Taunton’s Brewhouse Theatre closes doors and enters administration

- 21 February 2013

The Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre in Taunton closed on 21 February for the foreseeable future and has entered into administration.

Its artistic director and chief executive, Robert Miles, said that funding cuts had led to a deficit which it could not make up through operating income alone, due to the small size of its 352-seat auditorium.

A picture taken at the Brewhouse’s 35th anniversary in 2012

In a blog post on 21 February he apologised ‘to all the ticketholders, the artists, the local suppliers and other companies that rely on our business who will all be affected by at this very sad and unfortunate turn of events’.

These include Northumbrian smallpipes and fiddle player Kathryn Tickell, who had been due to appear on 13 March, and cellist Guy Johnston and the Navarra Quartet, due to appear on 14 March.

The theatre’s funding from Somerset Council was withdrawn after the council voted for a 100% cut in its arts budget in November 2010. Theatre management then learned in March 2011 that an application to Arts Council England to become a National Portfolio Organisation for 2012-15 had been turned down.

In March 2010 the Brewhouse received £487,500 of funding from ACE’s Sustain programme, ‘to maintain the quality of artistic output and resolve cash flow problems caused by loss of box office, trading and sponsorship. The award will also help to replace essential stage and IT equipment’. Miles said the money had ‘not only secured our finances at a time of global instability but it has given us the capacity to stimulate a sea change in the way we run the Brewhouse’.

Speaking at the time the council cuts were announced, conductor and local resident Charles Hazlewood told the Guardian: ‘The cut they’re proposing is just 0.0004% of the council’s total spend. And yet those 10 companies bring in more than £3.5m in revenue to the county. It’s just horrifying: there isn’t enough going on arts-wise in the West Country as it is.’

Robert Miles wrote today: ‘I predicted that our cultural infrastructure in Somerset may be one of the first in the country to collapse, because not only has the County Council ceased all sustainable investment in theatres and arts centres, but also because we were historically under-funded in the first place.

‘Arts Council England (ACE) annually spend £63 per person in London, in Bristol £36 and in Somerset just £3 per person on their national portfolio. ACE investment is so low because local authority investment has been so low.

‘The beauty of being unemployed is that I can say what I like, so here goes.

‘It is frankly daft to treat culture and the creative industries with such distain [sic]. The creative industries are a massive growth activity in this country, and god knows we need growth right now. There are thousands of creative people dotted across Somerset earning very good money &#8210 money that is spent in our local communities.

‘The problem is that we don’t see them, as they are living here for lifestyle reasons and working online in a third bedroom or in a converted shed. If you put them in a big factory together and then closed it down it may dawn on our illustrious leaders in county hall the scale of the sector. But they seem to lack the imagination to understand the opportunity of supporting creativity.

‘But as the leader of the county council said as he cut the arts budget “The party is over”. Sadly he didn’t understand that people enjoying themselves could produce an income. Not enough of an income with only 352 seats, so we needed support and investment to create that growth. But now any growth we offered is gone and our local economy shrinks a little more.

‘Our boarded up building in the centre of the county town will be the most visible sign of the disintegration of the cultural landscape in our beautiful county.’

The theatre’s 20 full-time and 35 part-time staff have reportedly all been made redundant as a result of the closure.

Paul Birch, chairman of the board of governors, told the Western Daily Press: ‘In short, taking tickets sales and other revenue streams together, The Brewhouse raises about 60% of what it needs to keep going and with inadequate public investment it is impossible to achieve this.’

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