East London arts groups prepare for funding cuts

Art, music and theatre groups from Tower Hamlets met at the Rich Mix on Tuesday (November 30) to plan for future funding cuts from Arts Council England (ACE).

A networking event at the Bethnal Green Road centre gave the borough’s arts providers, including the Grand Union Youth Orchestra and the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre company, an opportunity to discuss new funding rules.

Plans are also being formed for a borough-wide tour of arts groups by Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, in the new year to help raise their profile.

ACE’s regularly-funded organisations (RFOs) were told of cuts of nearly 7% to their funding for 2011-12 last month and they must apply by January 24 to get any funding for April 2012 onwards.

“We have to think about the possibility of losing Arts Council funding as it could realistically happen,” said Hannah Turner, 25, a co-ordinator for the Grand Union Youth Orchestra, based in Wentworth Street with a rehearsal space at Premises Studio in Hackney Road.

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She said: “We’re confident that what we do is unique and that we offer value for money.

“Because we are smaller and have a smaller work force, we can adapt more easily to cuts in funding, but it could mean that our level of output goes down.”

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ACE, which must make 29.6% of savings over the next four years, has admitted it won’t be able to support all 880 organisations which it regularly funds across England under the new system.

Representatives from the RFOs spoke with Denise Mellion of ACE and made presentations, including a DVD showing 42 young actors from the Half Moon Theatre performing Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World at locations across the borough, including the Ocean Estate in Stepney.

They also marked the location of their arts organisations on a borough map.

Ms Mellion, ACE’s combined arts manager, said: “Tower Hamlets is one of the richest boroughs in terms of the arts.

“I’ve seen representatives here from the theatre, music, from Rich Mix’s own programmes.

“We have tried to lessen the impact of cuts in the first year and then gone for an open application process, so that all RFOs are treated equally.

“We will have to make some tough decisions and excellence in terms of programming and showing strategic leadership will be important.”

Sarah Baiden, 19, who travels from Waltham Forest to act with the ATC Theatre, based in Godfrey Place off Hackney Road, performed a dramatic monologue.

She spoke of her disappointment that ACE can no longer fund their A Night Less Ordinary programme, which provides free theatre tickets to under 26-year-olds.

She said: “I don’t agree with cuts when it comes to the Arts Council. People don’t always realise how much making music or art brings people together.”

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