Cuts threaten post-Olympics collaborations, warns artistic director

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Arts organisations are at risk of reverting to working in silos after the Olympics brought them together because they are “fearful of the future”, Theatre Royal Stratford East artistic director Kerry Michael has warned.

Groups did not have enough resources and were all “slightly fighting against each other” for a legacy since the Games last summer, the director claimed.

Speaking at a debate on arts engagement in east London to mark the opening of a new campus shared by Birkbeck and the University of East London, Michael said: “What we haven’t been able do – which we almost did during the Games’ time, and Ruth Mackenzie’s [Cultural Olympiad] festival did do this, she brought us all together – we were all one collective voice going forward, trying to make the sector bigger and better.

“Post-Games’ times, we quickly turned slightly back into that position of going back into our silos because actually we are all fearful of the future.”

He told The Stage that organisations were more at risk of working in isolation now because funding cuts from local authorities and Arts Council England meant that they had less time to develop partnerships.

He added: “To collaborate, you don’t necessarily need more money but you need more time. When you haven’t got that time because your funding cut is getting bigger and bigger, it’s quite hard to find the resource to make the extra effort to have those conversations to collaborate, even though we all know that if we can do that in the long term, it’s cost-effective.”

Mackenzie, who is soon to take up her new role as artistic director of the Holland Festival, also spoke at the debate. She highlighted the potential for east London to become the “creative industry engine of Europe”.

She said the impact of that would be felt beyond those working and living in the area and could create wealth for the UK as a whole, while changing communities and audiences internationally.

She said: “It’s an enormous prize but we will only get there by being smart – by knowing about the way the creative industries work, how you spot the zeitgeist and how you get ahead of the curve.”