Theatre review: Arts Council funding cuts affect leeds theatre companies

The Thing About Psychopaths written by Ben Tagoe for Red Ladder Theare Company.
The Thing About Psychopaths written by Ben Tagoe for Red Ladder Theare Company.
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Last Tuesday was the day the Arts Council made the announcement about what it will fund and to the tune of how much, for the next three years, for Britain’s cultural life.

Twitter was the medium of choice for the arts world on July 1, 2014, when the decisions started to come through (it was interesting that the social media network was where all the instant reaction happened and then people appeared to turn to newspapers and their websites for further analysis, but that’s a side issue).

Some companies and artists were conspicuous by their absence. Those that were in the digital open were mostly sheepishly expressing sentiments of feeling happy to have survived, but not popping champagne corks for fear they might be doing so at another organisation’s wake.

I happened to see the former head of Arts Council Yorkshire, Cluny Macpherson and current acting head Pete Massey the day after the announcements. They both remarked how supportive the arts community was remaining across the North. It’s true, we do have a remarkable spirit in Yorkshire, of support and encouragement between arts organisations. If cutting funding was ever supposed to divide and conquer – the cuts are administered by the Arts Council but handed down from central Government – it has backfired.

There was nothing but shock at the announcement that two Leeds theatre companies were to lose all Arts Council funding – Red Ladder and Paper Birds – and that was quickly followed by support.

Red Ladder’s firebrand leader Rod Dixon, rehearsing the company’s latest show on the day the cut was announced, was uncharacteristically quiet. At 11.24am the company tweeted: “We have been cut and lost 100 per cent of our funding. Change of business plan comrades.”

Paper Birds, another well- loved Leeds company, also received the worst possible news, with the loss of all its Arts Council funding.

“Wallowed in rejected NPO for ten mins and now need to get up and finish this show Broke (title of the show taking on a whole new meaning),” was the message Paper Birds shared with Twitter.

And now, the aftermath.

Within 48 hours a new Twitter account, Save Red Ladder had been set up and The Paper Birds also saw a boost to its crowdfunding for its latest project.

Another big surprise was that Dark Horse, a Huddersfield-based integrated theatre company that works with disabled and non-disabled performers, received a full cut.

Artistic director Vanessa Brooks said: “To be 
dropped from the portfolio at this point in our evolution after such consistent investment, outstanding feedback and assessment, 
and positive encouragement from ACE seems quite
 bizarre”.

So, how does the landscape look? It takes a year for the funding to really come into effect, so 2015 is when the 
cuts will really start to shape our cultural lives.

I am surprised about Red Ladder, Paper Birds and Dark Horse, mainly because to me they seem to be three companies doing deeply individual work.

The Arts Council are in a lose-lose situation. Whatever they do, they are going to be criticised. That said, a lot of money has gone to bigger organisations.

Opera North and 
Northern Ballet are the two biggest cultural companies 
in the region. Northern Ballet received an extra 21 per cent and Opera North an extra £714,000 per year.

While it is important for the region that they are both funded properly, there is a feeling in the cultural community that two such seemingly elite art forms receiving such a bulk of funding in Yorkshire is a little unequal.

It might not feel like it to 
the companies receiving big cuts, but the cultural landscape hasn’t shifted 
all that dramatically this 
week. Things will continue, they always do and the spirit of support isn’t going to disappear.

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