GATESHEAD Council, which annually invests a total of £1m in Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and The Sage Gateshead, remains committed to the principle of subsidising the arts, according to leader Mick Henry.
He was speaking last night after the Sage’s annual meeting while, over the Tyne, hundreds demonstrated as Newcastle City Council cabinet members discussed budget proposals that include a 100% cut (£1.6m) in its arts subsidy.
Coun Henry, who sits on the boards of the borough’s two flagship arts venues, said Gateshead Council would make no sudden or drastic cut to arts funding.
But he warned: “Everything is becoming incredibly difficult in terms of the savings we have to make.
“If Government-imposed cuts do hit us harder and harder and faster and faster, then any organisation can only sustain so much.”
He said the council was two years into a programme of savings which had cut £60m and 1,100 jobs, “largely voluntarily and in consultation with unions”.
But, he said, further savings would have to be made and the council was bracing itself for the impact of the Government’s proposed localising of council tax which could cost it millions of pounds.
“I think everybody at Baltic and Sage are aware that the reliance on public funding has to be reduced over time and we’re working to achieve that,” he said.
“But we’re not about to suddenly say there’s no money for the Sage or Baltic. We want to do things in a phased way.”
Coun Henry said the authority was trying to enlist community support to sustain a network of libraries and remained committed to protecting the biggest part of its budget, dedicated to adult social care.
Sage general director Anthony Sargent said his organisation had a turnover of £14m, but the council contribution enabled it to run programmes benefiting, among others, dementia sufferers and young adults with learning difficulties.
Last night Lord Falconer, a senior member of the last Labour government, officially replaced Lord Puttnam as the new chairman of the Sage.
He said the way forward may prove difficult, but “with a leader like Anthony Sargent and a local authority like Gateshead committed to its success, I have no doubt that The Sage Gateshead will weather the storms that are ahead”.
He said the Sage stood for “the highest quality of culture and also for making sure that all of that culture will be accessible to as many people as possible”.
Lord Puttnam, who is to remain as patron, described the Sage as one of the world’s premier performance venues.
Also last night Gateshead Council chief executive Jane Robinson, formerly number two at Arts Council England, North East, was voted onto the Sage board. Outside Newcastle Civic Centre, meanwhile, protesters urged that vital services shouldn’t be pitted against each other for survival as the council strives to find £90m savings over three years.
Representatives from the arts, leisure centres, libraries and the social care sector were joined by unions UNISON, RMT and GMB as they gave speeches defending their facilities.
Drummond Orr, production manager at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, who came to show his support, said: “Look at the Quayside now. Its regeneration has all been arts based. It just doesn’t make sense economically.
“What I really resent is arts being pitted against social care. We’re a first world country. We should not be choosing one over the other.
“There’s evidence to suggest that for every £1 of subsidies the arts get, they generate £4 for the local economy so these cuts are nonsense.”
Graphic designer Helen James, 46, from Heaton, said: “The arts are an integral part of society, alongside swimming pools and libraries. They are what all communities need, they are the basis and without them things start to crumble.
“It’s fundamentally wrong that these cuts have to be made.”
Artist Donna Cheshire, also from Heaton, joined the protest with daughters Suzy, six, and Tilly, eight.
She said: “As a family we use all the arts facilities in the area. It’s vital people have access to the arts when their own budgets are so tight.”
Families who joined the protest against the proposed closure of two respite centres for the disabled told crowds how the cuts could cause them to plunge into a crisis.
Campaign leader Nicola Vose branded council plans “disgraceful” as they would leave her struggling to cope with the care of her two disabled children.
Nicola, 40, from Kenton Bar, said: “The stress levels carers face without support is detrimental to their health and we have all read about the terrible cases of how, when carers can’t cope, they have taken their own lives and their children’s too. I know only a small proportion of Newcastle’s population use the centres, and libraries and swimming pools are being hit too, but these disgraceful cuts to respite truly are a matter of life or death.”
Metres away, in an upstairs meeting room, council cabinet members commented on their three-year budget proposals.
Describing Government-imposed funding cuts as a “black day” for Newcastle, Coun Hazel Stephenson insisted: “None of us in the city council wish to be in this position.”
After the meeting cabinet members agreed to launch a public consultation into their budget proposals and asked to hear from residents, businesses, voluntary and community groups.
To comment, go to www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk/budget2016 or email email@example.com or write to Let’s talk, Room 161, Civic Centre, Barras Bridge, Newcastle, NE99 2BN. The consultation runs until February 1, 2013.