Leading British Asian theatre company Tara Arts - which today saw its annual subsidy slashed by more than half as part of Arts Council England’s final three-year funding decisions (See Today’s News) - has hit back, accusing ACE of racism and demanding that it “come clean” about its aims.

The company, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, had been receiving £341,266. From the start of the new financial year come April, that amount will be reduced to £170,000 – a cut of 50.19 percent.

Tara’s artistic director Jatinder Verma (pictured) said today: “ACE has clearly signalled it is no longer willing to support the company beyond its educational and small-scale work. By extension, it is also a kick in the teeth for any Black or Asian company which chooses to focus its work on the classics (Tara is currently the only company to choose to do so). Shakespeare, as far as the Arts Council is concerned, is not for Black or Asian-led companies.

“This decision clearly makes a mockery of both the Arts Council’s own commitment to ‘celebrating diversity’, and the findings of the McMaster Report (See News, 10 Jan 2008), which accurately notes, ‘We live in one of the most diverse cultures the world has ever seen, yet this is not reflected in the culture we produce, or in who is producing it.’

“The Black and Asian theatre sector in the UK is small, numbering less than one percent of ACE’s 990 clients. The Arts Council’s decision, which affects companies other than just Tara, serves to only reduce this to pitiful levels. It is about time the Council came clean on its intentions and removed its policy commitment to diversity.”

Tara Arts was founded in August 1977, launching with an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore’s anti-war play Sacrifice, which was chosen in response to the racist murder the year before of 17-year-old Sikh Gurdip Singh Chaggar in Southall and other injustices in Asian communities.

Over the past three decades, the company’s mission has been to reflect contemporary British realities and experiences through adaptations of classic texts. Many of today’s leading British Asian talents have been fostered by Tara, including Sudha Buchar, co-founder of Tamasha Theatre Company, East Is East and Rafta Rafta author Ayub Khan-Din and Goodness Gracious Me’s Sanjeev Bhasker. The company’s patrons include Hanif Kureishi, Richard Eyre and Naseem Khan.

Tara’s current production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest just finished a four-week West End stint at the Arts Theatre last weekend and is now embarked on a nine-stop national tour, concluding at the newly inaugurated Rose Theatre, Kingston (See News, 28 Nov 2007).

- by Terri Paddock