North East's literature reputation at risk of being written off

THE boss of a leading North East arts organisation fears the region’s strong reputation in literature could be damaged by Arts Council reorganisation.

THE boss of a leading North East arts organisation fears the region’s strong reputation in literature could be damaged by Arts Council reorganisation.

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said “quite brutal” cuts were planned for the North East office of Arts Council England.

“The main thing that concerns me is that the post of relationship manager for literature is to go in the proposed cuts.

“We have got a really strong portfolio of literature organisations in the North East and, I’d argue, stronger than other places in the northern region.

“As well as New Writing North, we have Seven Stories, Bloodaxe Books and Impress Books. With libraries threatened with closure, it feels like literature is about to be chopped off at the knees.

“Fewer people are going to get access to books and it may now become harder for emerging writers in a region that has become a centre of excellence for literature.”

Ms Malcolm said she and her colleagues at other Arts Council-funded literature organisations planned to write to Arts Council chief executive Alan Davey.

“We aim to challenge the basis on which this decision was made and to ask for an explanation as to why this region can do without a literature specialist,” she said.

It is understood literature specialists will remain in Leeds and Manchester which also fall in the Arts Council’s expanded northern region.

The North East’s reputation for literature arguably stretches back to the Venerable Bede but in recent times it has seen the emergence of a host of acclaimed writers such as David Almond, Sean O’Brien, Anne Fine, Linda France and Lee Hall.

New Writing North nurtures emerging writers with annual cash awards and introductions to agents.

Yesterday Arts Council England, North East hosted a meeting at the National Glass Centre to explain its restructuring to its major clients.

Regional director Alison Clarke-Jenkins said afterwards that the staff in the Newcastle office was to be reduced from 22 to no more than 15.

Some jobs would go through centralisation of services but the number of artform relationship managers was determined by a formula taking into account areas of deprivation, the number of funded arts organisations and population size. She said the aim was for all artforms – and it is understood the specialist dance post in Newcastle may also go – to have access to Arts Council support.

She added that the Arts Council was also working with local authorities in the region to make an economic case to the Government for why arts and culture were worth supporting.

A total of 11 organisations will lose money from Newcastle City Council as it withdraws grants to cultural organisations.

The cuts total £1.5m over three years, with the NewcastleGateshead Initiative set to lose £412,000 over the next three years.

Also affected by the council cuts will be Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Live Theatre, Dance City, Tyneside Cinema, Seven Stories, the Globe Gallery, the Star and Shadow, Amber Film/Side Gallery and Isis Arts.


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