Suffolk theatres plead for council to reverse drastic arts funding cut

Theatrical companies are urging a council to reconsider its plans to cut arts funding by 100%. The Suffolk County Council unveiled its budget cuts on Wednesday, which include ending £500,000 of financial support for the arts and museums sector. The council argues that these cuts are necessary to provide additional assistance to children’s services and adult care. Douglas Rintoul, from Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre, expressed his disappointment, stating that it feels like the arts are being devalued.

Seven arts organizations in Suffolk have been receiving funding from the council. These include DanceEast, Eastern Angles Theatre Company, First Light Festival, The New Wolsey Theatre, Primadonna Festival, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, and Suffolk Artlink. In a joint statement, these organizations voiced concern about how the decision will impact the people of Suffolk. They also pointed out that the funding cuts would only make a negligible difference to the council’s finances, as it represents just 0.057% of their revenue budget for 2023-24.

The council defends the cuts by claiming that they will provide more support for children’s services and adult care. Over the next two years, they intend to allocate an additional £42.7 million and £29.9 million, respectively, to these areas. However, Mr. Rintoul believes that there is a lack of appreciation for the contribution that the arts can make to the county’s health and social care systems. He is concerned that there is not enough openness to acknowledge this potential.

For Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre, the funding represents 80% of the subsidy committed to their engagement program, which benefits over 5,000 people. Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds uses the £100,000 funding it receives to run weekly classes for vulnerable members of society, including a sensory youth theatre for disabled and neurodivergent children. The artistic director, Owen Calvert-Lyons, expressed that they would have to make significant changes to their work due to the sizable funding cut and emphasized the importance of council support during such challenging times.

Even with the funding reductions, both New Wolsey Theatre and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds have affirmed that they will not be shutting their doors. According to Richard Rout, the council’s Conservative deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and the environment, the council has given these organizations a 12-month notice period to seek alternative funding sources. He acknowledged the value of the arts and museums and assured that the council has carefully scrutinized its spending.

The council’s proposals will be put to a vote during a full council meeting on February 15th.