MASSACRE OF THE ARTS! – Arts Council withdraws grants from 184 organisations

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Over 1,000 people marched through Norwich last month against the Arts Council cuts
Over 1,000 people marched through Norwich last month against the Arts Council cuts

A total of 184 arts organisations have had 100 per cent of their funding withdrawn, Arts Council England announced yesterday.

While it said that 17 organisations set for the axe have been reprieved or partially reprieved, the Arts Council made it clear at a press conference that the Bristol Old Vic will have its grant reduced from £3m to £2m, and the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, and several other theatres will only be guaranteed funding for a year, with conditions attached to further funding.

Arts Council chairman Christopher Frayling said it was ‘a redistributive review’ involving ‘tough decisions’, and that while a number of organisations were having their funding withdrawn, the Council had decided to give above inflation grants to some ‘to give them their head’.

Theatre director and Equity member, Peter Beck, who organised a 1,000-strong march through Norwich on January 19, slammed Arts Council ‘arrogance’.

He told News Line: ‘Creative Arts East and Norwich Puppet Theatre have had their funding withdrawn. Also, King’s Lynn Arts Centre is getting chopped.

‘This means that 50 per cent of arts organisations in Norfolk are being cut.

‘We find it incredible that the Arts Council have the arrogance to ignore thousands of letters and petition signatures, including letters from Norfolk Arts Forum and the East of England Regional Council.

‘The Arts Council continues to cut these much-loved and long-standing arts organisations.

‘The Norfolk representatives on the Regional Arts Council committee have failed in their representation of local people at the Arts Council.

‘We would advise that people contact Dedalus, who are bringing together arts organisations to take the Arts Council to the High Court, for being in breach of their policies of diversity and art for all.

‘They give money to big organisations that the rich go to, leaving the ordinary public in the lurch.

‘It’s just like the privatisation of the NHS and education, with these academy schools.’

Children’s company Pop-Up Theatre has been told that it is to lose all £194,000 provided by the Arts Council annually, which subsidises Pop-Up’s theatre productions and an extensive participatory programme for young people.

Michael Dalton, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Pop-Up, said: ‘This is a tragic mistake based on deeply flawed evidence; it takes away access to the arts from 15,000 young people a year.

‘I have been shocked by the Arts Council’s recent actions, the dishonesty of its disinvestment process and its willingness to publicly smear a company whose work it has supported and promoted for over 20 years.’

The London Bubble is also losing its whole Arts Council grant.

Its Marketing Officer, Jennie Clarke, told News Line: ‘No doubt this is just one of the real stories to accompany the Arts Council’s “good news tale” about their vision for future funding.

‘Their decision deprives the capital of a major community theatre and performance resource and this is likely to have knock-on impacts throughout the arts, education and social sectors in South-East London and beyond – and as a company we are devastated by the outcome.’

A company statement said the cut comes despite ‘providing evidence that demonstrated that the basis of Arts Council England’s (ACE) original arguments to cut London Bubble were unsound – and a huge campaign involving hundreds of letters and emails of support from the public (including audiences, participants, peers, teachers and academics) and cross-party support at the House of Commons, the London Assembly, at London Councils, from our local boroughs (Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich) and other boroughs across London.’

Martin Brown, spokesman for actors’ union Equity, told News Line yesterday: ‘While we are pleased that the pressure on the Arts Council has resulted in some changes, significantly to the Bush Theatre, Northcott Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, Queer Up North, Orange Tree and others, this is not the end of the problem.

‘The Arts Council has acted in a high-handed and secretive way and it’s now urgent that there is a review of the way it operates.’