Ilkley Literature Festival opposes funding cut proposals

Rachel Felburg, director of Ilkley Literature Festival
Rachel Felburg, director of Ilkley Literature Festival
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As arts funding is squeezed, Ilkley Literature Festival’s Rachel Feldburg on why continued investment in culture is vital. Yvette Huddleston reports.

When money is limited, arts projects are often the first to have their wings clipped by local authorities desperate to balance the books.

The latest local organisation to be affected is Ilkley Literature Festival which is facing a 100 percent cut to its annual funding from Bradford Council from April this year.

One of the most prestigious literary festivals in the country, attracting acclaimed international authors, Ilkley is now in its 42nd year and is the largest and most well-established in the North of England.

While the £11,178 Bradford Council contributes each year might sound like small beer, it’s money which enables the festival to deliver not only the annual two and a half week October festival, but a year-round programme of events working with children and young people in schools in inner city Bradford and Leeds.

The festival team is also busy throughout the year with mini-festivals and one-off events. Last June, for example, they presented the three-day Poetry in the City event at City Park in Bradford in partnership with the World Curry Festival which featured workshops, free family events and readings from Simon Armitage, Roger McGough and Ian McMillan.

“Councils are in an impossible position at the moment, being faced with difficult choices between making cuts in the arts and essential services and in the end the arts can’t be a priority,” says festival director Rachel Feldberg. “But if you don’t support and invest in the arts to allow access for all it ends up becoming incredibly elitist. What is worth stressing is that what is a relatively small amount of money does an awful amount for the district.”

The financial statistics appear to back this up. “Bradford Council’s support enabled us to attract a further £187,000 of investment from the Arts Council and our sponsors in 2014,” says Nigel Walsh, chair of the festival board. “Each year we generate a further £240,000 from ticket sales and contributed income, turning Bradford’s £11,178 contribution into £447,000, a 40-fold return on their investment.”

The risk to the festival, if it were to lose its funding from Bradford, is that it could have a knock-on effect with other funders, in particular the support it currently receives from the Arts Council. “The funding from Bradford Council helps to lever a lot of other money,” says Feldberg. “It’s a mark of confidence.”

Like many other arts organisations, the festival works very hard at fundraising – they attract sponsorship from national and regional companies each year – and 60 percent of their income is self-generated.

“We are lucky that we are attractive to quite a lot of business partners and sponsors,” says Feldberg. “It is particularly hard to do in the North of England and according industry experts, particularly this side of the Pennines. Given that situation, the fact that we had 23 sponsors supporting last year’s festival is something to be very proud of.”

Bradford Council will make its final decision on the festival’s funding later this month and Feldberg is urging people to make their views known.

“I think it’s been a useful debate and it has made people understand more about the Literature Festival and what we actually do,” she says. “I would like to think that Bradford Council will reconsider because it makes economic as well as artistic sense – and they have a good record on listening to a democratic voice which is very admirable of them. I certainly don’t feel that Bradford Council have anything other than good feelings and a supportive attitude towards us – I know this is not something they want to do.”

To support Ilkley Literature Festival, contact Bradford Council before February 26 via this link