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Future of Aberystwyth Arts Centre uncertain after two key staff members are suspended

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Fears have been raised about the future of Aberystwyth Arts Centre as a professional venue, following the suspension of its director and operations manager by Aberystwyth University, which owns the centre.

A petition that has been launched to have the two senior members of staff reinstated claims the centre is threatened by “heavy-handed restructuring” and “destabilization” by the university. It has attracted more than 1,500 signatures so far.

Stephen West, a local artist who launched the petition, said he believes the university wants to use the centre for academic purposes and student plays rather than professional work.

He added that critics feel the university is trying to use health and safety reasons for the suspension of director Alan Hewson and operations manager Auriel Martin, which are a part of these restructures.

“It seems outrageous that you can suspend members of staff in order to bring in a restructuring plan and take back space in a public arts centre,” he said.

The centre, which includes a 312-seat theatre, 80-seat studio and 1,250-capacity concert hall plus art galleries, receives an annual grant of £560,000 from Arts Council of Wales. In the past 20 years, the arts council has paid out more than £3 million of capital Lottery funding to the venue.

Nick Capaldi, chief executive of Arts Council of Wales said it was “very concerned” to see speculation about the future of the arts centre. He said the arts council has had discussions with vice chancellor April McMahon, who has given “clear assurance” that there are no plans to reduce the future artistic programme. Capaldi added that, with regard to the personnel issues, the arts council is awaiting clarification from the university.

A spokesman for the university said it is conducting an investigation into events that took place at the arts centre in February, but it will not comment on the nature of the investigation or any member of staff involved, due to confidentiality. He denied the investigation was linked to alleged restructuring of the arts centre.

He said: “The university is wholly committed to the use of the arts centre by the public and for the local community, and there are no plans to reduce public access to the arts centre – quite the converse.”

The university has launched its strategic plan for 2013 to 2016 this week, which sets out its vision for the arts centre. Within this, the university states that the centre will become part of a newly-created Institute for Literature, Languages and the Creative Arts at Aberystwyth University from August, which will provide “fresh opportunities” for collaboration.

As part of its five strategic aims, the university said it will embed new structures to ensure more efficient use of resources and foster closer working relationships between academic and ‘service’ departments.

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