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Theatre industry declares no confidence in Arts Council

I get so frustrated not being able to be at the heart of what makes me tick. This Arts Council fiasco would in the past have left all like me, either out of "town" or on the road, seething and blustering, quietly raging at our colleagues or mumbling on the tour bus at the injustice and the nerve of it all and the... well, a good stomp around the building, the kicking of the odd flat, the rough man handling of a light or two and stubbed fingers to boot before a pause for a well earned cup of tea before the half... ha ha.

Thank you Facebook. Well thank you active members of Facebook who are equally miffed at the current state of affairs in the arts. Since discovering the numerous Save our Theatre facebook groups and creating the Save theatre in the UK meta group it has been heartening to see the membership of these groups rocket. One group "Stop the Cull" is particularly impressive with 1,120 members. Some venues under threat have high sign up numbers. Derby Playhouse with 5,321 and Bristol Old Vic with 2,234 at the time of writing this blog entry.

This (below) is the press release from Equity published today following the much anticipated meeting at The Young Vic Theatre where nearly 500 people turned up meaning the event was standing room only. If you attended I'd like to thank you for representing me. I am sure that goes for the many performers, production creatives and theatre staff up and down the country who live by the adage "The show must go on". This is and will, I hope always be true. However we'd like to be able to feed our selves and keep a roof over our heads. This is hard enough without funding instability and cuts. Another blog entry for a later date I feel!

This response enlivens my sense of hope in my professions sense of self worth and a vigor to stand up and fight. Thank you again to everyone who added their physical presence to the meeting, even if you did have to stand!

The official Equity press release reads:

Image001_4 In a packed meeting at the Young Vic Theatre, London, today (9 January 2008) representatives from across the England’s theatre industry declared they had no confidence in the work of the Arts Council England (ACE) and its proposals to cut funding to more than 190 arts bodies from April this year.

The meeting, organised by Equity, was addressed by Peter Hewitt, Chief Executive of ACE, but his attempts to explain the rationale behind the decisions taken by the funding body were rejected by an audience of almost 500 at the standing-room only event. The gathered audience of performers, creative workers and representatives from many of those theatres facing cuts were particularly angry about the very brief consultation period (just five weeks which included Christmas and New Year holidays), the secrecy with which the proposals had been produced and the failure of the Arts Council to make explicit the criteria by which some theatres had been chosen over others.

Amongst the speakers were actors Malcolm Sinclair, who criticised the culture of over-management of the arts, and Patrick Malahide who criticised ACE for lacking a coherent intellectual strategy and actor/director Sam West, who made an impassioned plea for a number of smaller companies whose work would be curtailed by these cuts.

Addressing the meeting, Christine Payne, General Secretary of Equity, welcomed the extra money the government had made available to the Arts Council over the next three years, but said:

“We have a right to know how that money is being spent. We are extremely concerned about how these decisions are being made. Who are the judges? And what criteria are being used? There appears to be a distinct and perhaps deliberate lack of involvement from professional theatre practitioners in the decisions process currently used by Arts Council England. The process is not open, it’s not transparent, there is no dialogue with the theatre community.”

“Unless Arts Council England not only listens to the concerns of people here today but actually takes action to respond to them then the credibility of Arts Council England could be fundamentally and possibly irreparably damaged. We demand a thorough review of the process and procedures used by the Arts Council in reaching funding decisions, and until that review is completed the status quo should apply and the current funding process should cease.”

The meeting ended with a vote of no confidence in the Arts Council England moved by veteran actress Miriam Karlin, which was passed unanimously.

For further information contact:

Martin Brown
Head of Communications and Membership Support
Equity, Guild House, Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EG
T 020 7670 0259  F 020 7240 6341
E www.equity.org.uk  E www.tvischanging.com