Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Farnham Theatre Association Ltd (arts 66)

The Farnham Theatre Association (FTA) is a small company limited by guarantee dedicated to restoring a theatre building to Farnham. The Association has strong public support for its campaign to enable theatre companies to stage live productions which are not possible elsewhere in the town and to provide educational opportunities for all.

FTA does not receive Arts Council funding but has received grants through the Surrey Communities Foundation to continue its campaign for a theatre building for the purposes mentioned above, which are listed in its constitution.

The FTA recognises that the main target for this Inquiry is the larger, widely based and nationally renowned arts organisations but would stress that the need for detailed consideration to be given to the needs of smaller locally based organisations. The FTA response is therefore limited to circumstances concerning our experience of regional theatre provision in the South of England. Some of the Inquiry issues are not applicable to us or require information outside our field of knowledge.

Summary of Response

· Arts Council of England (ACE) funding policy for theatre has resulted in the closure of some regional venues with considerable social loss and economic disadvantage to communities. The Theatres Trust ‘Theatre Buildings at Risk’ Register 2010 lists 43 theatres at risk.

· Central and Local Government funding for theatre needs to be invested in venues as well as theatre companies if it is to make the most effective contribution to stimulating the local economy as well as providing educational opportunities for the wider community.

· ACE policy for withdrawing funding from regional theatres and replacing this with support for small theatre companies touring rural communities has not addressed the difficulty of building stable and committed audiences for theatre or of satisfying the needs of the larger communities.

· Grants to new theatre buildings in the 1960s-70s should be legally recovered by ACE, according to the terms of these grants at the time, where such theatre buildings have been given a change of use or have been demolished. It appears that in most, if not all cases this condition has not been enforced by ACE. The effect of this has been to reduce available working capital to support new ventures and innovative and technologically advanced new theatre building projects.

· Businesses and organisations should be given more encouragement and incentives by the Government to invest in their local communities through sponsorship and donations to their local theatres. It should be recognised that the potential for support for local communities from businesses, organisations and benefactors is far less than in large urban communities.

FTA response to the issues raised by the inquiry into arts funding cuts: with reference to Questions 1,4,5,6,8 and 9

1. The impact of the cuts will differ according to the size of the organisation. There will be a proportionally greater impact on a small organisation which has less flexibility within its budget and less ability to attract alternative funding to offset funding losses. With the danger of a ‘double dip’ recession, in areas where there is already deprivation and less spending capacity, the effects will be deeply damaging.

2. Without the necessary overview it is not possible to make general comments as to whether the current system of funding, structure and distribution is the right one, but it is possible for FTA to indicate that in some instances funding is misdirected regarding policies for regional theatre.

3. Arts Council policy in reducing funding for regional buildings-based theatre and replacing this with support for small theatre companies touring village and town halls in rural communities has been largely effective. However, although this is a creditable objective for those rural communities, it does not address the difficulty of creating and maintaining committed audiences for theatre. Audiences are built over time and need consistency in regularity and quality of productions. This cannot be sustained by this touring model. By contrast, community theatres involve local support and have the ability to maintain loyal audiences.

4. The funding cuts to regional theatres in the South of England have already resulted in some theatre closures, with the loss of these valuable purpose-built venues to the communities who supported them. Audiences in towns which have lost their theatres are forced to travel greater distances to find the type of theatre which they have previously supported and of which they have been deprived. This not only removes an extremely valuable focal point and identity for communities but it does not contribute to the government’s avowed aim of having a low carbon economy.

5. Towns which have lost their theatres subsequently lose revenue from the spending in the surrounding streets by visitors to the theatre. Local authorities similarly lose revenue from car parks around theatres. Nationally, regional theatres contribute at least £1.1 Billion to the economy through additional visitor spend. [Shellard’s Economic impact study of UK theatre ACE 2004]. Theatres form a cultural and educational resource for a town which also stimulates trade for hotels, restaurants and shops in their neighbourhood.

6. Arts Council policies in the 1960s and 1970s [ACGB "Housing the Arts" 1959 and 1961] resulted in capital grants for theatre buildings and particularly for the building of new theatres. For example, The Redgrave Theatre, Farnham received a total of £60,000 in the years 1972 – 3 for its construction. A condition was imposed on ‘Housing the Arts’ grants which required the return of the grant should there be a change of use or demolition of the buildings. Waverley Borough Council has recently granted permissions for change of use and demolitions pertaining to the Redgrave Theatre for conversion to two restaurants as part of a commercial re-development scheme. The Arts Council has made no request for the return of the grants made to this building, even though there are no plans to replace the facility.

7. In these times of financial retrenchment, it behoves the Arts Council to exercise its legal rights to reclaim its capital grants to theatre buildings where change of use or demolition is proposed, particularly where considerable financial gains can be made by companies exploiting these sites. This would apply, for example, to The Mermaid Theatre which is scheduled to become a hotel. The lost capital investment by the Arts Council into such buildings should be reclaimed and restored to arts provision.

8. The National Lottery was intended to replace "The Housing the Arts" policy as a source of funding for capital theatre projects, but Lottery money has been diverted by the Government for other purposes over the last 15 years. Funding for the 2012 Olympic Games has taken priority over culture and it will soon be time to reverse this situation. Arts Lottery funding should now return to support local community theatres and the theatre companies which use them.

9. In the current economic climate, businesses and philanthropists should play a larger role in supporting theatres. The example of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London is exemplary in this respect, but it attracts sponsorship because it is of international importance with considerable prestige for its donors and sponsors. It is far more difficult for theatres with lower profiles to attract this kind of money. The Committee needs to recognise that those businesses which have already opted to support the arts are doing so at the level that their shareholders can reasonably afford. Similarly, benefactors will have determined the level of support they are prepared to give, therefore, the Committee needs to question how realistic it is to believe that businesses and philanthropists will come forward with immediate offers of additional commitment and funding, particularly when the economic climate is difficult.

10. Government has a responsibility to local communities to encourage them to thrive economically, socially, creatively and educationally. Incentives for business and private donors to invest in regional theatres and the creative activities inside them should be encouraged to support their local communities.

September 2010