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Scottish Children's theatre funding hits grants     

A BITTER row has broken out between theatre companies and the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) over whether a new drive to fund children’s theatre was coming at too high a price.
A day after new grants of close to £300,000 were announced by the arts council to three theatre companies that tour their work to children and young people, several established arts organisations reacted with fury to reports that their own future funding was in doubt.
There were bitter attacks on "destructive confusion" and a "short-sighted" boost for children’s theatre at the expense of cutting-edge theatre aimed at adults.
"They want to shift funding to children’s theatre, but they are going to end up with nothing else," said one theatre director.
On Tuesday, the SAC said it had advised a list of arts organisations that "their core-funded agreements will cease with effect from March 2005".
The decision raised fears the theatre company 7:84, founded 30 years ago by playwright John McGrath, faced the loss of its £225,000 council grant. Also told their "core-funded agreements" would cease were the Crawford Arts Centre, New Media Scotland, the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association, the Scottish Traditions of Dance Trust, the Scottish Community Drama Association, and the theatre companies Suspect Culture, Borderline and TAG.
Yesterday saw a major exercise in damage control as council officials contacted several of the organisations in an effort to reassure them they could re-apply for "core funding".
The Crawford Arts Centre in St Andrews, Fife’s leading art and craft centre whose galleries draw about 14,000 visitors a year, said it had received a string of anxious phone calls. The £48,000 it receives from the SAC accounts for about half its funding.
"I would like the council to get their act together so that this kind of mismanagement doesn’t continue," said Diana Sykes, the centre’s director. "It does seem that no decision has been taken to cease core funding from March 2005, but they will be reviewing whether to fund us during the forthcoming year."
The three children’s companies awarded new funding are Catherine Wheels, Visible Fictions, and Giant Productions. Additional money is also going to Wee Stories, a company due to tour England next year.
Lara Bowen, the general manager of Wee Stories, praised the arts council for taking "such a positive step towards building young audiences".
The row comes ahead of what is expected to be a major speech this Sunday by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, on the future of the arts and culture in Scotland.
The Scottish Executive is promising a major review of arts spending this winter and Frank McAveety, the culture minister, has shown a clear interest in youth theatre.
Eddie Jackson, of the Borderline Theatre Company in Ayr, said: "The arts council late in the day have suddenly discovered what the Jesuits knew and the banks and building societies have known for years - children are important.
"Instead of finding new money for children’s theatre, they are cutting what seems to be the adult projects. I think that is extremely short-sighted."
Mr Jackson complained of "clear inefficiencies" in the process of applying for grants, where his staff had been asked to submit their application for funding at the height of the summer festival season. The Borderline company has been reassured, however, that it will be asked to reapply for its grant of close to £200,000 next year.
The company, which employs nine staff, typically tours 15 to 18 venues with its productions, and sold 14,000 tickets last year, more than any other touring company. Recent productions have included Perfect Days by Liz Lochhead and Tally’s Blood, by Ann Marie di Mambro, the Italian-Scots playwright.
"If they cut companies like us out of the equation they are going to eliminate or destroy the process of taking arts to the people of Scotland," said Mr Jackson.
A spokeswoman for the SAC said last night: "We fully intend to support touring drama for adult audiences. But the truth is that we have finite resources, although we value every art-form equally.
"We simply cannot afford to support all of the organisations that we believe deserve support."
The Glasgow-based Suspect Culture company is meeting SAC officials on Monday, said Graham Eatough, its director.
"This is confusion to a fairly destructive degree. The signals that the arts council are sending out couldn’t be more mixed," he said.
The Scotsman  
web site
Tim Cornwell
Sunday, December 07, 2003back



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