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North East arts venues prepare for 100% cuts

MAJOR arts venues in Newcastle, including the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Tyneside Cinema and Seven Stories, have been warned to brace themselves for a 100% cut in funding from the city council.

Newcastle Theatre Royal, kids at Seven Stories and Erica Whyman from Northern Stage

MAJOR arts venues in Newcastle, including the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Tyneside Cinema and Seven Stories, have been warned to brace themselves for a 100% cut in funding from the city council.

This would mean the Theatre Royal, the council’s principal beneficiary, losing more than £500,000 annually.

Acclaimed producing theatres such as Northern Stage and Live Theatre would be hit along with Seven Stories – days after it was granted national status – and Dance City.

The revelation follows news that libraries, swimming pools and playschemes may close as the authority finds £90m of Government-ordered cuts.

Tony Durcan, Newcastle City Council’s director of culture, libraries and lifelong learning, said he had briefed the bosses of 10 cultural organisations which between them receive about £1.5m from the authority.

“We are looking at up to 100% reductions in revenue support to parts of the cultural sector,” he said.

“These are the big players such as the three theatres, Seven Stories, Dance City, the Tyneside Cinema. There are also some smaller organisations such as Globe Gallery and Isis Arts. Rather like I said in the case of the libraries, we’ve got to make these terrific reductions across the whole council over three years, losing a third of our budget.”

He explained there was no statutory obligation to subsidise the arts but added: “That isn’t to say we don’t think they’re important.

“We could lose a lot for a little saving but we have to make every saving we can so that we can protect the vulnerable and deliver our statutory requirements.”

Asked if a large cut would mean any organisation having to close, he said: “We seriously hope not but we don’t know. What we will be doing is meeting with them all individually, along with the Arts Council, to see if there is anything we can offer other than revenue funding.”

Last night Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, was preparing to brief staff about the implications of proposed cuts which will be revealed by the council next week.

“In the current year we’ve received £613,440 from the council, a sum which has been steadily declining for a number of years,” he said.

“That represents about 6.5% of our turnover, so it’s not a huge proportion but it’s a big sum of money and if the council do withdraw it entirely it’ll be extraordinarily difficult to replace it either through ticket sales or by reducing costs.

“We’re a very slim organisation as it is. We play to audiences about 15% above the national average so we’re almost as successful as it’s possible to be.

“Such a cut would almost certainly have an impact on the level of service we can offer or the programme that we can provide. It is going to be very difficult.”

He said bosses of the city’s major arts organisations would work collectively to combat the effects of cuts. “It’s not about fighting to get on top of everyone else.”

The likely blow to the arts on Tyneside – long considered a jewel in the region’s cultural crown – emerged as Erica Whyman, boss of Newcastle-based theatre company Northern Stage, spoke at a conference at the National Theatre in London.

The event, hosted by National Theatre boss Sir Nicholas Hytner and Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle, was to highlight the effect of national funding cuts on regional theatre.

Mr Boyle, who masterminded the Olympic Games opening ceremony, said he had learnt his craft in the regions, at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre.

Ms Whyman, who leaves Newcastle at the end of the year to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, said after the conference: “My key point was to say I have fallen in love with the North East and wouldn’t be going to the RSC if it hadn’t been for everything I’ve learnt at Northern Stage.”

She had explained how sustained modest investment in culture had helped to transform the city and region.

“What I had to say about Newcastle City Council’s position is that they are having to make very savage cuts which I sincerely believe they don’t want to make.

“The council have been terrifically supportive and have held onto cultural investment pretty tenaciously in the last couple of years.”

She feared a 100% cut could hit others worse than Northern Stage, which receives about £100,000 annually from the council, some 5% of turnover and equal to the cost of making the Christmas show.

“None of us is suggesting we should be exempt but the depth of cuts to local authorities is too much.

“All these so-called non-essential services are essential to people’s quality of life.

“The savings you make in cash terms in cutting the arts are so tiny compared with the good they can do.”



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