ACE Axes Funding for Talawa Black Theatre HomeDate: 14 July 2005
It’s been a bad week for black arts in London. In the wake of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Elmina's Kitchen early closing notices in the West End (See News, 12 Jul 2005), funding for the first major black-led arts institution in central London, Talawa’s multi-million pound Westminster Theatre Project, has been withdrawn by Arts Council England (See News, 8 Jul 2002).
The Government body that provides financial support for the arts announced its decision to withdraw funding from the scheme due to “a series of ongoing issues around organisational weakness, the financial viability of the building project and its artistic and business plans”.
To be built on the site of the old Westminster theatre near Victoria station, the development (artist’s impression pictured) was designed to provide a 270-seat flexible auditorium with a café, rehearsal rooms and an archive to support known and up-and-coming black writers and professionals. ACE had allocated £4 million of National Lottery funding for the project, with a further £1.8 million of Lottery funding from the Millennium Commission and additional funding from the London Development Agency. The project was predicted to cost £9.3 million in total.
An ACE spokesman said yesterday that the organisation remains committed to the development of black theatre in England and will be examining how the money that had been earmarked for Talawa can be redirected towards cross-country infrastructural support.
Talawa, which takes its name from a Jamaican phrase about strength, is the longest established black theatre company in the UK. The group’s first production was The Black Jacobins in 1986. Since then, the company has produced a variety of work, including recent productions of Blues for Mr Charlie (seen at the Tricycle in London) and High Heel Parrotfish (Theatre Royal Stratford East), and started the careers of many of Britain's black actors and writers.
Commenting on ACE’s withcrawal of funding, a company spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com: “The Talawa board is disappointed and dismayed that Arts Council England has decided to frustrate our communities' vision of a home for black theatre in the UK. London is ready for a black-run, black-led theatre. The UK is ready. Talawa shares this vision. The Talawa board is united in fighting for the rights of artists and theatregoers to have a long-awaited home for the unique and valid artistic expression of black theatre in the UK.
“Talawa came of age this year. It has been operating successfully for 21 years. The company has consistently been a first step for many of our best-known television and stage performers. We have an award-winning theatre programme and bold and exciting education, outreach, training and literary programmes, which have seen the successful placement of black actors, writers, arts administrators and technical staff.
“We had been led to believe that Arts Council England, the Millennium Commission and the London Development Agency shared our vision of a groundbreaking, exciting and innovative home for black theatre in the UK. We are seeking clarification about this decision from Arts Council England. However, as ACE was the principal funding body, their decision puts the entire project in jeopardy. This news comes as Talawa Theatre launches its annual young people's theatre course, TYPT 05. The popular, five-week course is an intensive study and performance course for 12 young Londoners at the Drill Hall. The new Talawa Theatre base would have meant that the programme could be expanded to run throughout the year.”
She added: “We are fully committed to a long-term vision for Talawa and a home for black theatre in the UK and that has not changed. Talawa faces an uncertain future, but as our name suggests, we are small but strong.”
Actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah said: “After 21 years of essential service to our community both artistically and culturally, a theatrical landscape without Talawa is totally unthinkable and undesirable and one that I would never want to see."
Talawa’s highly respected artistic director Paulette Randall resigned in November 2004 and left this past April. A spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com that a new artistic director, as well as an executive director, were due to be recruited in September “but we will obviously have to review these plans in the light of discussions with ACE about the long-term future of the company.”
- by Caroline Ansdell