Arts Campaign: Bingo to the rescue

A distinguished London theatre is having to survive through glorified begging
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Indy Lifestyle Online
ONE OF the country's best- known arts venues is being forced to run a celebrity bingo night to raise money. It is a particularly striking symbol of the crisis in the arts.

The Hackney Empire, in London, will be charging pounds 30 entry and up to pounds 50 per game to raise money towards its redevelopment scheme. Stars such as Griff Rhys Jones, Mark Lamarr and Hugh Laurie will host.

The Empire is preparing for the final stage of a pounds 38m lottery bid to restore, refurbish and extend its Grade II*-listed, Frank Matcham-designed splendour. The catch is that the grant must be matched by pounds 9.5m of self- generated revenue. It has managed to raise half of this from public grants, but now it is after pounds 5m of private money.

The Independent on Sunday campaign is urging the Chancellor to make all donations to the arts tax-deductible. Leading lights in all branches of the arts have supported the campaign.

Ronald Muldoon, Hackney Empire artistic director, says the simple but far-reaching measures we are advocating would undoubtedly help.

The Hackney Empire is used to managing hand-to-mouth. But without a huge injection of capital, its future looks bleak. "It might be beautiful, but backstage it still runs like an old-fashioned music hall," says Mr Muldoon. "The building is economically stagnant. If something isn't done, in a few years' time it'll fall down. We 're having to do stuff like variety bingo in order to draw attention to our situation."

Mr Muldoon hired freelance fund-raiser Donald Noble and his business partner, Nina Coben, to organise a programme of events.

Mr Noble said: "People see me as a bit of a fascist. But I see myself as more like a Big Issue seller - taking the ideas of Thatcherism and bastardising them, turning them around to your own advantage. No, I don't think that you should have to go to these lengths to help the arts survive. But this government is going to continue with the same economic project as its predecessor - why should they change? And we have to get on with the system that's set up."

The bingo night isn't going to raise pounds 5m on its own, but it's a start; and interest in the idea has surpassed expectations. "We aimed it at the City," said Mr Noble. "I started off by cold-calling 48 City banks, and they snapped it up. Now I'm working on 400 traders in futures exchanges. We've got the banking world, plus we've got the law and accountancy firms - who are dying to schmooze the banking firms."

If the Empire manages to raise the pounds 5m it needs - and there's no reason it shouldn't, with such a Nineties combination of business acumen and maverick creative flair behind it - the auditorium will at last be lovingly restored. And a new, 200-seater house will enable a developmental artistic policy, which is long overdue.

t The Variety Bankers' Bonus Bingo Show takes place at the Hackney Empire on 26 March. For more information, or to find out more about the Hackney Empire Appeal, call Donald Noble or Nina Coben at the Events Production Office on 0181 985 6771; or Martin Kaufman, appeal manager, on 0181 985 8844.

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