Britain’s politics over the last few months have been dominated by the two c-words: coalition and cuts. It is now over three months since the government released their Spending Review, announcing reductions in all areas of public spending, and the cuts are beginning to bite. One of the hardest hit sectors was the arts, with Arts Council England (ACE) to have its funding slashed by 29.6% over the next four years.
Arts organisations across the country will be forced to tighten the purse strings, but it is smaller regional organisations which are most likely to feel the pinch. In Southampton, our own campus-based Nuffield Theatre is facing up to the challenges of reduced funding and a harsh economic climate. The theatre currently receives funding from a range of sources including ACE, Southampton City Council and the University, but with cuts affecting all these areas there are likely to be hard times ahead.
The Nuffield has recently submitted its application to ACE’s new funding programme, with decisions to be made by 30th March. When grilled by the culture select committee at the end of last month, ACE revealed that as many as 600 organisations could have their applications for funding turned down, while many others will see a reduction in the amount they receive.
With cuts to their funding inevitable, the big question is how the Nuffield plans to move forward. Mark Courtice, who is involved in the operations of the theatre, accepts that this will be a challenge.
“There isn’t a magic wand that we can just wave,” he admits. “Theatres look for funding in all sorts of different ways and seek support in lots of different areas. The balance between local authority funding and business funding might change, although the plain fact of the matter is that all funding sources are going to be affected by the current economic climate”.
These tough times present a particular challenge for theatres outside London. Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre, has emphasised the struggle that regional theatres like the Nuffield will face in the current climate of cuts.
“Beyond the capital, theatres will be hit twice over by reductions, both in Arts Council subsidy and local government support,” he commented in The Times. “There is simply no prospect whatsoever of them bridging the gap through private giving, which is, outside of London, in its infancy. Cuts in the arts would hit smaller and regional institutions hardest”.
Courtice agrees that there is less money to be had for regional theatres, but he believes that theatres such as the Nuffield provide a vital service to those within the local community who cannot afford to travel regularly to London.
“The Nuffield offers the chance of seeing really good quality work within easy reach – for some people the only reach they’ve got,” he claims. “It’s a very different ball game and our role is to help a whole community have the benefit of theatre in a way that London simply can’t.”
Even in difficult circumstances, the Nuffield is still presenting a varied and ambitious season. Executive Director Kate Anderson believes in the importance of continuing to present challenging work in a time of recession, a belief that is reflected in the programming. The Nuffield is, for example, one of the few theatres to present international theatre company Cheek by Jowl’s Russian version of The Tempest.
“We know what matters,” insists Courtice. “We always have done, and we’re not going to drop what matters because things are looking a bit different. The creative person knows what matters and finds a way.”
The road ahead is without doubt scattered with obstacles, but they are obstacles which the Nuffield Theatre is determined to overcome. While Courtice admits that the future is looking much less secure, he also has faith that “creative people come up with creative answers”.
“The theatre is a place where the community can discuss the things that matter,” Courtice states. “That’s what we have to be providing, a place for that discussion to take place. A discussion is Hamlet, a discussion is A Midsummer Night’s Dream; this is how a discussion takes place on our stage and it takes place with brilliant lighting, wonderful design and fantastic actors.”
The kind of exciting, challenging programming and engagement with the local community displayed by the Nuffield provides a prime example of how valuable the arts are to our nation and presents a convincing case for why we should protect them against further damage. To support the Nuffield it is vital first and foremost to attend as many productions as possible. For those wanting to take a more active approach there are also plenty of opportunities to volunteer and the theatre encourages those who may be interested to get in touch.
Cuts may be inevitable but this is a story that is far from over. If Britain’s varied and vibrant arts scene is to be protected for future generations, we must support our local arts organisations now. As Courtice puts it, “the discussion must go on, however bloody the financial situation is”.
To find out more about the Nuffield Theatre, book tickets or contact the theatre about getting involved with volunteering visit: http://www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk/.
For those wanting to pledge their support for the arts, sign up at: http://ivaluethearts.org.uk/.