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Suffolk: Theatre Royal team remain optimistic after arts funding is cut while Aldeburgh Music looks to diversify as funding is set to continue

PUBLISHED: 12:50 02 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:50 02 July 2014

Staff at Dance East in Ipswich are celebrating the news that they have received increased funding  from the Arts Council.

Staff at Dance East in Ipswich are celebrating the news that they have received increased funding from the Arts Council.


Two Ipswich arts organisations were celebrating last night after receiving an increase in national funding – a reward for their “exceptional ambition”.

Karen Simpson, Executive Director of The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. Karen Simpson, Executive Director of The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds.

DanceEast and the New Wolsey Theatre received the small rise from the Arts Council, which yesterday announced future funding plans.

The majority of Suffolk’s leading arts organisations breathed a huge sigh of relief following the announcement. However, there was one casualty – the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, lost its grant.

Hedley Swain, the Arts Council’s area director for the south-east, said that nationally under 10% of companies had received an increase in funding so the two Ipswich companies had done remarkably well and had shown “exceptional ambition”.

He said that, although there had been casualties and stand-still funding was not ideal, the Arts Council was pleased to have been able to protect the majority of East Anglia’s arts provision.

Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director, Colchester Mercury Theatre Daniel Buckroyd, artistic director, Colchester Mercury Theatre

The Arts Council will share £12.5m between Suffolk’s eight national portfolio organisations over the next three years.

Mr Swain said: “Nationally the Arts Council has 30% less funds to distribute than we did three years ago but we felt it was incredibly important to hold together, as much as we could, the national portfolio of organisations which sit at the core of what we do. This time we have 670 National Portfolio Organisations – down from 703 four years ago.

“We have had to lose 58 companies and have had 46 new ones join. There are lots of organisations that are still very ambitious, they want to do lots of new things, and some have applied for extra money but, on the whole, we have tended not to support that.”

He said that where extra money had been allocated they were looking to support projects that would attract other outside funding.

Ivan Cutting, artistic director and chief executive of Eastern Angles theatre company Ivan Cutting, artistic director and chief executive of Eastern Angles theatre company

“Any increased funding has been modest and has been granted for very specific things,” he continued. “We were looking for projects which levered in other money. We were also looking at proposals which supported the development and strengthening of the arts and, just as importantly, showed ambition and that’s what we saw in Ipswich.”

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre and Brendan Keaney, of DanceEast, both pledged that the two venues would continue to work closely together – creating new work which would then help sell Suffolk creativity to the world.

Theatre Royal

Theatre goers  at the New Wolsey Theatre Theatre goers at the New Wolsey Theatre

Bury Theatre Royal’s Karen Simpson remains defiantly optimistic despite the Arts Council delivering a bitter blow by removing the Georgian playhouse from their list of officially supported organisations.

She said that under the current agreement they will continue to be funded until April 2015 which gives them time to plan and to explore different ways of attracting new income.

She said that she joined the theatre as director last year, well aware that there was a possibility that they may lose their funding but had remained hopeful that they could persuade the Arts Council to continue supporting them.

“The theatre was in a really bad place for the last couple of years and we knew when we came here that the Theatre Royal was ‘at risk’, that it could lose its NPO status and that’s why myself and Adrian Grady were brought in to try and sort the problems out.

“But, we really didn’t have time to make an impression because the funding was applied for back in February. I had been in post three months and the successes of last season didn’t happen early enough to have an impact on the decision. We had plays like Egusi Soup and This May Hurt A Bit premiere here and then go out on national tours but it does take time to bed in.”

But, she said that the theatre had not been abandoned. Various Arts Council officials had been in touch and meetings had already been set up to talk about the future and how the Arts Council could steer them towards alternative funding streams. “They are very to keen to support us. The one crumb of comfort we can take from this is that on the feedback we got from our application, it was clear that they liked the direction we were taking, so we remain optimistic and we’ll see what the future brings.”

Aldeburgh Music

After the success of the Benjamin Britten centenary celebrations last year, there would have been more than a few raised eyebrows if Aldeburgh Music had become a casualty of the latest round of funding cuts.

Aldeburgh Music remains the Arts Council’s biggest investment in Suffolk but after several increases in recent years to deliver specific projects, this time they received standstill funding.

The hosts of the Aldeburgh Festival, one of Europe’s largest music events, will receive £4.2m between 2015-18.

Following the departure of long-serving chief executive Jonathan Reekie earlier this year, Harry Young is acting as a caretaker CEO until Radio 3’s Roger Wright arrives at Snape to take over the baton in September.

Mr Young said that they were pleased that their grant had been maintained. “It was what we were expecting. There are a lot of pressures on the Arts Council, so we are pleased that they continue to recognise the work that we do here.”

He said that the Arts Council was encouraging the company to continue to diversify and attract new audiences. “Musicircus was a huge success and I’m sure we’ll see more work like that in future.”

