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Letters of the week

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Smaller theatres are recognised

In response to Charlotte Jones’ column regarding the funding of small theatres and theatre companies (National portfolio cuts are something to shout about, August 21), we agree that they are vital and that is why, at a time of real pressure on our budgets, the new portfolio protects a backbone of 46 producing theatres, and 167 theatre organisations in total across the country, so they can continue the crucial role they play in developing artists and the art form.

We’re pleased that Jones mentions the new additions to the national portfolio of regularly funded organisations – a healthy portfolio should always see both joiners and leavers.

We do, however, recognise that there are still some places across the country, where provision and engagement are low, that we have not been able to address through the current NPO applications. We will look at how we address these issues in the near future, and it is our intention to continue to use other funding programmes to address these gaps where possible.

We will be looking in particular to address the challenges around the strategic touring fund later this year as well and at least £15 million of our strategic funds will go towards supporting ambition outside London; a further £6 million to a diversity budget, focusing on artistic excellence, increasing the resilience of the organisations we fund and diversifying audiences.

Jones argues that we’ve focused on buildings but doesn’t talk about the considerable resources that have gone into touring and touring companies – of productions from organisations both big and small, and the deliberate investment we’ve made in production companies that don’t own their own venues.

An assessment of the portfolio shows that smaller organisations make up 27% of the overall total. In fact, many of the larger organisations were guided towards lower planning figures in order to protect smaller and mid-scale organisations. This does not reflect a bias towards larger organisations and, of course, the benefit and impact of the work of larger organisations is felt by the wider arts ecology as a whole – and we will hold them to account in this respect.

The national portfolio is just one, albeit large, part of our total investment. It wasn’t just an attempt to make things simpler when we laid out our total investment plans at the same time; we try to make funding straightforward to apply for and to help organisations – small to large – make up their own minds about the kind of funding that suits them best. Grants for the Arts and strategic funds can be much more flexible in achieving specific aims, such as building capacity in areas where demand from the public is low.

In spite of the huge pressures on our budgets, we have in fact increased Grants for the Arts from £63 million to £70 million in order to meet the ambition that Jones so rightly points out is overflowing in the sector. The real issue, of course, is threatened reductions in local authority investment in arts and culture.

Contrary to Jones’ outlook, we feel that there is much to celebrate, with a new portfolio that reflects the quality of work being produced across the country, and theatre constituting a quarter of our overall national portfolio investment, reflecting our confidence in the theatre sector.

Peter Bazalgette
Arts Council England
Bloomsbury Street
London WC1

Will we see more flawed protests?

Having read the letter by Mark Brown, Palestinian rights campaigner (Comment, August 21), I wish to support The Stage editor Alistair Smith’s comments the previous week (A protest too far, August 14, page 8).

I fear the closure of The City at the Edinburgh Fringe may prove to be only the first. The right to legitimate protest is one thing, but I can understand those associated with the venue taking the difficult decision to shut down a performance when protesters are shouting at passers-by (including children attending a different venue) that they have “blood on their ticket”.

I am not familiar with foreign contracts for funded artists as Mr Brown obviously is, but I imagine other countries besides Israel probably include similar clauses to “promoting a positive image”. As to not presenting themselves as “agents, emissaries or representatives of the ministry” etc, I doubt that Israel is the only country to include such a clause in its contracts.

In any case, we can’t have it both ways. Either foreign artists are representatives of their ministry or they are not. If they are not (and that is the contract Mr Brown says the Israeli artists would be obliged to sign) then they can’t be penalised for the policies of their country. That includes state-funded British artists who perform abroad.

Can we now look forward to the closure of British shows in countries where the inhabitants disagree with our government’s foreign policy?

I hope that the closure of The City is not the thin end of a very large wedge.

Avril Brown
County Down
Northern Ireland

Brining is right to blast whining

Well done for including artistic director James Brining’s column defending his decision to programme shows that also happen to be on in the West End (‘I won’t doff my cap to London critics’, July 31, page 11) at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

If a spirited account of a famous Arthur Miller play [The Crucible] is good enough for the Old Vic, it’s good enough for the high standards set at WYP.

I have viewed this play only once before, but I’ll be at Leeds to see it – the same goes for White Christmas – after reading such a well balanced and fair summary by the artistic director. Furthermore, tickets for both are bargain-price affordable.

My theatre matters just as much in the regions as it does in London.

Gordon Steff
Wharncliffe Road
West Yorkshire

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