Government spending policy came under fire at a major cultural launch in the North-East yesterday.
David Faulkner, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat-run Newcastle City Council, said he feared for the future of culture-led regeneration in the region.
He went on to urge people to lobby on behalf of arts and culture and said Government money earmarked for identity cards and a replacement for the Trident defence system would be better spent on public services.
Coun Faulkner, who previously held the council's cultural brief, was speaking at the launch of NewcastleGateshead Initiative's (NGI) 2007 programme of cultural events.
The 2007 programme marks the midway point of Culture10, the decade of world class culture promised by Newcastle and Gateshead councils and their funding partners - including NGI and regional development agency One NorthEast - after the Capital of Culture 2008 title went to Liverpool.
Coun Faulkner said: "We know we have got the security of the Culture10 programme, but we can't isolate what is happening in the North-East from what happens nationally.
"We have a really tough comprehensive spending review coming up. Arts organisations have been told to budget for a 5% reduction and if that happens I think it will be really bad news." He said the Government, particularly under former Culture Secretary Chris Smith, had increased funding for the arts, encouraging partnerships and increasing audience sizes and participation.
He urged his audience of arts and business professionals at Gateshead Old Town Hall: "If you have influence and can lobby the Arts Council to make the case for culture and the arts then you must do so with all possible vigour."
Coun Faulkner said arts and culture had led to new jobs and regeneration but it had also provided "that spark of creativity, sense of identity and a sense of joy in art for art's sake" which had enhanced the quality of life for people not just in Newcastle and Gateshead but in the wider region. Coun John McElroy, cabinet member for culture at Gateshead Council, pointed out that the Angel of the North - 10 next year - had been an arts initiative which had led to great changes in the borough.
He said: "It paved the way to Baltic, the Millennium Bridge and The Sage Gateshead."
NGI chairman Alastair Balls said the funding partners had pledged to support the Culture10 programme, which at present runs until 2012.
He said: "I see no diminishing of the enthusiasm for the culture programme because it delivers - both in terms of profile and in visitor numbers - and has an impact on the whole region."
Headliners lead a new programme
The NewcastleGateshead Initiative's programme for 2007 promises a mix of what it calls "new never-before-seen headline events" and popular favourites.
There will also be smaller "seed" events the organisers hope will grow in popularity in coming years.
Leading is Designs of the time 2007, the first national design biennial which aims to transform the region through creativity. It will see Dott 07 and NGI working with the Design Council, the national strategic body for design, and One NorthEast.
For something different, you can try Eat! NewcastleGateshead, the first food festival in the region to showcase its food and produce.
There'll be real fireworks in September when Tyneside greets the QE2.
But before then come St George's Day celebrations in April when there will be a weekend full of fun, with international musicians and local talent.
Hurdy gurdies from France, Lambeg drums from Northern Ireland, nyckleharpas from Sweden and cornettas from Spain will come together to form the Orchestra Europa during the celebrations.
And 200 singers and drummers from the twin cities will also form part of the show. It starts with a procession round Newcastle on the Saturday and climaxes in a performance by the whole orchestra in Gateshead's Saltwell Park on the Sunday.
The music festival Evolution returns to send pulses racing across Tyneside, never more so than on the May 28 Bank Holiday Monday when the Freevolution brings 40,000 people to the quaysides.
The same month, NewcastleGateshead get a chance to do what Paris does, only better, with the launch of The Late Shows in museums and galleries. Modelled on the annual Nuits Blanches in the French capital and the Europe-wide Nuit de Musée, it will see venues opening late and encouraging people to move between them over the night.
Other events include the Second Berwick Film Festival, the return of the reggae Boss Sounds festival and the Northumberland Winter Festival.
The Mouth of the Tyne Festival in July will pull both sides of the river together and the SAMA Festival will celebrate South Asian culture in the North-East. Further details are available on www.newcastlegateshead.com