STARS who publicly opposed cuts to the arts on Tyneside have been branded “Geordie ex-pats who have made their fortune portraying the North East” by an embattled city council leader.
But the call from Nick Forbes for the likes of Sting and writer Lee Hall to put something back into the arts in the city appeared to have backfired last night when it was pointed out that they paid for a music room at a primary school in Coun Forbes’s ward only last month.
The 24-strong list of North East talent – including actors Robson Green and Jimmy Nail and writer David Almond – said in a letter published in both The Journal and The Guardian on Monday that cutting off council funding to Newcastle’s arts venues would destroy cultural life in the city.
But in a scathing reply, council leader Nick Forbes told “Sting et al” they had misunderstood budget proposals and asked them to back up their words with actions. Coun Forbes put forward the idea of a “City Deal” for the arts in his letter, where taxes paid by local businesses would be kept by the council and redistributed to cultural venues.
He also suggested an arts endowment fund, the interest of which could be used for grants to spaces like the Theatre Royal, Laing Gallery and Tyneside Cinema – all of which currently face council funding being completely cut off.
Then he asked the 24 people who had signed the letter: “Would you consider showing your support in a practical way by making a financial contribution to the arts and culture in Newcastle?
“Would you give your time to help fundraise?” He added he wanted to “see back some innovative and creative solutions” from the group of artists, writers and musicians.
In the letter published on Monday, the Geordie stars said they were alarmed the council was spending £418m on a capital development programme for the retail sector while cutting the arts loose.
But Coun Forbes told them: “Unfortunately you have misunderstood the simple difference between capital and revenue spending.
“In the same way that you could get a mortgage to buy another house but couldn’t get one to pay for food and daily living expenses, the council cannot borrow more money for its day-to-day expenditure.
“There are no rabbits to be pulled out of hats.”
The council leader accused the stars of playing into the hands of the Tory-led Government who had imposed the cuts.
“To squabble among ourselves is to let the Government off the hook. They delight in seeing different interest groups in Newcastle quarrel.
“I hope you have looked through our budget proposals and seen that we are having to close respite centres which provide families with vital support. Just think about that, please, and put yourself in my shoes.”
He said accusations of short-sightedness from the 24 were “a bitter pill to swallow” given he had been warning of cuts for more than a year.
He finished: “It is easy to sign a letter to The Guardian; I would like to see those words backed up with action.”
But Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall has hit back at Coun Forbes’s comments, calling his suggestions “staggeringly naive”.
In response to what the high-profile signatories could do to help arts in the region, Mr Hall said: “Only last month Sting and I helped pay for a new music building at Hawthorn Primary School in Nick Forbes’s own ward.
“I have personally donated royalties and fees to local companies I work with.”
And he said the artists had not confused capital and revenue spending as Coun Forbes suggested.
“We in the arts are very familiar with this terminology and are not making the elementary mistake of asking for that money to be used to square this particular circle.” Mr Hall added he had repeatedly invited the council leader to debate arts cuts publicly but had received no response.
Despite criticism of the letter’s signatories being “ex-pats”, many of them still live in North East.
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