Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Oxfordshire Theatre Company (arts 113)

1. I am writing on behalf of Oxfordshire Theatre Company in response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into The Funding of the Arts and Heritage.

2. This letter can be summarised as follows:

· The impact of recent cuts from the Vale of White Horse District Council in Oxfordshire has resulted in 60% fewer subsidised performances and an increase in charges to venues of 45%

· The impact of future cuts would be detrimental to the long-term future of theatre in rural communities and on the added benefits to the rural economy gained by the company’s visits

· The impact of future cuts would include less opportunities for artists to work in the field and for young people to gain skills and knowledge of leading arts practice and ultimately achieving employment

· The current climate offers an opportunity to consider collaborations and mergers with other arts organisations

· Local Authorities and Arts Council England need to liaise more closely so that organisations are not forced into achieving conflicting targets

· The redistribution of National Lottery funds will impact the arts positively

· Businesses and philanthropists are mainly attracted to large scale organisations who can offer more benefits than smaller organisations

3. Oxfordshire Theatre Company is a leading touring company supported by Arts Council England, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, and three local District Councils in recognition of the high quality work produced and the communities it reaches. It is managed by a Board of Trustees and has a small permanent staff team of 5 (2 full time/3 part time).

4. It presents ‘Big Theatre in small spaces’ and is committed to performing live theatre to audiences in Oxfordshire and nationally who – collectively or individually – might not otherwise engage with the arts, including children, young people, adults and older people. Revenue funding represents 74% of its total income and for this the company delivers more than 120 performances, in more than 80 locations, to more than 10,000 people.

5. In 2010/11 the company received a cut in funding from the Vale of White Horse District Council, resulting in the loss of subsidy to rural venues, which enables them to present professional theatre to their local community. Such venues are run by volunteer promoters, who give their time and energy to promoting theatre and the arts, including to groups of people that are unable to travel to attend events in the towns and cities further afield. On being informed about the cut, promoters and local audiences lamented over yet another service being taken away from villages already suffering from the closure of pubs, shops and post offices. With more cuts anticipated from the remaining local authorities this could be the scene across the whole of the County. Although this year the company has been able to offer some performances (60% less than previous years) in the Vale district, this is not sustainable in the long-term and would not be sustainable across the County.

6. Relationships with local authorities ensure that Oxfordshire Theatre Company is part of the Arts Ecology in the region, giving the company the ability to leverage funding from other sources and to create long-term partnerships with other arts organisations, businesses and artists. Strong partnerships are vital to the lifeblood of the Company. Funding cuts put at risk the potential for exciting, innovative and collaborative projects and productions, which offer audiences a unique arts experience. It is important that the Company maintains its reputation as a leading employer and one that artists and employees want to work with. An overall reduction in all areas of the Company’s delivery seriously puts at risk the ability to sustain this. Funding cuts will mean staff spending more time fundraising rather than creating the art and could in turn affect contracts, which would become less attractive.

7. Oxfordshire Theatre Company’s work also impacts positively on the social and economic infrastructure in the County and beyond, employing an average of 40 artists each year who spend up to nine months consuming the best the communities have to offer including restaurants, pubs, B&B’s, supermarkets, high street shops and on cultural activities and travel. In addition more than £7000 is spent with local suppliers during production periods from timber merchants to hardware stores and specialist theatre suppliers to costume hire companies.

8. In 2009/10 17 young people aged 14 – 25 years benefited from training and skills development in professional arts practice to support future employment in the arts and in 2010/11 the company is piloting Theatre Futures, a work-based training programme offering up to six young people the opportunity to train in stage management and theatre production. A bursary and travel expenses are offered to enable young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply.

9. Oxfordshire Theatre Company is unique in what it delivers in the County and therefore duplication of effort is not a particular issue, however the company is in discussion with other local arts organisations about administrative and managerial resources that could be pooled to make economies of scale. It should be recognised however, that small organisations such as Oxfordshire Theatre Company are already working to incredibly tight budgets and are prudent in setting budgets that enable ambitious work to happen whilst not wasting public money.

10. Arts organisations will need to be even more creative in exploring collaborations and even mergers if the proposed cuts go ahead. The fear is that small organisations like Oxfordshire Theatre Company, who do not have a building base, will be easier for Government to cut as they can be less visible in the national arts arena. However, for the communities that the company works with it is a hugely valuable resource. It could be time for companies and buildings to merge perhaps and is definitely something that this company would consider.

11. The current funding structure often means that funders are placing opposing demands on organisations. Arts Council England should work much more closely with the Local Authorities that fund the organisations in their portfolio. This would create joined up objectives and targets so that public money can be spent as efficiently and effectively as possible.

12. The Company is in favour of the redistribution of Lottery funding, which will increase the arts share to 20% by 2012. Inevitably the knock-on effect of this will be the receipt of a higher number of applications. Oxfordshire Theatre Company sees this as a major source of funding in the future.

13. The reality of attracting funding from businesses and philanthropists is that most are attracted by high profile, large, building based arts organisations that appear to have many more benefits to offer and dedicated staff to nurture these relationships. Also, currently more than 60% of support is to London based organisations. Replacing up to 74% of revenue funding with alternative income would not happen quickly enough to keep the company going.

14. The bottom line for Oxfordshire Theatre Company is that the capacity to increase income from other sources is limited by the nature of its touring to small, mainly rural venues. Performances are offered on a fee basis, which is heavily subsidised (up to 70%) by current revenue funding. Increasing fees to volunteer promoters in rural communities is not feasible and would see the end of professional theatre touring to these places.

September 2010