”, and many others have raised deep concerns over the potential economic impact of arts sector cuts on the city’s tourism and hospitality industry.

In response to the often-cited idea that the arts are ‘nice to have’, Ciaran Murtagh on Twitter responded: “In 1995 I was a teenage dad working at IBM to pay the bills and the Rep gave me a chance to write and perform.

“I’m now a BAFTA winner making a living from the arts and paying top rate tax. Community artistic engagement is not a nice to have. It builds the future.”

The UK Alliance for arts and culture, Campaign for the Arts, said it was “dismayed” by the plans.

“Defunding the arts will harm quality of life, exacerbate inequalities and set back economic recovery,” they wrote on Twitter.

Music director Kazuki Yamada conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Music director Kazuki Yamada conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega

In response to those who want to help the CBSO at this time, Emma Stenning added: “The simplest thing really is to keep buying tickets.

“If today you’re thinking about how much you adore these arts organisations, go online, to our website, to the Rep’s website, to the BRB’s website, and all of the wonderful companies across the city, and buy a bunch of tickets – that’s the best thing that you could do to support us.

“Just show your support to the companies that you love. Do that by buying tickets and just let them know that they’re a vital part of the city community.”