The Arts and Culture sector in Ipswich plays a vital role in the economy of our town and the wellbeing of our community. They have been thrust into the local spotlight recently thanks to the Conservative controlled Suffolk County Council (SCC) decision to cut their £528,000 per year arts funding.
Arts organisations and trade unions reacted with shock and anger at the plans.
The Arts wheeled out the big names: Judi Dench, a patron of Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, was “deeply shocked”, the national press picked it up and Andrew Lloyd Webber on BBC television criticised the “extremely short-sighted” plan and said, “arts are an integral part of our nation and they have got to be supported”.
The devil will be in the detail, but it looks like the Conservatives at SCC have seen sense and u-turned on their damaging cuts to arts and culture. However, we still have no clarity over whether they are still planning to close children’s centres, withdraw funding from housing support, or if they will push ahead with mass redundancies. There remains huge concern about the future of several crucial public services that so many people rely on.
The SCC proposal to end the core funding of £528,000 to nine arts and heritage organisations after the 2024/25 financial year, are still in place. This funding will be replaced with a new £500,000 project funding pot, open to all arts and heritage organisations, from April 2025.
Labour controlled Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) intends to continue funding Ipswich-based arts organisations which are recognised by the Arts Council as “National Portfolio Organisations” (Dance East, the New Wolsey Theatre, Gecko, SPILL and Eastern Angles).
IBC also provides a large free events programme in Ipswich plus an award-winning museums service at Christchurch Mansion, with Ipswich Museum due to reopen in 2025, following multi-million-pound investment.
The IBC arts funding is currently £185,000 per year. It is spread across five organisations: Dance East, SPILL festival, Eastern Angles, Gecko and New Wolsey Theatre.
As a younger man, I had the impression of “The Arts” as being something for highbrow luvvies. However, as I have matured, I have come to appreciate the Arts more. I loved the two Ipswich Town themed plays at the Wolsey – Our Blue Heaven and Never Lost At Home.
I am also very impressed by the efforts these organisations put into working in the community.
The New Wolsey theatre runs Youth Theatre Plus, which is specifically for autistic people aged 11-16 who will benefit from a more supported environment. They also run Youth Theatre Squared, which is specifically for disabled or neurodivergent people aged 16-25 who want to explore theatre making and develop their creativity. These groups are led by professional theatre people with experience in making theatre for everyone.
Arts also brings people together. People remember the SPILL festival with its Megabunny, giant eyes and the fantastic cardboard box version of Wolsey’s Tudor College. My son licked a 9-volt battery and held a lump of ice for as long as he could as part of the 50 Dangerous Things you should let your children do workshop! Great activities for bringing young and old together.
Keir Starmer recently said that he “will make sure more children study sport or a creative arts subject until they are sixteen.” He argued that subjects such as music, art and drama build confidence as well as communication, critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills.
The Arts are a key part of our local economy and vital to the health and wellbeing of Ipswich people. Ipswich Labour is proud to support them.