Arts Council unveils funding plans for the North East

DELIGHT, relief, disappointment and despair characterised a day when the future cultural landscape of the North East became clearer.

DELIGHT, relief, disappointment and despair characterised a day when the future cultural landscape of the North East became clearer.

Arts Council England unveiled its new national portfolio of arts organisations, those guaranteed regular financial support from a diminished funding pool for three years from 2012-13.

It was a list of winners, those successful applicants charged with delivering “great art for everyone” as part of a new 10-year strategy for the arts in England drawn up in the wake of a 30% reduction in the Government’s grant to the Arts Council.

Half of that cut was absorbed by the funding body in redundancies and efficiency savings but 14.9% had to be passed on to arts organisations, meaning 206 of them across the country will no longer be regularly funded.

Under the old system 69 organisations in the North East were regularly funded.

Of the 85 organisations that applied to be part of the national portfolio, 42 were successful, including 10 not regularly supported in the past.

After the winners – the Maltings Theatre & Arts Centre in Berwick, Queen’s Hall Arts in Hexham and Mima in Middlesbrough among them – came the losers.

Of the organisations now on a year’s notice of their funding being withdrawn are 37 which either failed in the bid for national funding or didn’t apply.

For long-established Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) and Newcastle-based Dodgy Clutch, yesterday was a dark day.

Both failed in their bid to join the national portfolio so face an uncertain future.

Alnwick-based NTC, which takes theatre to rural communities, is getting £313,369 in this transitional year but nothing thereafter.

Artistic director Gillian Hambleton was angry, saying: “We put in an incredibly strong application to develop more work with young people and schools and to work collaboratively with Alnwick Playhouse.

“We are devastated because we do very good work and get a very good response from our audiences.”

She said it could mean the end of the InterACT scheme which NTC has run for eight years, providing on-the-job training for young people wanting to make a career in theatre.

Up the road in Berwick, Miles Gregory, artistic director of The Maltings Theatre & Arts Centre, was delighted the Arts Council had backed his vision for the place with the region’s biggest funding increase in percentage terms.

“We think it’s one of the biggest in the country. It’s going to change the arts in Berwick and it’s going to change the way we work forever,” he said.

A venue which struggled financially before Mr Gregory arrived in 2008 will now have greater influence over the arts in the area, taking over the prestigious Berwick Gymnasium arts fellowship.

Mr Gregory plans to appoint a head of visual arts and to create The Maltings’ first education department.

But he stressed: “We don’t want to be triumphalist about this. We feel for those who have not been successful and in some ways this is a tragic day for the arts.”

Also happy were officials at Durham County Council after it joined the national portfolio with the promise of £635,000 to be invested in the arts over the next three years.

The money, to be directed through a new cultural partnership operating via an arts and festivals hub based at the Gala Theatre, will benefit the annual book and brass festivals and signature events such as Lumiere.

In the south of the region, Middlesbrough’s new contemporary art gallery, Mima, will see a jump in its Arts Council funding from £185,000 this year to £500,000 next – although it has borne a 17% cut from its principal funder, Middlesbrough Council. On Tyneside, the flagship Baltic and The Sage Gateshead attain national portfolio status with little change to their funding.

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Alison Clark-Jenkins, North East regional director of Arts Council England, said the national portfolio scheme had been developed in the context of cuts but to support the 10-year arts strategy.

“There will be different expectations – higher expectations – on national portfolio organisations and there is an onus on them to be much more focused on the goals we’ve set,” she said.

“There are a number of organisations in the North East that are very important nationally, such as Northern Stage and Baltic, and we’ll be expecting them to play a big role in developing artists and making sure audiences across the region have the chance to see their work.”

Among other national portfolio organisations not regularly funded before are the Great North Run cultural programme, Open Clasp Theatre Company, Gateshead’s Workplace Gallery and the Tyneside Cinema.

But there was anger from unsuccessful applicants such as the Side Gallery in Newcastle which specialises in documentary photography.

A statement issued last night said: “To put it bluntly, this cut is a major threat to the entire organisation’s future.”

At the Customs House in South Shields they were disappointed that inclusion on the national portfolio also brings a 28% cut in real terms which “would have a significant impact on the future”.

Disappointment was expressed by other unsuccessful applicants such as Audiences North East, the Sponsors’ Club for Arts & Business and the Globe Gallery, which is in the process of relocating and has ambitious plans.

Flambard Press, the recipient of the smallest sum under the old funding scheme – just £20,000 this year – aims to go out with a bang.

Margaret Lewis, co-founder with husband Peter, said: “We weren’t surprised really. We are such a small outfit. We’ve had 20 years of Arts Council support and we’re very grateful for it.”

She said they would aim to publish “as many books as possible” this year, ending with a collection of the poems of John Fowles, late author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus.

All arts organisations can now apply for funding for specific projects under the lottery-funded Grants for the Arts scheme.


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