A letter signed by many of Britain’s leading arts organisations, including the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), expressing “grave concerns” about the funding cuts proposed by Arts Council England (ACE), has been sent to Culture Minister James Purnell. The correspondence comes in a week that has seen Nicholas Hytner, Director of the National Theatre, publicly criticise the nature of the cuts, and a demonstration by young theatre practitioners in Piccadilly Circus.
The letter, co-signed by organisations including Equity, the Theatrical Management Association (TMA), the Independent Theatre Council and Theatre’s Trust, calls for a meeting with Purnell to discuss how the current situation can be avoided in the future.
It goes on to state that the way in which ACE announced the recent funding cuts has damaged relations with both the industry and with other funders including local authorities, and questions the way in which ACE made its decisions: “Our impression, as representative organisations, is that the proposals do not always appear to be based on solid, reliable evidence,” the letter states. A lack of impact assessment on communities and the risk to previous public investment are also cited as causes for concern.
The lack of reliable evidence was highlighted by the Bush theatre’s Artistic Director Josie Rourke at an industry meeting about the proposed cuts held at the Young Vic last week. Rourke highlighted that the data on which ACE made its decision to cut the Bush’s funding by £180,000 appeared to “under-record our audiences by two-thirds”.
At a press conference on 16 January, Hytner expresses his concern about the “terrible mess” caused by the proposed cuts and said he had personally lobbied ACE in the case of three organisations, including the Bush. While Hytner agreed that “every now and then the Arts Council should be bold and should encourage new ventures, while deciding which old ventures deserve less support”, he thought the way in which the process had been carried out was “a strategic catastrophe” and he “was not satisfied with the answer I got” from ACE officials as to why the Bush was included in the cuts.
The Bush, which has been a hotbed of new writing for the last 35 years, is among the most high-profile London theatres to be affected by the proposed funding cuts. Also among those organisations threatened are the Drill Hall and London Bubble.