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.

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Give Darlington Arts Centre to the people

COMMENT: If Darlington Council can no longer run Darlington Arts Centre, it should be handed to people who can.

One issue that’s been discussed a lot throughout the theatre world but not much on this blog is the cuts to arts subsidies. I’ve got mixed views about it myself, which I may go into another day, but this post is about what’s happening now. As it happens, north-east theatres aren’t doing too badly. Live Theatre and Northern Stage have kept their “portfolio” status (as has the Stephen Joseph Theatre). The Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire are very much commercial ventures and so have little to fear. The Gala Theatre has got some sort of status as a “cultural” hub for all of Durham’s festivals. There’s issues over local authority funding and internal politics at the Gala, but on the whole there’s no prospect of any of these places closing their doors.

A glaring exception is Darlington. Darlington Borough Council ran two theatres on Arts Council support: the Civic Theatre and the Arts Centre. But unlike its Newcastle counterparts, lack year, the funding was scrapped. For a while, the closure of both theatres was contemplated. Thankfully, the Civic Theatre has done well enough since then to escape the axe, but the Arts Centre was not so lucky. In July this year, Darlington Arts Centre was closed, and this is a big loss to the town. The Civic Theatre alone does not compensate for this. Small theatres are an asset because they allow small-scale productions to perform that would never be viable in a 500+ seat theatre. I see little chance that plays going to the Arts Centre will be using the Civic Theatre instead.

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