A powerful Parliamentary Committee published its major three volume report on Theatres earlier today (Wednesday 23rd March) and states that Council owned theatres – like the Lichfield Garrick – should receive additional funding from the Arts Council and central Government. It pays tribute to the vision of Lichfield District Council in creating the Lichfield Garrick and urges the Arts Council to fund specific projects. Michael Fabricant says: "A ‘Garrick Season’ which could go on tour is the sort of project the Committee is thinking of. Tours of this kind, which should be funded by the Arts Council, not only promote Lichfield as a cultural venue, but attract visitors from all over the country and abroad enriching the economy of our area. As a Committee, we were concerned that the Arts Council is not critical enough of existing recipients of funding while not allowing new entrants, such as the Lichfield Garrick, to receive fresh funding for innovative theatre productions.
"The Culture Media & Sport Select Committee was hugely impressed with the evidence given by Councillor Colin Ablitt and by the Artistic Director, Paul Everitt at the formal hearings held in Birmingham and at the more informal visit the previous day in Lichfield. The Report makes frequent mention of the Lichfield Garrick alongside more established theatres such as The Royal Shakespeare and the Old Vic in London. And several of the Report’s recommendations – which must be addressed by Government – will have direct impact on the future funding and wellbeing of the Theatre. With the publication of this Report, we can be proud that the Lichfield Garrick has come of age. It is now in the big league", Michael adds.
Some relevant paragraphs from the Report are reproduced below. Sections in bold are Committee recommendations and must be responded to, in detail, section by section, by the Secretary of State.
73. The Lichfield Garrick and the Derby Playhouse also raised the question of how to get on the Arts Council funding ladder. Mr Paul Everitt, Artistic Director of the Garrick, said that "if the whole culture is going to work, then we must be creating work that reflects our whole community and the only way to really produce work that reflects the local community is to produce it yourself". But he told us that: "at the point we came to the Arts Council for funding, the bank was dry." Ms Karen Hebded, Chief Executive of the Derby Playhouse, posed the fundamental question of how best to support emerging companies, artists, theatres and art "whilst not losing the fabric and the important companies and culture that already exist." The Derby Playhouse itself grew from an amateur company in a building into a professional theatre company and producing house with Arts Council funding. Ms Hebded said that, since the Playhouse was late coming to the table, it got less funding now than other theatres in the region: "As far as we can tell it is all based on a historical model". Derby Playhouse’s submission called for measurable objectives to form part of funding agreements with theatres so as to highlight variations in the achievements of individual theatres.
74. Ms Kim Evans, acting Chief Executive of Arts Council England (ACE), said that, in the light of the recent funding settlement from DCMS, "we are going to make real choices based on individual need and we are committed to rewarding the excellent whilst recognising that sometimes those who are failing need support to get to the next stage." Sir Christopher Frayling, Chairman of ACE, claimed that the ebb and flow of funded organisations was greater than people realised and the funding ladder was a more open system than had been suggested. He cited the 34 new organisations taken on for regular funding after the spending settlement of 2002 and the system of project grants respectively as evidence.
75. We share the concern expressed by the Independent Theatre Council, and by some of the theatres who gave evidence to us, that the Arts Council seems to be entrenched in its existing funding programme. We believe that a more dynamic approach is needed rewarding new entrants, and existing theatre groups, who have innovative ideas while being far more critical of those recipients of funding who have failed to develop their original potential or to fulfil their commitments.
9. The Lichfield Garrick is a rare example of a new theatre developed on the back of the firm commitment of the district council to invest in, and fund, a sizeable theatre as the cultural hub of the local community. Discussion there centred around funding issues, especially for new and evolving arts organisations and initiatives, and the ambitions of the Garrick to itself move from receiving to production with a particular focus on creating a platform for local voices and providing opportunities for the development of local expertise (behind and above the stage).
37. Some local authorities had planning policies which sought to protect theatres and even require theatres (and other cultural facilities) to be replaced in some circumstances. The relatively new Garrick Theatre in Lichfield, which we visited, is a rare example of a local authority making a significant commitment, in terms of capital and on-going revenue funding, to a new theatre created on the site of a civic hall. As in our recent conclusions on the public library estate, we were interested in the use of "Section 106" agreements as a way of securing concrete benefits for the public from the planning process. Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 allows a local planning authority to enter into a legally-binding agreement, known as a "planning obligation", with a developer. Such agreements place either restrictions or obligations on developers for the benefit of the local community. We believe that new public amenities, such as libraries and theatres, are legitimate planning gains to which local authorities should aspire via Section 106 agreements. However, there was little evidence of this route having been used to develop new theatre buildings with the exception of Sir Peter Hall’s new Rose of Kingston Theatre. We recommend that the DCMS, in cooperation with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, make a report to Parliament on the use made of this legislative provision to secure arts and other cultural amenities to improve people’s quality of life.
The whole Report is available from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474 for £12.00
Alternatively, it can be viewed on-line at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmcumeds.htm or http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmcumeds/254/25402.htm