Drill Hall, Exeter & Yvonne May Close After ACE CutsDate: 17 December 2007
Two months ago, the arts world was breathing a sigh of relief when Culture Secretary James Purnell promised an additional £50 million boost to the Arts Council England (ACE), on top of an inflationary increase in arts funding over the next three years (See News, 12 Oct 2007). However, relief has proved temporary for many organisations that have lost out in ACE’s distribution of its settlement.
In what’s reportedly the biggest cull in the Arts Council’s 61-year history, nearly 200 arts bodies – approximately one in five of the organisations currently supported – will have their funding cut off from April, the start of the next financial year.
Amongst the biggest theatrical losers are three regional playhouses: Bristol Old Vic, which controversially shut its doors in August for an 18-month, £7 million refurbishment (See News, 30 Jul 2007); Exeter Northcott, which only reopened last week after a year-long, £2.1 million redevelopment; and Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which receives major pre- and post-West End tours. Also facing the funding chop are: London’s Drill Hall, the UK’s leading producer of lesbian and gay performance, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this autumn; devised multimedia group People Show; popular touring troupe London Bubble Theatre Company, which has been taking productions to parks and schools for 35 years; and the National Student Drama Festival, run annually since 1956.
All of the organisations say that, without their annual subsidies, they face immediate danger, and ultimately, probable closure. ACE has defended its decisions, pointing out that more than 200 of its funded organisations are receiving rises above inflation. The cull, ACE argues, was necessary in order to focus on rewarding those bodies which have delivered strong artistic output and broadened audiences.
Jonathan Petherbridge, artistic director of London Bubble, said: “We are appalled by Arts Council England’s decision. And we are gobsmacked that, while they are threatening to cut London Bubble, which leads in terms of increasing engagement and participation, at the same time Peter Hewitt, chief executive of ACE can write in Arts Industry that ‘our recommendations also take into account our other priorities – the need to increase engagement and participation’.”
Exeter Northcott has lost an annual grant of £547,000 – after its £2.1 million redevelopment which was funded to the tune of £640,000 by ACE. One of the highlights of the theatre’s reopening season is the English premiere of The Notebook of Trigorin (pictured), Tennessee Williams’ free adaptation by Chekhov’s The Seagull, which opens in February. Steve Gratton, the chairman of the Northcott Theatre Board expressed his anger: “I simply cannot understand why the Arts Council would say it is committed to the theatre, allow public money to be spent on its redevelopment and then pull the plug just as the theatre reopens.”
At present, the funding allocations are merely recommendations. Organisations have been given until 21 January 2008 to appeal. The National Student Drama Festival and London Bubble have set up online petitions on their websites - www.nsdf.org.uk and www.londonbubble.org.uk - for theatregoers to pledge their support. Exeter Northcott has not yet launched its new website following its reopening but it’s inviting emails at email@example.com.
- by Terri Paddock