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Councils for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts originated in Britain in the early part of World War II. Initially a scheme of amateur concerts, theatricals and activities to enable the wartime populace to participate in the Arts, the CEMA movement was later transformed, under the leadership of John Maynard Keynes, into the Arts Council.

They also spread to Australia where many were established, of which only Portland survives.

The Birth Of CEMA

In January 1940, as a result of an informal conference held at the Board of Education in December 1939, the Pilgrim Trust appointed a Committee for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts.

The Pilgrim Trust had been set up in 1930 as a result of a gift of 2 million by Edward Harkness, an American railway millionaire, to help conserve the heritage of Great Britain in all its aspects, social, intellectual and material: its name had been chosen to signify its dedication to an adventurous ideal and its link with the land of the Pilgrim Fathers.

The Committee was established under the chairmanship of Lord Macmillan, who was also chairman of the Pilgrim Trust. The initial objective of the committee was to help the arts to adjust themselves to the unknown war-time conditions, and to encourage the active interest in the arts professed by certain voluntary bodies. It offered financial support to such bodies, the Pilgrim Trust having provided 25,000 to launch the experiment.

The Committee was composed of people chosen by the Pilgrim Trustees and by Lord De La Warr, who was then President of the Board of Education. The other members of the Committee, besides Lord Macmillan, the chairman, and Dr Thomas Jones, the secretary of the Pilgrim Trust, were Sir Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery, Sir Walford Davies, who had pioneered broadcast music, Dr Reginald Jacques, L. du Garde Peach, Mary Glasgow and W.E. Williams, Director of the British Institute of Adult Education and originator of the Institute's 'Art for the People' travelling exhibitions. Later Thelma Cazalet MP, J. Wilkie, D. Du B. Davidson and H.B. Wallis also became members.

In 1940 the original committee (enlarged by the inclusion of Sir Kenneth Barnes, the Earl of Crawford and Miss M Fry), was formally appointed as the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) by Lord De La Warr, President of the Board of Education. The new Council began to receive direct funding from the government.

Keynes Takes Over

Lord Macmillan's successor as chairman of CEMA was John Maynard Keynes, whose appointment ran from 1 April 1942. The position of the honorary directors was reviewed and it was agreed to put these officers onto a salaried basis. Dr Reginald Jacques became the first Music Director and Ivor Brown the first Drama Director. W E Williams who had served as honorary director for art, was now attached to the War Office as director of the Army Bureau for Current Affairs, and his place as Art Director was taken by Philip James. In the summer of 1942, Ivor Brown was forced to resign on his appointment as editor of the Observer; Lewis Casson was appointed as Drama Director in his place.

October 1942 saw a major development in organisation. Keynes informed the Council that after consultation with the president of the Board it had been decided to set up panels for Music, Art and Drama, the original intention being, that as chairman of CEMA, he would be entitled to take the chair at all panel meetings. It was made evident that decisions taken at panel meetings would have the force of Council decisions, but major questions of policy would be referred to the regular quarterly meetings of Council whenever necessary, and all decisions on finance and policy would be referred to the Council for information.

Reconstitution of CEMA

In January 1945 a full-scale debate on the question of the reconstitution of CEMA as a permanent peace time body took place. As part of the agreed plan for the future it was proposed that an Executive Committee should be established. This committee consisted of Keynes (as chairman), a general member of the Council ( Dr B Ivor Evans) and the three chairmen of the panels.

In June 1945 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) would continue as a permanent organisation with the title ' The Arts Council of Great Britain' (ACGB). It was to be incorporated as an autonomous body and at the end of the financial year, in 1946, the Ministry of Education would cease to administer its grant which would be received direct from the Treasury. The Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland would retain an interest in the Council, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer would speak for it in the House of Commons. These changes were incorporated in a Royal Charter granted to the ACGB on 9 August 1946.

The policy of the new Council was to remain that of CEMA, however; 'to encourage the best British national arts, everywhere, and to do it as far as possible by supporting others rather than by setting up state-run monopolies'.

Unfortunately the Chairman of the Council, Lord Keynes, who had worked hard to ensure the continuation of state support for the arts, did not live to see the incorporation of the Arts Council. He died in April 1946 and Dr Ivor Evans took over as acting chairman until the appointment of Sir Ernest Pooley later in the year.

After incorporation in 1946 the decision-making bodies of the Arts Council were the Council and the Executive Committee. Council members were persons known for their attachment to the arts who acted voluntarily in a personal capacity. They were appointed for stated periods of time by the Chancellor of the Exchequer after consultation with the Minister of Education and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Representatives of these three government offices also sat as assessors on the Council and the Executive Committee.

Reconstitution of the Arts Council

On 7 February 1967 a second Charter of Incorporation was granted to the Arts Council under which several administrative changes were made. Among these changes were; the abolition of the Executive Committee and the raising of the maximum number of Council members from 16 to 20.

As a publicly accountable body the Arts Council published annual reports and accounts to provide Parliament and the general public with an overview of the year's work and to record all grants and guarantees offered in support of the arts.


For further information check out the Arts Council Of Great Britain web site.