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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Massive Birmingham Arts Cuts: arrgghh!!!

Katerina Pushkin - 15 January 2017

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Birmingham has the largest local authority in Europe and as a result this government's local authority cuts are having a disproportionate impact on the city: anecdotally, many say the cuts in Birmingham are the worst in the country. Many local councillors are very supportive of the arts but feel that the situation is so severe with fundamental services that arts, leisure, sports, parks etc simply must face catastrophic cuts in order to save the most basic elemental council services. They know it's going to be a car crash for culture, but they don't think the government is giving them a choice.

Very recently, all the city's major arts organisations have been told the level of cut they're facing at the next funding round, at incredibly short notice. They had already absorbed extremely significant cuts to their annual council subsidy since 2010, in addition to cuts to their annual arts council subsidy.

Further details on the announcements can be found here:
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/dec/15/birmingham-arts-council-spending-cuts-symphony-orchestra

Cuts of this magnitude can't fail to cause damaging shockwaves throughout the local arts industry, both in professional and community arts, across all disciplines and art forms. It functions as an ecosystem, so as the top level is squeezed it ceases to be able to nourish the smaller scales and grass roots. One major immediately stopped offering free rehearsal space as support in kind for local companies and emerging artists. The Birmingham Museums Trust has started a petition and written to The Guardian stating that several of Birmingham's major museums will close if these cuts go forward: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/nine-birmingham-museums-could-close-12414999

Buildings of course need a basic level of funding just to cover their physical/operational running costs: rumour has it that at least one major Birmingham venue doesn't now have enough local government subsidy to cover its building costs.

Birmingham's confidence in itself and its cultural identity has been very hard won, and would be easily lost.

An independent creative producer from Southampton pointed out that Birmingham may currently be an especially severe example, but it will be mirrored in more and more places: so it's in the interests of arts orgs and individuals all around the country to proactively support creative communities in these ‘first frontier towns’, so that they can be better prepared when it's their turn. It's also widely acknowledged that cutting local government is a clever divide and rule tactic, because people are kept so busy fighting (quite rightly) for their local library, that they don't link up as effectively to create a united campaigning front nationally.

It feels fairly hopeless to campaign against these cuts at a local level: the only way to stop them is to affect national policies around local government funding. But locally we must work together to find ways to cope with these new challenges. It would be very useful to hold a local, cross artform open space event soon specifically to discuss our collective response to what's happening, pooling ideas and resources (not just physical and financial but also creative, temporal, etc) to make the best of a very bad lot. A chance to talk together and work together to find the most rational, positive and hopeful way to make these new circumstances work somehow.

Improbable would be happy to facilitate such an event. It would need to include not just the organisations directly affected but organisations and freelancers at all scales. We need every artform to work together, so it'd be interdisciplinary, not just theatre.

ACTION: KP and wonderful Improbable have approached some larger-scale Birmingham organisations / people about putting out an invite and making a Birmingham Arts Cuts open space event happen urgently. If anyone would like to support this / get involved, please leave your details below and we'll be in touch!

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