Difficult Times Ahead?

Convener(s): Mark Price 

Participants: Jo Hammett, Jim Shelley, Christina Elliot, Alice Massey, Laura Farnworth, David Luff, Chris Grady, Rebecca Gould … and others


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

We’re all doomed…

  • Public subsidy – local authority, arts councils starting to be cut.  Far worse expected over coming months and years.  Example of councils having to cut budgets by 20% - arts funding is not their priority.
  • A Tory government would be less naturally inclined to funding arts. 
  • Sponsors are pulling out or cutting funding as corporate budget are cut.
  • Anecdotal evidence from regional theatres indicates that audiences in areas particularly affected by recession have been staying away from the theatre.
  • ‘Silent’ arts funding at severe risk.  Education and other participation projects are likely to be the first to go.
  • Public don’t understand and won’t be prepared pay the ‘real’ cost of a theatre ticket.
  • Touring already hit with receiving houses cutting fees and passing more risk to touring producers. 

Reasons to be cheerful…

  1. Record West End attendance.  Far more West End plays now being produced.  Commercial theatre in good shape financially and creatively.  The rise of the stay-cation means more money to spend on local treats.  The nation is still spending on entertainment (cf Sky TV’s record profits).  
  2. Anecdotally Tory local councils tend to be more generous that others in their arts funding.
  3. Hard times can produce great inventive new work.   Discuss…



Pressure on programming inevitable, as theatres become more risk averse.  That’s not a reason not to do good work – but need to be innovative and have an eye to marketing when programming – an obscure play is a world premiere.

General surprise that we’re not seeing more feelgood shows at the moment. 

There is danger in taking sponsorship but it can be a valuable source of revenue.  While corporate marketing is in flux, we have an opportunity to make an approach to business for sponsorship as a cheaper and more effective alternative to their traditional marketing methods. 

Sponsors are harder to find without a building.  Sponsorship of touring work is virtually impossible – difficult to provide the guest nights etc that they are looking for.  However, belief that if there is an audience for a work then somewhere there is a suitable sponsor. 

Politicians want our vote over the next few months – we have a rare opportunity to make our case while they are listening.  RSC and other large organisations are engaging with shadow ministers.  Some London seats (eg Islington) are marginals – get out and lobby.   We have a good story to tell – a rare successful export business sector which repays every pound in subsidy many times.   Theatre subsidy is value for money.

Tory policies have changed since Thatcher – less anti-arts rhetoric.  Group not expecting a complete disaster if/when they get power.  Scepticism about their philanthro-capitalism idea – there are many things that can’t/shouldn’t be funded by business. 

Local funds local.  US style subscription theatre.  Links with local business.

Is there too much spent on administration compared to creative costs?  Room for cuts?

Larger arts organizations have a responsibility to smaller organizations:  Mentoring, lobbying, practical help (sharing spaces etc)

Smaller companies can expand links with each other – share resources:

- spaces, admin, marketing and producing personnel and costs.

Need to be even more careful about building and nurturing relationships:

- Sponsors, funding bodies, politicians and audiences.  Social networking technology makes it easier and cheaper to keep in touch with our base.