In February I wrote a blog following the Somerset Country Council meeting at which the petition against arts cuts was handed over. Well, just two months down the line and I’m sure many of you are aware that Somerset County Council ignored that petition and made the decision to axe 50% of their Arts funding and reallocate the remaining 50% to the ‘Creative Industries’. As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are numerous reasons as to why that’s a ridiculous decision, so I won’t take up too much of your time by repeating them all here.
One point I do feel compelled to reiterate, however, is the potential knock-on effect – and the worry that prospective investors will be deterred by the lack of support from our own council. Unfortunately, it does seem that our fears are fast becoming reality as the Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre for one has also now lost its funding fromArts Council England. With such vital avenues rapidly disappearing they, and other affected arts organisations, have to adapt and change to survive. But what will that entail? Well, everyone has to shave bits off their budgets, minimise resources and, in some cases, will undoubtedly be considering cutting staffing numbers.
Making savings through changes to the infrastructure alone aren’t enough; profits are needed to maintain companies and keep them moving, so it’s the product that will ultimately have to be adapted. With the arts, this means catering for wider audiences and a certain amount of commercialisation. While I’m all for diversity and eclectic programmes that provide something for everyone, a financially-driven programme has the potential to become one-dimensional and undermine creative development. How long will it be before venues which have had funding completely axed have to cease taking gambles on new works, and have to rely on the safety of commercialised productions?
We all love a good musical, well-known comedian or familiar concert, but if venues were forced to rely solely on these types of production to keeping afloat, I think I would get a little bored. It also poses a severe threat to fringe productions, forcing them to commercialise their products too. The domino effect could, at the worst extreme, leave us with a very narrow field of entertainment and constrained cultural expression.
While I do genuinely worry about the future of theatre, it’s not in my nature to be wholly pessimistic, and looking around me I see fantastic feats of showmanship and camaraderie in the face of what may come. The Brewhouse, for instance, is currently hosting a festival exploring and celebrating Englishness, which will soon give way to new writing including The Idle Dream’s The Station: Fourstones and Nabokov’s Bunny. Besides this, Actiontrack Performance Company’s Molly-Rose Brace is spearheading a Creative Carnival in the South West Region (all details at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_163189860396722&ap=1) which gives a big creative middle finger to the economic climate. There are doubtless other examples and it’s heart-warming to see people coming together to fight for the arts. I suppose, much as I begrudge admitting it, this is the positive side to the severity of our council’s short-sightedness. We may well have an uncertain future but we have one hell of a defiant present.