Scottish theatre companies reeling from arts funding changes

A major shake-up in Creative Scotland’s funding strategy has left the country’s independent theatre sector uncertain for its future.

Companies and individual practitioners are questioning whether they will be able to continue under the new regime, while there are warnings that individual artists will leave Scotland.

The overhaul follows a review of “flexibly-funded” organisations which currently receive a two-year funding commitment. Flexible funding will be removed in April 2013 when some umbrella organisations will receive an annual “service level agreement” – while the majority of independent companies will receive “investment based on proposals”.

In a briefing document, Creative Scotland says that this “reflects both the long term strategic aims for Creative Scotland and the cultural sector as a whole as well as the changing nature of the way Creative Scotland receives its income.”

The change is partly precipitated by a £2.1 million cut in government funding to Creative Scotland. An increase in Lottery cash available to the agency would appear to more than compensate for this reduction, but such money is not allowed to be spent on core funding.

The only building-based theatre previously in receipt of flexible funding, Cumbernauld, will now receive the so-called ‘foundation funding’ which is given to theatres such as the Edinburgh Traverse and Glasgow Citizens.

Gill Robertson, artistic director of the award-winning Catherine Wheels theatre company told, The Stage: “It’s a worrying time because we don’t know what is going to happen next. At present we know there is strategic commissioning and the potential for longer-term project funding but nothing has been clarified as yet.

“We have been told that meetings will be held with all the companies by June 21, but meanwhile Catherine Wheels has to consider how we manage the commitments we have for 2013 after our funding ends.”

Robertson expressed concern for the children’s theatre sector in Scotland, which Creative Scotland has consistently celebrated.

She said: “While children’s theatre punches beyond its weight and is recognised nationally and internationally as a success story, it is vulnerable. I am concerned that the development of this sector will be affected by changes in investment and that the current strength of children’s theatre in Scotland will be jeopardised.”

Other companies expressed concern that there is no clarity as to what the proposed “project funding and programme funding” will mean in practice. They are concerned that their financial viability and strategic planing will be undermined by the lack of sustained support.

Vanishing Point warns that without replacing the security previously offered by flexible funding, its “future programming and ability to work in partnership with national and international organisations and festivals could be constrained and compromised.”

Judith Docherty, producer of GridIron, told The Stage: “It is very difficult to create work without an infrastructure. Of course we want to support emerging artists – and do so – but they have to have somewhere to work. There has to be something to aim for, some hope of there being a next step up.”

Di Robson, the executive producer for David Leddy’s Fire Exit theatre company, warned that removing one whole level of funding appeared to be a retrograde step and described it “incomprehensible” that companies which have used long-term funding to build international links and reputations should now have to revert to applying on a project-by-project basis.

Robson warned that the shake-up will force theatre practitioners to leave Scotland. She explained: “I think there will be a loss of artists from the sector. People go where it is the most possible to make work and where they are not going to spend their whole time making applications. That’s how it works.”

However Creative Scotland is adamant that the change is for the better.

Venu Dhupa, director of creative development, said: “This change in our investment relationship is good news for companies with good ideas and high quality work. Creative Scotland will always want to support organisations that are artistically vital, well-led and whose work supports our objectives of serving the people of Scotland.

“We have consciously increased the investment available through our open programmes to £11 million, whereas the existing flexible program is currently £7 million, so there is certainly the potential for some organisations to secure more investment.”

Over the question of sustained and long-term support she added: “Companies will be able to propose programmes of work. Whether that’s a single project or a season of theatre, it will depend on their own ambitions and goals. We recognise that it is a change for some companies and that’s why every company affected will have dedicated time with our staff, to go through the principles and talk through the next steps.”

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