DanceEast and New Wolsey

With under 10% of the country’s arts organisations receiving a boost to their income from the Arts Council DanceEast and the New Wolsey Theatre have done exceptionally well.

Although they were justifiably delighted at the result of their hard work, both expressed their sorrow that Bury Theatre Royal had lost out. “It’s never easy,” said New Wolsey chief executive Sarah Holmes, “but Karen is an awesome woman and has made such an impression in a short space of time and I’m sure under Karen’s leadership it has the potential to do really well.”

Brendan Keaney, who joined DanceEast last year, echoed her comments and added that the strength of the Suffolk arts community was that they were a partnership who worked together and helped one another. This sense of co-ooperation and cross-venue support was one of the areas which had really impressed the Arts Council in their report.

Both DanceEast and the New Wolsey along with the Pacitti company, Eastern Angles and Gecko are all part of the We Are Ipswich initiative to highlight the creative talents in Suffolk’s county town.

Mr Keaney said: “We are delighted that we have done so well because we have some ambitious plans for the future which include increasing the number of performances at the DanceHouse, delivering a new associate artist scheme and collaborating with a range of national partners like Sadler’s Wells and English National Ballet.

“It’s an ambitious programme but why shouldn’t it be because Ipswich deserves quality work.” He said that he had desire to open up the DanceHouse for a range of events not just dance. “I want to get people through the door and show them what a wonderful space this is. We want to encourage people to come and use it and experience a wide range of different art forms.”

DanceEast has already teamed up with the New Wolsey to stage cross-over works and Mr Keaney is looking for further collaboration. This is something Sarah Holmes is also keen on. “Last year we did 80% capacity and that’s a real endorsement from the public,” she said. “We have many different audiences, there’s no one audience and it’s up to us to go and find them.”

Eastern Angles

Eastern Angles founder and artistic director Ivan Cutting admits breathing a huge sigh of relief yesterday morning when he learnt that his rural touring company would continue to be funded for the next three years.

“It’s standstill funding but it offers security and it allows us to plan,” he explained. “It means that we can get on with preparing new shows and to apply for funding from elsewhere.

“Standstill funding doesn’t cover the costs but being a NPO, getting Arts Council approval, does help when it comes to applying to funding or sponsorhip from other walks of life. It’s a badge of legitmacy I suppose.”

Mr Cutting said that the Arts Council praised the fact that Eastern Angles not only continued to tour to rural communities but also used East Anglia’s history and legends to inspire new pieces of theatre.

“In their report they said our artistic content was good our access and engagement with audiences was outstanding and our work with young people was good,” he said.

“I was very pleased with that as it demonstrates that we are a sustainable organisation.

“The report mentions our work in Peterborough working with commmunities there as well as our traditional touring work in market towns right across East Anglia. We bring theatre right to people’s doorsteps and that is very important these days when money is tight and perhaps people don’t want to or can’t afford to go out to theatres in nearby towns.

“Although you could say it’s more of the same, the same for us has always been a lot of something different.”

High Tide Festival

HighTide founder and artistic director Steven Atkinson said that he was delighted that the Halesworth-based theatre festival continues to receive official approval but lamented that East Anglia remained under-represented.

“We have done well. It’s good to receive any funding, particularly when the Theatre Royal at Bury has lost out all together, but when you look elsewhere, then perhaps you begin to wonder why Suffolk and East Anglia isn’t better represented?

“Of course, the New Wolsey and DanceEast are the real success stories – and quite rightly too – but when you see the Arts Council spiriting up new NPOs in the south-west you start thinking why can’t some of these new arts organisations come from the east?”

He said that his observations were not sour grapes because he was genuinely grateful that HighTide continued to receive support to champion new work but rather that he felt that Suffolk needed greater recognition of its cultural contribution.

Mercury Theatre, Colchester

There were cheers of relief at the Colchester Mercury when it became clear that the Essex theatre had retained its Arts Council funding for the next three years.

Artistic director Daniel Buckroyd said that they had tremendous faith in the work they produced – shows like Betty Blue Eyes and The Hired Man – but it was always good to get an official pat on the back.

The Mercury, along with the Colchester Arts Centre and Firstsite, all retained their national portfolio organisation status which guarantees medium term funding which allows them to plan and seek additional revenue from elsewhere.

Mr Buckroyd said: “We have been promised £2.3m over the next three years.

“We are bullish about the future. We work hard to delight our audiences here in Colchester and last year attendance was up by 4,000.

“We have ambitious plans. The Mercury is touring more work and on a larger scale. This funding invests in our future and we are essential to the creative economy in the East.

“We commission work from hundreds of performers, technicians and designers as well as suppliers and craftspeople. The arts are an essential part of the wider economy.”

He added that they have just launched the Teachers Network which will allow them to develop their work with schools.

“The Arts Council only supply a third of our income because we earn so much ourselves but that third is vital. It allows us to plan and create new work not only for Colchester but also on tour.”

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