Amid ‘arts funding crisis’, Aberdeen could look to Wolverhampton Grand Theatre for inspiration
A Scottish Government committee was recently warned that Aberdeen was facing an ‘arts funding crisis.’ Giving evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s Arts Funding Inquiry, Ken Hay, speaking on behalf of Culture Aberdeen, said that a 19% reduction in Aberdeen City Council’s cultural funding this financial year had left the city’s arts sector in a precarious position.
“The challenge is that local authorities, given that they have no statutory requirement to be bothered about culture, will focus on the many other things that they have to be bothered about,” Hay said.
“At the moment, ambitions locally – whatever they are – are always trumped by the need to empty the bins or to ensure that kids get education.”
“The only way we can continue doing what we are doing is by looking at alternative sources, but that affects all the other cultural organisations as well. We all start chasing those other areas, and that puts increasing pressure on them. Unless those sums have gone up, we have that conundrum.
“It also means that we spend more and more money on chasing money, which is slightly absurd.”
The situation has strong echoes of the one that confronted Adrian Jackson when he became CEO of Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in 2015.
"Within months of my joining the Grand in 2015, the removal of the local authority
grant was confirmed." Jackson explains.
"The impact of this funding cut would amount to £1.5 million over five years, turning forecast breakevens from the current operating model into unsustainable deficits. Dealing with this challenge was going to require not just one strategy, but several."
The theatre which opened in 1894 has huge local and national historical significance. It was at the Grand that Lloyd George launched his post-war general election campaign in November 1918. Jackson fully understood the significance of his task.
"I identified three key areas for immediate action: improving the theatre’s front-of-house areas, including bars, the foyer and function rooms, to encourage both greater usage and increased revenues; a full review of financial deals; and the implementation of dynamic pricing practices.
"A committed board of trustees supported a clear vision and worked in partnership with the executive team to facilitate delivery in each of these areas. The buy-in of an enthusiastic staff team with, in some cases, previously underutilised skills, was invaluable."
Jackson realised that performing arts alone would not sustain the historic venue. A significant refurbishment led to a huge uptake in businesses holding events on the premises. I just three years, the number of businesses running events at the Grand has increased by six hundred percent.
This was just one of the innovations that led to the Grand being completely self-sustaining and requiring no public money to operate. The full story can be read here.