Audiences against cuts in theatres

From Nicola Merrifield of The Stage: 

Ruth Mackenzie has issued a rallying cry to theatre leaders to mobilise their audiences against imminent cuts to public funding for the arts, which are expected as part of the government’s comprehensive spending review taking place at the end of this month.

The director of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad said that theatres need to encourage their audiences, who are “more powerful” than venues, to lobby local and central government and prevent further falls in funding.

It is understood that Arts Council England is asking its funded organisations to model for 5%, 10% or 15% cuts following the CSR, and is briefing companies this week.

Mackenzie said: “The spending review is happening now, and it will be finished by the end of next week. We’ve got only days if we want to try and influence its path.”

She added: “Try to motivate particularly your super fans – those who are your absolute core. Maybe they’re your volunteers, maybe they’re parents of those that do learning and education work, because those are the ones who have a really good script of their own about why you matter.”

Mackenzie, who was speaking at the Theatres Trust conference on Tuesday, warned that one of the “great weaknesses” of past arts campaigns was that they were led by organisations rather than audiences.

“Our audiences can speak more powerfully than us,” she said. “So you’ve got, at most, a week – and in that week if you wished you could mobilise your audience to talk to your local MPs.

She said most ticket buyers for theatres in the UK were women aged between 35 and 60 – the same area of the electorate that chancellor George Osborne was “most concerned with”.

“Your greatest fans are the people he most wants to seduce,” she said.

Warning that the arts sector has been “slightly complacent” about its work being overlooked due to the prioritisation of other public services, such as health and education, by the government, Mackenzie said audiences should have been ready to act last year.

“Your audiences ought to have been ready, your audiences ought to have come out last year. We ought to have had ten million people who go to the theatre every year signing a campaign and going completely crazy just about the threat that the Department for Communities and Local Government could get a 10% cut,” she said.

Mackenzie added that arts venues should establish ways of using their community connections to create a “wonderful tapestry that shows theatre is at the heart of the community”.

“Each one of you needs to stop and reflect on what more you can do because we are running out of time,” she said.

Mackenzie has previously been artistic director of the Chichester and Manchester festivals, as well as being an adviser to government on cultural policy.

To sign up to the My Theatre Matters! campaign, run by The Stage, Equity and the Theatrical Management Association, visit www.mytheatrematters.com

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