Sustained cuts to regional theatre in the UK have enabled the sector to prove its worth and resulted in “great innovation”, the outgoing artistic director of Northern Stage has argued.
Lorne Campbell, who will leave Northern Stage next year to take over the leadership of National Theatre Wales, described the current situation for regional venues as “a best of times, worst of times moment”.
Shrinking local authority arts budgets have led councils across England to reduce their culture spend by more than £400 million over the past eight years, figures show, with regional theatres and industry figures repeatedly warning of the impact of ongoing funding reductions.
Despite this, Campbell said such pressures had “resulted in great innovation and resilience”, arguing that the sector has shown its strength by weathering such stringent cuts.
“The way regional theatre has shifted around the changing worlds over the past five or six years is an incredible journey of resilience, but at the same time, we can’t pretend it’s getting any easier. We’ve really accepted the challenge of proving our worth and of opening our doors and being available to more people, of making different types of work and really digging into communities, but at the same time, everything gets tighter and tighter,” he said.
Campbell added: “We’re definitely at a point where we can’t pretend that this constant ratcheting isn’t having a very negative effect. It’s a balance, and a proper best of times worst of times moment.”
He was speaking after Northern Stage won the workforce award at the 2019 UK Theatre Awards.
The theatre was one of several venues and arts organisations affected when Newcastle City Council became the first UK city to cut its entire arts budget in 2012.
The council is expected to have made cuts of more than £325 million between 2010 and 2022.
Campbell said the challenges faced by other services such as education and social care, also meant that partnership work had become more challenging.
“[They] are now under such pressure that where we used to work in equal partnership with all of those sectors, we’re now looking to subsidise all of our work with them at the same time as our own resources are squeezed to the pips,” he added.