Rural life hit as theatre company cannot afford to travel

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THEATRES, galleries and museums across Yorkshire have suffered huge funding cuts this year as almost every authority in the region scales back its spending on the arts.

While no major facilities have actually closed so far, most are now operating with reduced staffing levels and scaled-back opening hours, with budgets for new programmes cut dramatically.

For many organisations, cuts to local authority grants have been compounded by heavily-reduced funding from the Arts Council – a twin blow that has left many theatres struggling for survival.

“It has had a huge impact,” said Murray Edwards, chief executive of the Theatre Royal in Wakefield, which lost £100,000 in council funding in April as well as its Arts Council support.

“This was only announced in February. When you’re as economic as we are, when you’re only a small organisation like we are, to find that sort of money in a couple of months is impossible.

“We had to let five staff members go – that’s about a fifth of our total staff. Obviously that had a huge impact upon them, and everybody left behind also feels the strain because we’ve all got so much more to do. We’ve had to change our focus as a result.

“I’m not surprised in a way – we are a soft target. But is it right? Of course it isn’t.

“We contribute to the economy of Wakefield and we are a key part of what is supposed to be a culture-led regeneration here, with the Hepworth Gallery and the sculpture park and the mining museum.”

Over in Scarborough, the famous Stephen Joseph Theatre had 84 per cent of its funding cut by North Yorkshire County Council in April.

“We had no idea it was coming – and we still haven’t had an explanation,” said the theatre’s artistic director, Chris Monks. “North Yorkshire certainly didn’t have its funding cut by 84 per cent.

“We had been going out around North Yorkshire and performing in village halls and touring in little communities where they just do not get these sorts of performances – that has had to stop completely. We are scrimping and saving now.

“We are still going into schools and doing work with them because we think it is just too important to stop – but these are things you would expect the local authority to help fund.

“The county council’s entire performing arts budget is now just £30,000 – that is peanuts, a token gesture.”

Another city that was braced for massive cuts to its arts and museums service was Sheffield.

But when Labour swept into city hall in May’s local elections, they pledged to reverse many of the most unpopular cuts planned by the incumbent Liberal Democrats. Funding to Museums Sheffield and the Graves Arts Gallery was partially restored as a result.

“We felt it was important to find extra funding for these bodies,” said the council’s new deputy leader, Bryan Lodge.

“Local schools and the city as a whole will feel the benefit.”