Venues hit hardest by arts council funding cuts, claims Theatres Trust

Building-based companies have suffered disproportionately under the recent funding cuts by Arts Council England, according to Theatres Trust director Mhora Samuel.

Samuel claims theatre venues have shouldered the “lion’s share” of cuts – nearly three quarters of the overall loss, according to research carried out by the trust.

According to its analysis, 97 venues lost funding or had ACE support cut entirely, with only 43 benefiting from an increase in funding. Of the £64 million net reduction from the portfolio over the next four years, £46.8 million was taken from building-based performance organisations, meaning they account for 73% of the overall money saved.

Venues that have completely lost funding from the arts council as part of their funding decisions for 2012/13 to 2014/15 include Derby Theatre, the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, Wakefield Theatre Royal, Croydon Clocktower, South Hill Park Arts Centre and Malvern Theatres. ACE has said it has set aside funding for theatre provision in both Derby and Exeter.

Most regional venues were hit with an 11% real terms cut. Others – including the Almeida in London, the Customs House in South Shields and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry – were hit with heavier reductions in funding.

Samuel said: “We understand the difficult decisions Arts Council England has had to take and that in the current climate, the arts cannot be immune from any cuts. But we have real concerns for those affected – specifically the smaller, regional venues, where they will find it hard to adapt quickly and where they have also lost their local authority funding. These theatres are often the only places where local communities can access the arts and are vital if there is to be investment in the development of the next generation of theatregoers and professionals.

“Without ACE’s funding, they will find it harder to provide a choice of quality programming and attract audiences. Theatres may have to close, and local and national economies will be worse off.”

According to the trust’s analysis, the largest venues have “absorbed the larger share of the cash cuts”. The Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Southbank Centre, English National Opera and Royal National Theatre have taken 56% of the total cuts to theatre buildings over the four years, accounting for £33.25 million. Meanwhile, £26.35 million has been cut from other theatre buildings and £12.8 million has been returned in funding increases and new grants to other venues in the portfolio.

The trust also warned that some of the theatre venues which were successful in ACE’s funding announcement last week – such as Artsdepot in Barnet and Stratford Circus in east London – remain “vulnerable to local authority cuts”.

A spokesman for the arts council said that for the regional producing venues it has continued to fund, support will in fact increase over the funding period.

“The arts council has protected a network of 34 regional producing theatres, with investment in these organisations increasing by 1.3% in cash terms over the course of the next four years, while regional theatres and arts centres that present work will receive a 10% increase in funding over the same period,” said the spokesman.

“We did not approach our funding decisions on whether or not an organisation was building-based. In many instances, we fund the programmes that happen within the building and not the actual bricks and mortar. We are producing some of the best theatre in the world in this country and the arts council’s investment – even at a time of funding restraint – recognises and seeks to protect that.”

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster