It was a week of mixed emotions for arts groups in Cheshire as they waited anxiously for news of Government funding for the next three years. In this special report, JO HENWOOD provides a round-up of which organisations were successful and those which emerged empty-handed
Arts companies in Chester are celebrating this week as Arts Council England (ACE) announced who is to be included in its new national portfolio of funded organisations.
Chester Performs, Chester Festivals, Action Transport Theatre Company, Cheshire Dance and Cheshire Rural Touring Network will all share the £1,447,643 allocated to Cheshire for the period 2012-2015.
This represents almost 1.9% of the £77m of funding for the North West, despite the fact that Cheshire’s population is just less than 10% of the region.
Chris Cook, head of culture and recreation for Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC), said: “We work very closely with ACE and they understand and support our vision for the arts, including plans for the new theatre. It is very encouraging to see sustained investment in the borough as well as cases of increased and new investment.
“Residents and visitors will undoubtedly benefit from the investment and will have lots of opportunities to take part in the arts.”
Tracy Lynn, director of Chestival, a summer festival in the city, said: “The Cheshire Cultural Collective, groups committed to the arts in the area, meet regularly to look at ways we can lever ever more funding from the Arts Council.”
Chester Festivals is one of 14 organisations in the region to receive Arts Council funding for the first time.
Chairman Sue Harrison said: “We are delighted with this result. Through this support from the Arts Council, and through the long-term support from CWaC, local businesses, patrons and friends of the festivals, partners and volunteers, I feel that Chester Festivals has an exciting and creative future.”
Chester Performs, which will present Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre for the second time this summer, will receive the bulk of the cash with a grant of about £150,000 for each of the three years.
Director Andrew Bentley said: “We are over the moon to have been able to increase the amount of money coming into the city, especially when the Arts Council themselves are having to make overall cuts of 30%.
“It’s a vote of confidence in Chester. It has helped a lot that the local authority has placed culture so high on their agenda and that they see it as helping the economy of the city.”
Action Transport Theatre Company, based in Ellesmere Port, is included in the portfolio but has had its budget cut substantially.
Executive director Sarah Clover said: “Despite a 37.8% cut in our Arts Council England funding, we are delighted that our hard work and excellent projects have been rewarded through our inclusion in the national portfolio.
“This cut will inevitably impact on the company but we are confident that, through strong partnership working with a variety of local arts organisations, especially Chester Festivals and Cheshire Rural Touring Arts, we will continue to create more innovative and exciting theatre projects.”
As a result of the recent Government Spending Review, Arts Council England grant in aid (GIA) budget was cut by 29.6% and ‘good applications’ have been rejected.
Adam Holloway, business director of Cheshire Dance, said: “This is a day of mixed emotions. While we are delighted to be part of the national portfolio, many people that we work with on a daily basis elsewhere in the region and around the country suddenly find themselves in a real crisis.
“We will do all that we can to support some of the great art being made and the difference it makes to people’s everyday lives.”
One Chester theatre company, Theatre in the Quarter, was not successful in its bid for national portfolio, although it received positive feedback from ACE for the future.
Chairman Brian Pearson said: “We are naturally disappointed not to be included in the national portfolio but are delighted for those organisations that have.
“We have been told that we had a strong application and the decision was down to ACE having to look at the national balance.”
Stephen Freeman, relationship manager (theatre) for ACE, said: “‘We acknowledge the excellent work of Theatre in the Quarter and understand their disappointment with this decision. We had some difficult choices to make within the resources we have available to us and we have stressed some good applications would be turned down.
“The national portfolio is not the only funding stream available through the Arts Council and we look forward to constructive conversations with Theatre in the Quarter about how we can continue to work together.”