Arts funding losers warn of ‘devastating’ blow to young talent

A scene from Northumberland Theatre Company's production of Whisky Galore
A scene from Northumberland Theatre Company's production of Whisky Galore

Northumberland Theatre Company and Yellow Earth Theatre have warned they are at risk of closure as a result of losing Arts Council England support three years ago, demonstrating the long-term impact funding decisions can have.

Both companies also learned this month that their bids to return to ACE’s national portfolio had been rejected.

Gillian Hambleton, artistic director of NTC, which lost £300,000 annual funding in 2012, said she was still “devastated” from the decision

She said the company’s Christmas production of Rumpelstiltskin by Mike Kenny is the last show this year it has funding for and can therefore produce and tour.

Although the company has funding applications in for a 2015 production, Hambleton warned that the “situation is precarious”.

“We don’t want to close because we would be letting down whole communities and a new generation of young theatregoers in rural areas whose access to quality professional theatre is limited, but there is only so long that you can struggle on unfunded. Even though we have been hugely successful in our fundraising, this work cannot operate unsubsidised,” she told The Stage.

Meanwhile, Yellow Earth Theatre, which specialises in creating work for British East Asian audiences, said it would have to “take a serious look at the future of the company” after failing to regain core funding from ACE.

Kumiko Mendl, artistic director of the organisation, which lost its annual ACE grant of £150,000 from 2012, said: “There’s two of us running the office part-time. We’ve been doing it for three years and we can’t continue. In terms of fundraising we have really struggled, especially within the communities we are serving – the British East Asian community is not keyed into supporting arts work.”

She warned that if the company closed it would impact on the development of new talent, as the organisation specialises in working with British East Asian young people who are often not encouraged to become involved with the performing arts.

Neil Darlison, ACE director of theatre, said that every funding decision the arts council had made was “an investment in creative ambition”, but he added that it was a difficult climate for public funding.

“The national portfolio is only one of the ways we can respond to artistic ambition, and we are talking to unsuccessful organisations about how we might help them realise their future plans through other funding routes. Nonetheless, we believe that we have a dynamic and robust national portfolio of arts organisations for the challenging economic context we find ourselves in and, in addition to other arts council funding programmes, we hope we can minimise the impact of reductions across the arts ecology,” he said.

In 2011, The Stage conducted a survey of the 206 cultural organisations who were told they had lost all their regular funding from ACE the year before. It found that one in 10 said they would have to close because of the cuts.

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