If you’ve tried to speak to anyone working in a theatre in the last week and they bit your head off, it was probably nothing personal – it’s more likely they were stressing over the decision of the Arts Council’s 2015-2018 National Portfolio organisation. But it was announced this morning, so the time for nail-biting and head-biting is over. What does it mean for theatre round here?
On the whole, it’s quite good considering the cuts gong on across the board. Live Theatre, Northern Stage and the Stephen Joseph Theatre have all kept their funding. Small snag is there’s no increase to compensate for inflation, so it works out as a small real-terms cut, but that alone isn’t too difficult to absorb. They’re not entirely out of the woods yet, because it’s a different story with funding from Newcastle City Council and North Yorkshire County Council. But, on the whole, they can be relieved today.
Now, turning my attention to Durham, one alarming absence from the map is the Gala Theatre, which was a hub that funded Brass, The Streets, and – most importantly – Lumiere. Don’t panic. It hasn’t gone, they just forgot to put it on the map. If you looks at the spreadsheet instead, it’s still there (now renamed to Durham Arts Festivals Hub). What’s more, the grant is nearly double what is was in 2012-2015. So this looks like good news for anyone hoping Lumiere will return in 2015 – Durham County Council have been hinting for months that it depends on funding, and now they’ve got it.
Before anyone cheers too loudly though, it might be having a look at the map of where the grants are going. The Arts Council is making a big thing of how much money is going outside of London – but where outside of London is it going? Sure, it’s evenly spread between the regions, but within the regions it’s a different matter. Compare these places in the north-east …
Okay, this map is only the number of organisations getting grants, which doesn’t automatically reflect the distribution of money, but the distribution of money isn’t much better: £48.3m for Tyne and Wear, £4.8m for County Durham, £3.1m for former Cleveland, and £1.6m for Northumberland. As you can see, Tyne and Wear gets five times the national portfolio funding than the rest of the north-east put together.
This discrepancy between Newcastle and the rest of the north east is not a new one. Today should be considered a good day that so many assets to the north east have kept their funding. And it’s good news for Durham too as their festivals have a much securer future. But some day, this discrepancy needs to be debated. There is far more to the north east than Newcastle. How much talent outside of Newcastle is going to waste? On the surface at least, it doesn’t look great.