Hopes fading for Darlington Arts Centre

Give Darlington Arts Centre to the people

I’m taking a break in my Buxton Fringe coverage whilst I wait for the festival to finish. In the meantime, a bit of bad news from back here in the north-east: Darlington Borough Council is putting Darlington Arts Centre on the housing market again. This follows the collapse of Project Vane, an ambitious but well-meaning project to bring in private tenants, keep an arts space, and make the building self-sufficient, and that is largely down to the failure to secure grants from either the Arts Council or the Regional Growth Fund. For its part, the Council argues that it has to pay £7,500 a month in repairs and other costs.

Now, as blog regulars will be aware, it is my view that the Arts Centre should be turned over to volunteers, and my view remains unchanged. The repair bill works out as £90,000 per year, which is not a lot for a local authority when you consider that Newcastle Theatre Royal until recently had a grant of £600,000 a year. Equally, it’s not fair to assume Darlington Borough Council have suddenly gone all anti-arts. They did allow time for Project Vane to work, and they were supportive of the efforts to get money from the Arts Council, and they’re certainly not in the same league as Newcastle’s notorious stance. But could Darlington Borough Council be trying harder? That’s the big question.

There is one avenue of hope here: the council have promised that any money from the sale will be re-invested in the arts. One possible outcome from this is that the money from the sale could be used to establish a smaller venue that does what the arts centre did in a building that doesn’t cost so much to repair. That might be a good compromise. Or, there again, this might be a bit of creative accountancy so that the same amount of cash can be deducted from the arts budget elsewhere – and I have suspicions that that’s what they’ll do with their Arts Council money if they’re allowed to supposedly “re-invest” the money elsewhere.

We’ll see.

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