Headlines in Tuesday's Argus (08.11.03) shouted 'Begging Bowl is held out by Dome'. Stories about support for the arts and culture certainly make good headlines and whilst 'begging' couldn't be further from the truth, it does raise an important debate about the cost and value we place on supporting culture in the City.
But first some facts - boring I know but important none the less! Brighton and Hove Council are being asked to consider a new revenue funding package for the Brighton Festival Society - the charitable trust that runs Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival. This is not an emergency bailing-out of some inefficient arts organisation but rather a considered decision to support and invest in the city’s major cultural assets over the next three years. Our proposal has been under discussion for many months. The decision will be the last piece in a complex jigsaw involving the Arts Council, our commercial sponsors and the Council. In three years time the Council’s investment in the Society will be £1.25m a year and represent about 20% of our revenue. By that time the Arts Council will be contributing at least £850,000, whilst ticket sales and other commercial income will account for two thirds of what is forecast to be a £6m turnover, making the Society one of the South East’s largest cultural organisations providing employment for 200 local people.
The Council is also considering what to do about a short term £1m loan that it has already made towards the capital cost of refurbishing the Dome. It is a condition of the Arts Council, who have put over £17m into the refurbishment so far, that this loan becomes a grant to the project. The final costs of the refurbishment are still being calculated but so far Brighton and Hove City Council have contributed £2m towards the £35m cost of refurbishing the Dome and Museum - successfully attracting additional funds from outside the City and making it great value-for-money.
So why does it cost so much to run the Dome? Surely with all those sell out performances it should be profitable? Well, no. Actually, in common with every other Arts Centre in the country, it requires subsidy to meet the overhead cost of running the three venue building. Brighton Dome compares favourably in terms of running costs and subsidy with similar venues like The Lowry in Salford or Warwick Arts Centre and is very affordable compared to the country’s leading arts centre - London’s South Bank which receives over £15m each year from the Arts Council. It is true that in the l998 business plan assumptions were made about the running costs of the venue, which proved to be incorrect. But that is not surprising considering how different the ambition of Brighton Dome is today compared to the pre-refurbishment days when it was a council run venue. The Arts Council are investing in Brighton Dome because of its importance to the cultural map of the South East and the quality of its artistic vision. Brighton Dome now attracts large audiences from all over the region and London - anyone who went to see Nitin Sawhney in the Concert Hall last Sunday will testify to that. Over 200,000 tickets were sold in the first year since its re-opening.
Part of the funding package being considered by the Council is to invest in the Brighton Festival over the next three years. The Festival already has attendances of over 300,000 but there is an opportunity to really develop an event that attracts high spending cultural tourists as well as local audiences. For a City that makes it’s living out of visitors and of culture in it’s broadest sense, this investment in the future is essential if we are going to continue to grow a sector that currently sustains 15,000 jobs and makes Brighton and Hove the success that it is. Fortunately for those of us who live here it offers us the chance to see the best in the world right on our doorstep, be it in the concert hall or on the street, at affordable prices and sometimes completely free!
Add to all this the work the Society does in encouraging people from all walks of life to enjoy the arts and its enormously valuable work with children and young people, like the weekly Circus School, then the City has a cultural asset that is the envy of many around the country. Brighton and Hove deserves no less.
Nick Dodds Chief Executive Brighton Festival Society
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