Bristol Theatre News

Bristol Creatives Ask Questions Over ‘Extraordinary’ Delays to Arts Funding

Struggling arts organisations in Bristol, came to City Hall this week to ask questions and speak to councillors about the impact of ‘extraordinary’ funding delays.

At full council in City Hall this week, Bristol creatives submitted questions and statements to Public Forum, to find out more about the desperate situation.

It comes in the month that arts organisations led by Equity, joined together on College Green in demonstration against 18 month delays to the funding applications which support their work in the city.

Campaigners said: ‘Instead of being told about funding decisions in October 2022, as planned, Arts Organisations and major cultural events will now have to wait until March 2024 to find out how much money they’ll receive – or if they’ll receive any money at all. This is only a month before the grant period starts and will mean organisations can’t plan for the future – leading to loss of work, income and closures in the interim.’

At the demonstration outside of City Hall last week, Lotte Nørgaard told those gathered about the impact on early years theatre company DragonBird Theatre, saying: “To not hear and to keep being fobbed off as to when we will hear, the reality of that is that we have lost hope.”

Just this week, Theatre Bristol announced its closure after 18 years supporting artists and live performance in the city.

The board of directors released a statement saying: ‘Following the news in November 2022 that Theatre Bristol will no longer be part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, along with recent decisions made by Bristol City Council to delay funding decisions, the Board and Staff have worked tirelessly to find alternative business models and viable funding routes to sustain the organisation’s valuable work. However, the current cultural landscape and uncertainty around core funding has led to the decision that the organisation can no longer continue.’

At Full Council, Bristol creative and South West Equity Councillor, Rachel Fagan, spoke to the council chamber saying that the “city’s creatives are in despair,” calling for “no delays, no cuts” and to “restore arts funding.”

Rachel Fagan reads a statement to Full Council

Fagan said: “Despite the misinformation being given to the press and other councillors about how all arts organisations are being given interim funding, we know this is untrue.

“Theatre Bristol has now announced it is no longer financially able to continue due to the delay in funding.

“This is the reality of the Mayor’s decision. It places creative workers’ jobs at risk now, and is damaging the creative fabric of the city for all of Bristol’s inhabitants.

“The council has a decision to make. Are you going to let this financially destructive lack of decision making for all the arts organisations across the city stand? Or are you going to inspect why these decisions have been delayed? Why a new procedure has been invented? And who this new independent panel will be?

Ian Harris had questions for Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, asking: “Given the way the One City Plan celebrates the vital role culture and the creative industries play in
lives of Bristol people, it’s economy and in terms of its international reputation – why did you instigate a lengthy delay to the original decision deadline of October 2022 for the BCC Cultural Investment Programme?”

Marvin Rees responds to questions about arts funding in Full Council

In response, Rees said: “We made a decision in Cabinet in 2020 about the way we wanted the process to work. Unfortunately, the officers followed an old process rather than the one we’d agreed on. And on that basis, we asked for the process to be run again in line with the principles we’d laid down.

“Unfortunately because the process has to be run again, it does involve a delay. But our commitment is to follow the principles around inclusion, diversity and sustainability and actually do things in line with the delivery or the sustainable development goals. This new process will do that.”

Harris asked the mayor for further detail to his response.

Rees said: “Other than to say what we agreed in 2020 was to have a group of people from the cultural community come together and cast an eye over the decisions and work through that process. One of our real concerns about the old process was that it was very opaque. So that when you look at the scores the different organisations received, some organisations would receive high scores and not receive funding. Others would receive lower scores and get funding. So there was no real transparency over how those decisions were actually being made. Because of the opaqueness of the process being made in rooms in the council. And we want to iron out those inconsistencies within the way funding is allocated. And clearly what we want to do is make sure the cultural sector as well is one that is on the forefront of our aim in Bristol of delivering an inclusive and sustainable city. And putting these processes in place will make sure that that happens.”

Ian Harris calls arts funding delay ‘extraordinary’

Responding with a follow up question, Harris said: “Given that a rigorous process had already been conducted by council officers in previous years, and given the impact that it has upon the arts community – your 18 month delay – it seems extraordinary.”

Rees replied: “The delay isn’t across the board of all cultural funding, there’s a particular area that will be impacted, we recognise that. And money will be carried forward. But our contention is that is it a rigorous process. If we have a process that we think lacks clarity in which the scores do not necessarily line to the funding decisions that are being made and hasn’t necessarily included the city to the extent that we would want it included – that needed to be changed.

“The fact that the process was run on the old guidelines and not the ones that we as democratic elected leaders asked to be put in place, was an issue. And one that we have to correct. We don’t want anyone to be challenged financially. I think as a city in the face of wicked financial challenges we have invested heavily in the cultural sector. And not only have we done that, we’ve brought cultural sector into city leadership in a way that hasn’t happened before through the One City Plan and the Culture Board.

“But nonetheless, we think it’s really important to be on top of the process and make sure that the process delivers the outcomes that the city needs right now and that’s about inclusion and sustainability and to make sure it’s transparent.”

For more information about the arts funding campaign:
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