Darlington Civic Theatre is under threat of closure after its local council admitted it was considering axing its £500,000 grant as part of a wider package of cuts across the local authority.
Darlington Arts Centre, which has a range of performance spaces with a total capacity of almost 700, may also have its £700,000 financial support from the authority cut.
In a statement, Darlington Borough Council acknowledged that withdrawing funding from the two performing arts venues “may lead to their closure”.
BECTU supervisory official Willy Donaghy said he understood that the council employed around 110 staff between the Civic Theatre and the Arts Centre. He said: “Members are shocked and stunned and devastated by the proposals, particularly as it appears that the theatre has been performing very well. It is not just the jobs, it is a fantastic civic facility that they have here and it is a focus for the town – it puts it on the map.”
The council has opened a public consultation on its budget proposals, which will run until the end of the month.
A spokesman said: “As a council, we are currently considering our response to the government spending review. All services are under consideration, including the Civic Theatre and Arts Centre, and we will be engaging with residents about any proposals before decisions are made.”
The statement also said that the council would try to sell the 896-seat theatre as a going concern “with the aspiration that it will fulfil a similar purpose without subsidy”.
It is understood that the council is in discussions with commercial theatre operators, including HQ Theatres, about the Civic.
The authority’s strategy involves making the Dolphin Centre the cultural focus of the borough. Darlington believes making changes to its arts services could save £1.7 million. The council’s ruling cabinet will meet in January to discuss a budget based on its Whitehall grant.
The Civic Theatre originally opened as the New Hippodrome and Palace of Varieties in 1907. In 1966 the council took on responsibility for the venue, following a campaign by locals and the Darlington Operatic Society.
¥ Somerset County Council’s cabinet has voted unanimously for a £43 million programme of cuts, which includes completely axing its arts funding. The council supports ten arts organisations, including the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton.