BAC Signs 125-year Lease, Unveils Building PlansDate: 16 April 2008
After threatened closure last year, Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) has signed a new 125-year lease which will secure its home for the long-term future. Joint artistic directors David Jubb and David Micklem announced the new lease agreement at a press conference held today (16 April 2008), when they also unveiled redevelopment plans for the building (formerly Battersea Town Hall).
Today’s news marks a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the south London Fringe powerhouse. Early last year, it seemed on the brink of closure until Wandsworth Borough Council (WBC) came to a funding agreement over rental and running cost charges (See News, 26 Mar 2007). WBC representatives were present at today’s event to emphasise their backing for the Arts Centre, along with Arts Council representative Moira Sinclair, who described the venue as “one of the most important theatres in the UK”.
BAC, which won the Best Community Contribution Award at Wandsworth Council’s Business Awards 2006, attracts 220,000 visitors each year. The venue launched Jerry Springer - The Opera, and has helped develop the careers of a range of performers and companies, including French & Saunders, Cheek by Jowl, Complicite, Kneehigh Theatre, the League of Gentlemen, Faulty Optic, DV8 and the Right Size.
David Jubb, who took the directorship of BAC in 2004, spoke alongside his new co-director David Micklem, whose previous role was as a senior strategy officer at Arts Council England. They shared their hopes that, over the next few months, they can capitalise on the success of Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death. Punchdrunk’s promenade production, which finished on 12 April, took over the entire venue for an extended, sell-out run, which attracted an audience of more than 45,000 people over nine months (See Review Round-up, 4 Oct 2007).
Jubb told the audience that something he had learned from Punchdrunk’s production was the possibilities of the venue as a “playground” for its artists and audiences. As well as staging performances from visiting companies, he aims for the venue to become a “true home” for its artists by providing them with accommodation during the course of their rehearsal periods and performances.
Facilities to sleep 24 people are included in the new development plans, which are being overseen by Steve Tompkins, the architect behind the Young Vic’s recent £12.45 million redevelopment (See News, 12 Oct 2006). Speaking at today’s event, Tompkins said he hoped to work with BAC artists to create a “21st-century performance space in a 19th-century town hall”. Battersea’s redevelopment is made possible by a generous uplift in its regular funding from the Arts Council. In ACE’s latest, controversial funding round, BAC was one of the big winners, seeing its annual subsidy rise from just under £500,000 to £635,000 for 2008/9 (See News, 1 Feb 2008).
Programming-wise, the next BAC highlight is the annual BURST festival of “Theatre, Music and Play”, which runs at BAC from 8 to 24 May 2008. This year the festival features over 30 companies from three continents, who will be performing across all areas of the building, from the Grand Hall to the crypt. The line-up includes the British premiere of Doris Uhlich’s over-65s dance piece Und, Edinburgh hits The Smile Off Your Face and Breathe’s Just to(o) long? and the world premiere of a new piece by Adrian Howell.
Future programming planned by Jubb and Micklem include a festival dedicated to climate change and an Edinburgh Festival Fringe residency in 2009.
- by Theo Bosanquet