Arts Council England has raised eyebrows by issuing a big-money PR brief to encourage more people to attend ballet and opera.
The decision to spend around £200,000 on a PR agency follows a series of savage cuts at the quango. It also comes at a time when public sector bodies are under mounting pressure to justify their comms expenditure.
The brief, which has been issued via the Central Office of Information, aims to get ordinary members of the public involved in all forms of the arts, both on the creative side and as consumers. A shortlist of agencies has been already been drawn up.
Director of media relations Louise Wylie said a recent organisational review had 'substantially reduced' comms budgets, but insisted: 'For a campaign of this size and complexity, we would always have brought an agency on board.'
An industry insider said: 'This could be a taste of things to come under David Cameron. With a substantially reduced in-house team, the council is having to rely on PR agencies to obtain coverage.'
The brief is the latest big-money government account for the arts being issued during the recession, following Freud's £1m appointment to National Year of Music. It is expected to provoke an angry reaction from right-wing campaign groups such as the TaxPayers' Alliance.
But PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: 'When you consider the sums of money the Government invests annually in the thousands of galleries, theatres and museums across the UK, £200,000 is a sensible investment to ensure the public make best use of the rich choice of entertainment and education that is on our doorstep.'
Separately, the British Library is refreshing its PR roster. It is seeking five agencies to handle areas such as crisis comms and Digital Britain.
The Arts Council England is funded by the Government and the National Lottery.
It has recently undergone an organisational review that will see it reduce its England-wide comms staff from 50 to 31 from next April, as part of overall £6.5m savings.
Following the cuts, the Arts Council now has a dedicated central media relations staff of just four, led by director of media relations Louise Wylie.