A petition to save Nuffield Southampton Theatres has received nearly 4,000 signatures in one day, as it emerges Arts Council England has ring fenced £1.9 million to “reimagine” culture in the city.
Started by casting director Annelie Powell, the Change.org petition calls on Southampton City Council to ensure that NST is "preserved for the future of the city".
The petition also urges the city council to lobby Arts Council England to ring fence funding for the work of the Southampton Nuffield Theatre Trust.
It follows news last week that the trust, which operated at NST City in Southampton City Centre and NST Campus, had gone into administration.
Joint administrators Greg Palfrey and Steve Adshead, from the South Coast office of Smith and Williamson, are seeking buyers for the theatre brand.
The petition says: "For nearly 60 years, NST has had a profound impact on its communities, including scores of children and young people.
"Its support for local talent is undisputed, from its youth theatre programmes that have been a springboard for many, to the Make It SO fringe festivals designed as seedbeds for homegrown creativity.
"Over recent years, it has committed itself to commissioning and producing new plays that bring to life the stories of Southampton."
The petition adds: "From invaluable relationships with the city’s communities to the expertise of the theatre’s technical and producing departments, all of this could potentially be lost overnight.
"Not to mention the hundreds of freelance and self-employed artists and theatremakers it provides jobs and opportunities for."
A spokesperson for Southampton City Council said it is "not in a position to fund an unsustainable business model" and "given the current situation with the pandemic, it is important that [it does] not rush into an unviable alternative."
Cabinet member for homes and culture, Satvir Kaur, said: "We pay tribute to NST staff and volunteers who have delivered a huge variety of work, told Southampton stories and engaged audiences from near and far.
"NST is an independent organisation and its board and executive leadership are accountable for the day-to-day running of the NST business and will be responsible for working with the administrators to support and work through arrangements for their staff and volunteers. The council and other stakeholders are in dialogue with the administrators."
Kaur said the wider cultural sector in Southampton “remains resilient” and that the council was “committed to work with them and Arts Council England to reimagine and deliver a cultural offering in this space”. She said this would aim to benefit all communities and “will be part of our long-term cultural ambitions for Southampton”.
"To this end ACE have ring fenced £1.9 million to Southampton and will work with the council, University of Southampton and other partners to achieve that,” she added.
A spokesperson for Arts Council England said that Southampton Nuffield Theatres has gone into administration due to "the culmination of a number of problems over the past couple of years that the organisation has ultimately been unable to resolve" which have been "exacerbated by Covid-19".
South West area director, Phil Gibby, said: "We are committed to reinvesting the remainder of the NST’s grant for arts and cultural activity so that it can serve people in Southampton and beyond.
"And, to ensure that the Studio 144 building [NST City] is retained as an arts space for the community, we are working closely with our partners Southampton City Council and the University of Southampton to make that happen.”