Culture funding pot still empty as North East rich neglect arts fund

Newcastle Culture Investment Fund set up to offset cuts to arts in North East is shunned by wealthy donors

Setting up the Whale exhibition at the Great North Museum:Hancock in Newcastle
Setting up the Whale exhibition at the Great North Museum:Hancock in Newcastle

Arts groups and wealthy backers have yet to give a penny to the cultural fund set up to save Newcastle from arts cuts.

This time last year Newcastle Council was at the centre of a media storm as a decision to axe the entire arts budget made headlines across the UK.

To see off criticism, the council created a £600,000-a-year Newcastle Culture Investment Fund which it said would allow its critics to play their role and match fund it, making more than £1m-a-year available to help Tyneside thrive.

As the council edges closer to the 2015 cuts deadline when the regular funding runs out, The Journal can reveal that as yet no one has come forward with extra cash. News that the arts scene is once again at risk of a funding shortfall comes the month after a detailed report showed the Arts Council has an overwhelming bias to wards London when it comes to helping cultural organisations. The Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report showed London took 15 times more in arts funding than the regions.

The Newcastle fund is managed by the Community Foundation, tasked with seeking corporate and individual donations, and has only recently finished setting up its board, while the council insist it has two years before it needs to start handing out the fund.

But the lack of donors so far has raised some concern in the Civic Centre, which came under repeated criticism from North East celebrities during its budget process.

Asked about the fund’s success, council leader Nick Forbes said: “There is still an opportunity for rich individuals who made quite a lot out of the North East over the years, in cultural terms, to contribute to this. But it is not just rich individuals, it is people making one-off donations.

“Now we need arts groups in the city to promote the concept of the fund as a way of sustaining the diversity of our cultural offer during a period of austerity.”

When the cuts were announced last year, the council faced criticism from some of the North East’s most famous faces, including Sting, Bryan Ferry and Alun Armstrong.

It came alongside similar attacks from playwright Lee Hall, who led attempts to force a library cuts U-turn.

Mr Forbes said the expectation was that the fund would be matched by the Arts Council, meaning the larger the fund locally the more money would be put into the city from national arts sources. The Arts Council has said it will not be handing over money directly to the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund.

And while donors may not be coming forward to help support the city, its cultural organisations are already preparing cash bids.

That includes interest from the Great North Museum, Isis Arts, the Globe Gallery, the Star and Shadow and the Side/Amber group.

Tony Durcan, assistant director for Customers, Culture and Skills for Newcastle City Council, said: “There has been a controlled call for first stage applications to our Newcastle Cultural Investment Fund. Our partners, the Community Foundation is putting together a panel to assess these.”

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