Ballet-hoo as arts audiences hit 1m

SCOTLAND'S flagship national arts companies performed to more than a million people in their first two years of being directly funded by the public, it was claimed yesterday.

A bullish report by the Scottish Government on the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet claimed a series of successes for the five companies.

Scottish Opera remains the most expensive, having received about double the grant of the National Theatre of Scotland, with more than 8 million in public money annually.

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Scottish Ballet also struggled to bring in audiences on the scale of the NTS or the RSNO, although it gets about the same level of public funding.

Culture minister Fiona Hyslop said she was delighted to see all five national companies in "such good financial health".

Scottish Opera recorded a gap of 400,000 last year between its income and expenditure. But the company said the paper loss reflected a planned drawing-down of reserves, and not a return to the financial troubles it has suffered in the past.

In 2007-08 and 2008-09, the five companies reached a combined audience of 1,007,812 people. In addition some 5,425 education and outreach events involved 202,370 participants.

The report cited success from international tours of the NTS hit play Black Watch, the RSNO's collaborations with artists including Elvis Costello, and Scottish Opera's festival production of The Two Widows.

The five companies, formerly funded through the Scottish Arts Council, were moved to a directly funded status in 2007. They are now overseen by a "Cultural Excellence Team" in the government.

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The report touted a "new era of confidence, optimism and generosity" but some familiar differences between the operations of the five remained.

The RSNO, for example, earned a healthy 42 per cent of its income from non-government sources, in performance fees, sponsorship and fundraising, including box-office income, on top of 4 million annually from the Scottish Government. Its audiences were more than 116,000 people.

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Scottish Ballet, however, relied much more heavily on its government funding of 4.6 million, getting only 26 per cent of its income from non-government sources. Its audiences are about half those of the RSNO.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra played to audiences of nearly 80,000 in 2008-09, with an annual grant of just over 2 million. The four-year-old National Theatre of Scotland claimed an audience of more than 150,000, against a core grant of 4.3 million.

Scottish Opera's government grant is more than 8.5 million a year. With audiences of 82,000, that works out at an average subsidy of more than 100 a seat.

"It is the nature of the beast," said Helen Ireland, the company's director of marketing and communications. "It costs a great deal more to put on a fully staged opera than it does a concert performance."

The report sounded a note of warning about future funding, amid a weak economy and planned government spending cuts. The companies face finding 12 per cent of "efficiency savings" in the coming two years.