Theatre bosses make a plea at INK Festival

The INK festival in Halesworth, Suffolk, held a panel discussion on the state of the sector.

Julia Sowerbutts, the festival’s artistic director, said that funding was “perilous”.

“It’s getting harder. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, but there’s much less to go round and things get more expensive.”

“You get a grant one year and then next year they say ‘well, you can’t have it ‘cos you’ve had it last year’ or ‘we gave you this much, but I’m afraid we’ve got to share it’.”

In January Suffolk County Council announced plans to cut £65m from its budget, including ending £500,000 of funding to the arts and museums sector.

Following lobbying from arts leaders and public protests, the authority later said it would reinstate the fund for the next financial year, but open it up for more groups to be able to apply.

There have also been concerns over changes to Arts Council funding, and the impact of inflation on grants.

Ms Sowerbutts was joined on the panel at the Cut Arts Centre by Jake Smith, the artistic director of Eastern Angles; Clare Slater, the artistic director of High Tide; Stephen Crocker, the artistic director of Norwich Theatre; Joanna Carrick, the artistic director of Red Rose Chain and Anthony Alderson, the director of the Pleasance Theatre in London.

The panel was chaired by writer and broadcaster Libby Purves.

Mr Smith said: “I think one of the things is for us all to be advocates for culture in our county.”

In the most recent Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled tax breaks for independent British films and for film and TV studios. He also announced new permanent rates of tax relief for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries.

Ms Slater said: “I think we can all do a better job of telling the great story of theatre, sharing the impact of the really good stuff we do with the people who make decisions and decide policies.

“I think we can all do better at collectively telling the great story of why theatre matters and how it really genuinely helps communities thrive.”

Beg, borrow and steal

Ms Carrick said: “We do need to look at all our plans and see how we can improve, as well as moaning about arts funding and that sort of thing.

“My team is hugely committed to providing participation projects free at source.

“It is also about belonging to a theatre and belonging to an artistic community that can be life-saving for somebody with disabilities, disadvantages, mental health diagnosis.

“The isolation that people… can experience can be completely bust apart by being part of something really beautiful and collaborative and creative together.

“For me it’s making those activities free, no auditions, breaking down the barriers to joining in. That’s really important.

“Beg, borrow and steal. It’s a vocation and you do have to work really hard If you want to be in theatre.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be wonderful.”

The INK festival runs from April 11-14 2024.

By Jon Wright BBC News, Suffolk