Billy Elliot playwright Lee Hall brands Newcastle City Council's culture pot 'a white wash'

Lee Hall calls the council's £600,000 a year culture investment fund a 'white wash' as council reveals no North East celebrities have offered support

Paul Norris Playwright Lee Hall
Playwright Lee Hall

A council arts fund intended to silence critics has been branded a white wash by Billy Elliot playwright Lee Hall.

The writer launched his scathing attack on leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes as the authority reveals not a single person has made a donation to its Cultural Investment Fund since it was set up in 2013.

However Coun Forbes told the Journal that neither Lee Hall or musician Sting have put their hands in their own pockets to contribute to the match funding of the £600,000 annual pot, despite their outspoken criticism of Newcastle City Council’s proposal of culling its arts budget in 2012.

Newcastle-born Lee Hall, who also wrote the play The Pitmen Painters, said: “The whole thing is a joke and a white wash. Those of us who support the arts do directly. Nick Forbes showed an shocking contempt for the arts and libraries in the city.

“The current ‘fund’ is less than half what the council should be committing and it was only conceived as a last ditch way of saving face when Forbes got pressure from the central Labour Party caused by the public outcry.”

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes

Newcastle City Council’s Cultural Investment Fund was launched in July 2013 and was described by the council as a ‘radical solution’ to funding for arts in a climate of austerity following their decision to scrap their £1.2m core arts grant.

So far it has helped 17 organisations including the Tyneside Cinema and Dance City, and the organisation managing it, the Community Foundation for Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, said there was never any plan to drum up support before 2015.

However it was hoped the £600,000 a year council offering would foster a philanthropic culture of giving from the region’s top actors, playwrights, artists, musicians as well as the general public from the very outset and they would match fund it.

Coun Forbes has previously said it was an opportunity for ‘rich individuals’ who have made ‘quite a lot out of the North East over the years’ to contribute.

There was also initial talk that the Arts Council would match fund, but that has not happened.

Coun Forbes said: “When we established the Cultural Investment Fund we removed it from revenue pressures. Capital investment has been made to the Live Theatre and we fund it in different ways.

“The Cultural Investment Fund is paid for from our airport dividend and income generated through the capital programme.

“If you had culture and care of vulnerable people in direct competition there’s no choice. The council has to support vulnerable people, but culture is so important for the city and the way we feel about ourselves and the way we attract people to invest to maintain that strong cultural offer is one of the ways we are still proud and confident of our future.”

Mark Knopfler who is perform at the Great North Run Million opening ceremony
Mark Knopfler who is perform at the Great North Run Million opening ceremony
 

However 15 months on from the fund being rolled out, not a single celebrity critic of Newcastle City Council has paid into the pot.

Musicians Sting, Neil Tennant, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler and Thomas Allen, writers such as Pat Barker and Tony Harrison, and actors including Robson Green and Kevin Whately – wrote to the Guardian newspaper in December 2012 expressing “alarm” on the council’s culture budget cut.

Asked whether any big names had contributed like Lee Hall or Sting had paid up - Coun. Forbes said ‘we live in hope’.

The announcement of the fund came just months after the phrase ‘doing a Newcastle’ had been adopted as slang in the press for a council planning a similar 100% cut to its core arts budget.

Lee Hall said: “Like many other artists from the region I will continue to support and work for the arts organisations in the City. We have world class artists and cultural organisations in the city that anywhere else would be promoted and celebrated as engines of economic growth and immense cultural value.

“Forbes broke the vital link between the people of Newcastle and their own culture. The arts community are entirely right to have nothing to do with the fund. It’s a desperate publicity gimmick which I am glad that everyone has seen through.”

Earlier in October, the fund pledged £1.4m to cultural organisations in Newcastle amassed from the £600,000 a year fund.

The biggest sum, of £200,000 over three years, will go to Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books, while Northern Stage is to get £150,000 and the Great North Museum £120,000 over the same period.

A spokesperson for Newcastle Theatre Royal said they did not want to comment on the fact the organisation had not been awarded anything from the fund, despite having its regular council contribution pulled for financial year 2013/2014.

Adam Lopardo, head of partnerships at the Community Foundation, said: “It was always said that we would wait for that first round of grants before we started doing any work on it. It’s not unexpected that we don’t have anything because we haven’t asked anyone. We work with a range of individuals and families and we will look at how we are going to approach them.”

  • Anyone can support the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund at the Community Foundation. No matter what the size or type of gift you want to make, we will make sure your giving goes to support cultural activities in the City through the fund.

    There are a number of ways to give. Call Adam Lopardo on 0191 222 0945 or e-mail al@communityfoundation.org.uk for a chat.

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