Jessica Fino 14 Aug 2017 12:35pm

Accountants in the arts create “climate of fear and risk-aversion”

The rise of accountants holding positions on arts boards is creating a climate of fear and risk-aversion, the former director of the Globe Theatre has warned

Speaking informally at a book signing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival over the weekend, Dominic Dromgoole said that the governance of the arts sector is “overstaffed” with people from the world of finance, particularly accountants.

However, he later said that his comments had been taken out of context.

Dromgoole explained to economia, "I said that there was a degree of fiscal irresponsibility in theatres when I first came in to them, and that there was a need to bring into governance people who were competent and diligent with finances.

“This largely happened in the 90’s and Noughties, and it was to the benefit of the theatre industry that it did. However now, the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and governance of arts institutions has become overly dependent on financial expertise, and has fallen out of correct balance. More power to accountants, but in the right numbers."

Earlier on Monday, several media outlets reported that the former theatre director had claimed that people from the world of finance have increasingly begun to dominate the arts sector over the years, creating a “mixture of fear, and people being very risk-averse, lethargic, lazy and frightened”.

They said he had argued that the inclination of accountants is to say no to any venture that they can’t absolutely 100% future-proof.

Dromgoole qualified his remarks by stressing that accountants working in arts governance are “entirely honourable and entirely nice people”, but thinks that “from the moment they begin working on things they’re always overly calculating risk and overly worried about danger”.

“You can’t do that with theatre," he was quoted as saying. "No one wants artists’ organisations to be feckless and irresponsible but there has been 30 to 40 years of bringing in more fiscal responsibility. We need to rebalance our governance so it’s more weighted towards artists,” he said.

“It’s great to have the balance and no-one wants arts organisations to be feckless or irresponsible or lost."

Dromgoole added that the corrective impulse to bring in more fiscal responsibility “might have institutionally slightly overgrown itself so that now you have an element of fear within a lot of organisations that doesn’t need to be there".

“I think we can rebalance our governance slightly so that it is slightly more weighted towards artists.”

Dromgoole left Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre last year after a decade at the helm of the theatre. His successor, Emma Rice, announced her departure earlier this year after being forced to leave by the board. Actor Michelle Terry, is expected to replace Rice from April.

His book, Hamlet Globe to Globe, describes a two-year, 190,000-mile theatrical odyssey to bring Shakespeare's play to every country in the world, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death.