Bleak picture for galleries as more cuts loom

Victoria Pommery is already carrying out the unenviable task of scenario planning in the event of further cuts to her budget.

The director of the Turner Contemporary, the gallery that opened in Margate, Kent, two years ago, said: “We’re thinking about what we won’t be doing or can’t do because there isn’t the investment there for us to deliver.”

Based in one of the poorest wards in the UK, the gallery receives public funding from Kent county council and Arts Council England. But it has taken steps to expand its self-generated income, forming relationships with businesses such as local brewer Shepherd Neame and the London Array wind farm.

The gallery has pulled in 900,000 visitors since its launch, and Ms Pommery is proud of the economic impact on the community. She cites research that 35 businesses – cafés, artists’ studios and galleries – had started up in the town because of the gallery’s presence. It employs 50 directly, with another 80 jobs indirectly.

But she said there was little room for manoeuvre at arts organisations that were already lean and well-run. “The idea we can make big efficiency savings is not an option. It would mean we’d have to entirely rethink how we do things.”

Godfrey Worsdale, director of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, is concerned about the threat to arts bodies across the northeast region and to operating budgets in the former flour mill that is home to the Baltic.

Mr Worsdale said: “I run a very large building with high fixed costs. Ultimately, this bears down on artistic excellence and that’s what we’re here to do.”

He says the funding crunch has brought out “incredible creativity” among arts managers in generating fresh income streams. But he adds: “Now the tough decision for arts funders is: do we want to sustain a lot of institutions that are barely surviving or – equally unpalatably – reduce the total number of institutions.”

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