Norwich theatre director calls for more support for community venues
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The director of The Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich is calling for more financial support for venues that work with amateurs, who historically have never received funding from Arts Council England (ACE).
Apart from a “very modest grant” from Norfolk County Council for their education work, which accounts for less than 1pc of their turnover, the venue relies solely on ticket sales and donations.
Despite this, they support hundreds of community projects each year and this includes many amateur theatre productions with local groups regularly performing on the stage.
The closure of theatres due to coronavirus has magnified this issue and although they have been able to receive a small business grant, they have still been left with a “shortfall of income”.
Jez Pike, artistic director at The Maddermarket, said: “ACE has never funded amateur theatre and it only funds professional productions, whereas The Maddermarket is professionally-run but the majority of people who make it work are amateur actors and volunteers.
“The ACE, which is government-funded, should use lockdown as a chance to step back and examine if the way the arts have been funded previously is most appropriate going forward.
“This country has an extraordinary network of amateur groups and it gives people the chance to form relationships in their areas and also cross-generational ones too and it is important for mental wellbeing.”
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Even those venues that have been able to access ACE money have been left short as the emergency funds made available are just £160 million nationwide.
Norwich Theatre chief executive Stephen Crocker, along with 19 venues across the region including The Maddermarket, has launched an appeal calling on the government to intervene with financial support to prevent widespread closures.
A spokesman for the Arts Council said: “The Arts Council supports, invests in and champions creativity in all its forms, across the amateur, voluntary, not-for-profit and commercial sectors – particularly through our open-access National Lottery Project Grants Programme. And as we begin to deliver Let’s Create, our new ten year strategy, doing so will remain central to our work.
“We understand that many organisations across the country are facing unprecedented challenges due to Covid-19; through our Emergency Response Package, we have tried to support as many individuals and organisations as we can, but know we can’t help everyone with our limited resources.
“The Arts Council is having positive conversations on a daily basis with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the longer-term support that the cultural sector needs.”
With the timeline no clearer of when theatres can reopen, Mr Pike and his team are aiming for early September and they are beginning to reopen for community activities and classes.
Drama students at UEA are also fundraising for The Maddermarket as part of the nationwide ‘Students Saving Our Theatres’ Crowdfunder campaign as they regularly use the venue for showcases and projects.