Nearly 200 arts bodies stunned by 'cowardly' grant cuts

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Indy Politics

Arts organisations across the nation expressed their anger and disbelief yesterday after being informed of "devastating" cuts that could leave them fighting for their lives or result in their closure within months.

Several children's theatres, the UK's most prominent gay and lesbian festivals and a student festival supported by Antony Sher and Stephen Fry are among the 194 arts bodies which the Arts Council has informed of drastic or total funding cuts.

Louise de Winter, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, criticised the timing of the decision and said the groups had been given an unreasonably short time to mobilise an appeal.

"Most of these organisations received their letters on 13 or 14 December and they only have until 14 January to appeal, which, taking into account Christmas, leaves them 18 working days. With organisations that face 100 per cent cuts, the worry is they have not been given a bit more notice," she said.

Queer Up North, the internationally renowned Manchester-based lesbian and gay festival, will be forced to close if its 98,000 funding is axed. "The timing of it is catastrophic," said artistic director Jonathan Best.

Children's theatres are among the worst affected. The London Bubble Theatre, has been told its 420,000-a-year grant is being cut. "I think it's catastrophic, back-handed and cowardly," said chairman Sandy Craig.

Norwich Puppet Theatre, among only two puppet companies for children in England, faces a precarious future after being told of 100 per cent cuts to funding. Ian Wood, its general manager, said: "We have existed for 27 years and we were shocked and dismayed to receive the news."

The National Student Drama Festival, founded 53 years ago with Stephen Fry, Anthony Sher and Meera Syal among its alumni, is in jeopardy following the Arts Council's decision to cut its support by nearly 50 per cent. An online petition protesting against the cuts has been signed by 15,000 students, actors, and lecturers.

Eastern Angles regional touring theatre company received a 50 per cent cut in a move its artistic director, Ivan Cutting, warned would "devastate" its production work and could leave its future in question.

The Brighton-based venue Komedia is losing its entire 160,000 grant, which will mean it can no longer produce theatre shows, even though the Arts Council recently contributed 75,000 towards a 1m refurbishment.

The Exeter Northcott Theatre has been told from April 2009, the 547,000 it receives from the Arts Council one third of its annual income will be stopped. This is despite the fact that the theatre, the only producing theatre between Plymouth and Bristol, has just undergone a 2.1m refurbishment, including a 100,000 investment from the Arts Council.

The Drill Hall in London, the UK's leading lesbian and gay theatre, has been told its 250,000 Arts Council funding will be stopped from next April. "We were very angry and upset. It's an appalling way to treat artists," said the Drill Hall's chief executive Julie Parker.

The Jacksons Lane arts venue in north London is losing its 128,000 funding, despite the fact it is reopening in January following a 250,000 refurbishment.

The City of London Sinfonia and the London Mozart Players, both respected chamber orchestras, have been told their funding will be stopped next spring.

The pre-Christmas gloom for arts bodies comes despite a recent rise in the financial settlement awarded to the Arts Council by the Government. Big arts organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera House have benefited from this increase, 41 organisations will receive twice as much funding as before and an extra 80 organisations will receive funding for the first time.

Six victims of the Arts Council cuts

* Queer Up North

The UK's best-known gay and lesbian festival was planning to stage the British premiere of a collaboration between Antony and the Johnsons and Stephen Petronio in 2008, but is now threatened with closure after being told its 98,000 funding will be axed.

* London Mozart Players

"The work we've done in rural areas is outstanding and yet they want to take it away," said Anthony Lewis-Crosby. The chamber orchestra's rural residencies are under threat from the loss of its 160,000 grant.

* Exeter Northcott Theatre

The only producing theatre between Plymouth and Bristol is threatened with closure after being told its 547,000 Arts Council funding will be stopped in April 2009.

* National Student Drama Festival

Founded in 1956 with alumni including Peter Postlethwaite and Meera Syal, it has been told to expect to lose its 52,000 annual grant which could jeopardise its annual festival in Scarborough.

* Norwich Puppet Theatre

One of two puppet companies for children in England. Faces the prospect of 100 per cent cuts to its funding budget.

* Pop Up Theatre

Work reaches 15,000 young people each year and currently receives 194,000. Has been told by the Arts Council that they "do not intend to renew funding".

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