Council bosses yesterday launched what was described as “a radical solution to local authority funding of the arts in a climate of austerity”.
The words were those of Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, at the launch of the new Newcastle Culture Investment Fund.
Also present were council leader Nick Forbes, city arts representatives and Newcastle resident Sue Tideswell who, fund managers hope, is one of a new breed of philanthropist happy to support the culture they love with cash.
The new fund, to be managed by the Community Foundation, will come into effect in 2015 with £600,000 of council money.
This will be derived from various sources, including the council’s shareholding in Newcastle International Airport and the £21m earmarked for public health and wellbeing.
Ms Ritchie said the council was keen to redefine “doing a Newcastle”, a phrase coined after the city announced it would reduce revenue funding to arts organisations by 100% to meet stringent Government budget demands.
“What I want to be very clear about is that Newcastle City Council absolutely believes in the importance of culture,” she said. It recognises the city’s cultural heritage and it understands the wider economic and social benefits of investing in arts and culture.”
She said the council would continue to provide grassroots investment in arts and culture and to invest in capital projects that would enable organisations such as Live Theatre and Tyneside Cinema to grow new revenue streams.
She said the new fund, devised in consultation with the Arts Council and Community Foundation, was designed to “grow a philanthropic culture”, with individuals and organisations invited to add to the council’s contribution.
Coun Forbes said “extremely difficult choices” had been forced on the council by the loss of up to 60% of its Government grant from 2010 to 2016.
He said the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund “shows what Newcastle does best, which is thinking creatively”. The result, he said, was “something hugely significant”, the first opportunity for philanthropic giving related to a place rather than an organisation.
Sue Tideswell, a retired social worker from Newcastle, said she read about the intended new fund in The Journal and went to Newcastle Civic Centre to see what she could do.
“I go to the theatre and the cinema and take advantage of the culture in the city, so I was devastated when Newcastle was forced to announce all those cuts,” she said.
“I already support Northern Stage through a direct debit but I was appalled at the thought that we might be about to lose so many precious things.
“I wasn’t born and bred here but I came here in 1989 and I just love Newcastle and what it has to offer.”
Mrs Tideswell, a Journal Culture Club member, suggested: “There may be a lot of people like me, not well off but able to give something back.
“My two daughters live in London and going to the theatre or cinema there is really expensive.
“Here we have everything but at a much more affordable rate.”
More hope for the fund managers came from Claire Webster Saaremets, artistic director of Newcastle-based Skimstone Arts.
She revealed that an anonymous individual had given the organisation £42,000 last year to support its work for the next three years. “It was one of the most moving things ever to happen to us,” she said, adding that the new investment fund was a positive step which should be welcomed.
The criteria for receiving grants will be revealed in September. In the meantime anyone wishing to donate can contact Adam Lopardo at the Community Foundation on 0191 222 0945. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org