RE: FORCE Councils to subsidise arts, says ex-culture Secretary. (March 3)
Research has shown that in the earlier years (80s and 90s) some theatres which were handed over by councils with a “dowry” to be run by charitable trusts have gone on to become self-sufficient and non-subsidised today entirely due to good strong management by the boards of Trustees. The Southampton Mayflower, 20 years younger than Scarborough Futurist, and very similar in capacity and design is one example. Stockport Plaza a much smaller theatre is another.
All of this is set in the context of the present horrendous financial climate which is not going to improve any time soon. There are councils all over the country with theatres that are desperately in need of funding, our Futurist is just one of many. It is also very probable that each town has many taxpayers who are concerned that tax payers money needs to be used to do this, when there are far more urgent needs. Also there is sport.
Entertainment and sport are equally important to the enrichment and quality of life of all of us, depending on our personal preferences and needs, particularly when we are being asked to economise to such a degree that affording both or either is becoming an unaffordable luxury, as well as a necessity.
So why do I believe the ex-culture secretary is wrong, and what is the alternative?. A debate, which has become quite heated, has been conducted in the last 24 hours on the subject of subsidies through our local Scarborough Evening News, and a lot of extremely important points have emerged, which probably reflect the feelings of other taxpayers elsewhere in the country. This debate has prompted this letter, and my belief is that there is an alternative to council tax payers subsidising. It lies in the hands of the movers and shakers, and the associated Unions and specialist groups in the industry itself to have the strength and courage to push it collectively, and very hard.
Sport gets an inordinate, some would say extortionate amount of corporate sponsorship, both as individuals and teams. Why? Because they make a lot of noise and get a lot of news coverage in all the media. In the entertainment industry this is not appropriate, can you see Dame Judi Dench carrying a handbag sporting a Yorkshire Tea logo?
TV programmes are sponsored by large corporations. Yet over decades every town in the land can boast at least one or more world renowned artiste who has taken years of their life developing and perfecting their art through local theatre, some have come and gone, others are still here and the rest on their way.
As many have said, but apparently attributed to Bruce Forsyth, “it took me 16 years to become an overnight sensation”. Many of these theatres have already gone, some are on death row (Scarborough Futurist being one) and others struggling.
Each town celebrates these achievers through their local media and takes pride in their birthplace. Scarborough Evening news is particularly good at this. In addition each theatre provides employment for a large host of unsung heroes who work backstage in just about every trade and skills known to the human race.
They live and work locally, or they tour and they have to earn a living, however modest. Just because they don’t stand up in front of the audience, it does not mean that they should not be recognised. They do not deserve to be thrown on the scrap heap because taxpayers and local councils cannot afford to subsidise the theatre. So to my solution.
Each of these towns are also home to at least one branch of all the organisations who are making billions, in profits. banks, building societies, supermarket chains, national chain stores.
They are making these profits from the local taxpayer residents who use their services, invest their money, buy their goods. Indeed supermarkets are using the profit motive as an excuse for buying up every available bit of land in the country. The corporate heads of all of these make the decisions on sponsorship, sport wins every time. Live entertainment? This sponsorship needs to be for the local venues not individuals or teams.
It seems to me to be a simple enough solution. Go to each corporate head, and ask them to make a small sponsorship grant to the local theatre in each and every town from which they derive their income and profits.
The more companies participating, the smaller the sponsorship needs to be, (tea money and petty cash to most of these corporates), but it will be the difference between local theatre venues living or dying.
Indeed in some towns a slightly larger sponsorship would see a dying theatre restored to a further long life. So if donors demand it and the theatre becomes for example “The Marks & Spencer Futurist Theatre” – who cares? Isn’t the tax payer already subsidising the country’s two major banking groups?
So come on all of us in the entertainment industry – let’s put a concerted effort into it and face the corporate decision makers in their luxury head offices; why can’t “The Stage” be the leading light and Project Leader?