Scotland warns of a cultural drain of North East talent

Art chiefs have warned Government ministers that planned funding cuts could spark a cultural brain-drain to Scotland

Lorne Campbell
Lorne Campbell

Ministers were last night warned that their refusal to back the arts could spark a cultural brain-drain to Scotland.

Arts chiefs have said a new round of planned funding cuts could see a scramble for cash which undoes a generation of cultural-based regeneration in the North East.

Their warning comes as one of Scotland’s most senior arts figures predicts a “talent drain” from England as a result of the Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s “disastrous” approach to the arts.

Laurie Sansom, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, said a move north of the border “will absolutely happen” if the “climate in England becomes more difficult, particularly for emerging artists”.

He was speaking against the Government’s announcement that ministers believe arts funding can only be justified if it brings in an economic return.

The situation in Scotland, Mr Sansom said, was more encouraging to the arts. “I think the SNP has done themselves a great favour by expressing how important culture is to them,” he said.

“I know full well how a certain agenda coming out of Westminster is really damaging grassroots culture, and that was underlined by Maria Miller’s speech.”

Last night the new head of Northern Stage in Newcastle predicted a difficult future for the North East’s cultural sector.

Lorne Campbell said: “The full impact of the funding cuts is not something you will see in just six months. In the North East, change in the arts has been gradual, sustained and profoundly connected to the local audience over the last 10 years. If that is allowed to decay, and that could easily happen, then you can’t just rebuild that in three years time if the money were to come back. It doesn’t happen overnight, it would take 10 years to grow that again.”

He added: “We are really concerned that artists will be forced to stagnate or unable to grow, that’s a big threat, more so than people feeling forced to leave.

“In the North East we have a hugely ambitious and locally rooted community of artists and the problem now is it is very possible in a new funding round we see a large number of companies currently funded move out of core funding into a grants system.

“Those younger artists will be competing for more established funds. That’s project-to-project funding only.

“The companies in the region...are up against many from Leeds or Manchester. We can get artists trapped with low levels of aspiration and never get the chance to build up and make it to a larger audience.”

Among the groups to have benefited from regular support from National Portfolio Organisations has been Live Theatre, which brought about the Pitman Painters which went on to enjoy West End and Broadway success.

Richard Mantle, general director of Opera North, was among those saying an arts funding problem does not mean talent will cross the border.

Mr Mantle added: “It is absolutely vital that national organisations such as Opera North keep the arts alive nationally and internationally. We are immensely proud of the high calibre of talent that we attract, particularly as one of the largest arts organisations based outside of London.”

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