Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Paul Graham (arts 188)

Funding of the Arts and Heritage

1. I am the artistic director of a small theatre in the market town of Ledbury in Herefordshire. The town acts at the hub for a large rural hinterland, and provides many services for that wider area that would otherwise be uneconomic to provide. The Market Theatre is one of those services, and we make accessible small professional and amateur drama, music and dance together with film to an audience that would otherwise have to travel significant distances to find similar provision, if indeed they have personal transport - which many do not.

2. We receive no direct public subsidy, and make no profit. We are simply funded by the income we receive through the box office, and everyone who works in the Theatre does so on a voluntary basis. We are – it seems to me – the perfect example of what is now described as "The Big Society".

3. So without our box office income, the Theatre cannot exist. Our considerable overheads cannot be met and performers cannot be paid. And there is the rub. People will not visit the Theatre unless the quality of the "shows" that we put on is maintained at a high standard. And many of those shows are subsidised: by Arts Council England (and sometimes because we are close to Wales – the Arts Council for Wales) and by local authorities.

4. Many of the tours in which the Theatre participates are also subsidised by Arts Alive – the Rural Touring Scheme for Herefordshire and Shropshire and by other rural touring schemes – who too are largely funded by ACE and local authority grants. As well as providing our Theatre with a significant part of its programme, Arts Alive and the other rural touring schemes provide a massive number of one-off dates in village halls and other rural venues throughout the whole country. They also look to ensure that the plays and performers are of a high quality, a task that is beyond the capabilities of most small rural venues including us. Amongst the "one night only" shows that are being brought through Arts Alive to us this autumn in Ledbury (and to give you a flavour of what is on offer) are:

· THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP by Charles Dickens from the highly innovative and national respected Northumberland Theatre Company

· NURSING LIVES - mask theatre from Vamos Theatre Company from Worcester based on nurses’ experiences in World War II in the former Worcester Royal Infirmary

· Teatro Che y Moche – one of Spain’s leading street theatre companies brings their award winning new work OUA UMPLUTE

· Finger in the Pie Theatre Company from London include physical acting, storytelling, puppetry and live music in their version of SWEENEY TODD

5. Arts Alive is governed by a board of volunteer trustees (of which I am one) who give freely of their time, as do the numerous volunteers who sell tickets and programmes, run the bar, make the tea and carry out numerous other tasks at all the many village venues that are used throughout the two counties. Another excellent example of what I understand "The Big Society" to mean.

6. My plea to you is therefore that, while everyone in the Arts does I am sure recognise that rural performing arts will have to bear its fair share of proposed cuts, those cuts must not be allowed to destroy this vital and largely voluntary arm of the arts world.

September 2010