Cut to Waterside Theatre grant could spark collapse

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Cutting funding for the Waterside Theatre could lead to the whole project falling apart , the head of a leading Londonderry arts organisation has warned.

James Kerr, from the Verbal Arts Centre, issued the warning as part fo a delegation to the Stormont Culture Committee.

Mr Kerr told the Committee how the Waterside Theatre “is the only dedicated permanent arts facility in the Waterside in Derry.”

Referring to his colleague Iain Barr, the Chief Executive of the Waterside Theatre, Mr Kerr said: “He does all his theatre work and outreach with six staff, five of whom are funded through the core grant that the theatre gets from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

“Given that each one of those posts works interdependently, a cut to the grant would put the whole project at risk.

“It is a bit like a spider’s web. Whilst it is robust, if you cut one strand, the whole thing might fall apart.

“The illustration from that is that arts organisations in general are lean and agile and do an awful lot with a very limited resource.

“Rather than just knock-on effects to communities etc, the whole project might come to an end.”

Mr Kerr also outlined the parlous nature of arts funding during the briefing on budget cuts.

He stressed how important it was that local arts groups continued to be funded.

“We work at interface areas. We work with young people on the edge of care and in care.

“We work with special needs and mental health groups. We work with people with early-onset dementia and older people with Alzheimer’s. We work with children at primary and post-primary level who have shown educational disaffection, and we have introduced a range of qualifications across the organisations to try to get them back into learning in a positive way all the way up to A level.

“For example, the Waterside Theatre Company is working with the Diversity Project, especially with children and young people from ethnic minority backgrounds...The Playhouse is working all the way down into mid-Ulster. The Verbal Arts Centre is working across Northern Ireland, and the Waterside Theatre is working into Donegal as well. Those organisations have a wide reach. Predominantly, their work does not happen in buildings; it happens out there. We wanted to challenge the assumption that there was no good work happening in disadvantaged communities: it is literally in the DNA of the organisations round this table.”