Sting, Knopfler and Ferry condemn Newcastle arts cuts

Sting Sting is among a host of north east cultural figures who've condemned arts cuts in Newcastle

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As a council leader you have to be prepared to slug it out with the political opposition.

But you might not expect to have to take on the likes of Sting, Mark Knopfler and Bryan Ferry.

Yet that's what's facing Newcastle Council's leader Nick Forbes.

The local authority has announced plans to end all funding of arts organisations in the city.

It says it has been left no choice because of unprecedented cuts in government support.

Mr Forbes has said the alternative would be to cut "life and death" services to vulnerable people in the city.

But a group of musicians, writers and artists connected to the region believe there is a choice, and Newcastle has made the wrong one.

They're led by Lee Hall, writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, and a man who began his career in the city.

Start Quote

Mark Knopfler

It is mortifying and shaming that these 100% cuts should be in Newcastle, which has always enjoyed such a rich tradition in the arts”

End Quote Mark Knopfler Former Dire Straits singer

He's now assembled a cast list of north east artistic legends to sign an open letter urging the council to think again.

As well as the aforementioned Sting, Knopfler and Ferry, the campaign has the support of Angel sculptor Antony Gormley, Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant, folk musician Kathryn Tickell, actors Alun Armstrong and Robson Green and Auf Wiedersehen Pet trio Tim Healy, Jimmy Nail and Kevin Whately.

'Short-sighted attack'

The letter is a stinging indictment of the council's approach, which the signatories believe will "decimate the cultural life of the city."

It says: "Generations of young people will be denied access to the opportunities we were given and without the council's support the arts will become a pursuit for the most wealthy.

"By the council's own admission these cuts are blanket and pre-emptory.

"No strategy has been made to save any part of these thriving organisations and it seems to us a short-sighted attack on the arts and the idea that culture should be available to all."

The collection of artists believes the cuts are out of line with what's happening in the rest of the country, and asks for the reversal of what it calls a "baffling" decision.

In addition, some of the individual signatories have also waded in.

Musician Mark Knopfler said: "It is mortifying and shaming that these 100% cuts should be in Newcastle, which has always enjoyed such a rich tradition in the arts."

Bryan Ferry said: "I was born in the north east, went to school there and then studied fine art at Newcastle University. I think it would be very sad if young people in the north east today were not given the same chances that I had many years ago."

Bryan Ferry Bryan Ferry believes the cuts will deny today's young people the opportunities he had

And Lee Hall added: "The council is out of step with all other authorities. The list of signatories demonstrates Newcastle is remarkable in having produced so many artists who did not come from privileged backgrounds."

Sign of the times

The signatories talk about the decision being economically short-sighted.

And on the face of it, it does seem odd that a city that saw culture at the centre of its renaissance a decade ago should now be withdrawing funding from arts organisations.

But the council insists this is a sign of the times. In the late 1990s and early 2000s councils were queuing up to fund arts organisations and support new venues.

At the time all those organisations would bank on getting council support well into the future, but money is indisputably tighter now. The council is making £90m of cuts in the next three years.

Nick Forbes insists he's withdrawing arts funding reluctantly.

He said: "The cut in government grant is grossly unfair - at a time when more and more families are turning to us for help.

Start Quote

Nick Forbes

Financially, this has put us in an impossible position from which there is no escape”

End Quote Cllr Nick Forbes Leader, Newcastle Council

"Financially, this has put us in an impossible position from which there is no escape.

"We will not abandon the residents of this city, but as we cease to provide some services they will have to do more for themselves and expect less from the council."

Cultural greats

And when I posted some of the artists' comments on Twitter, there was some backlash from people who suggested they would have been better advised to address their concerns to the government.

Some even thought the likes of Sting, Ferry, and Knopfler might have enough money to step into the breach and solve the problem rather than highlight it.

But this coterie of cultural greats looks unlikely to step away from its fight with the council. It believes there is an alternative even in austere times.

And on that score they seem to have found an unlikely ally in Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who has also told Newcastle's leadership to take its cultural responsibilities more seriously.

The question is can Newcastle Council now resist pressure from a supergroup of Sting, Ferry, Knopfler and Pickles, or will we all eventually have to accept our local authorities can no longer fund the arts?

Richard Moss Article written by Richard Moss Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria

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  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    In bleak times everyone needs to make cuts in order to survive. Buy the essentials, don't buy the luxuries. If the City Hall can't support itself due to low attendances then surely not many people will miss it, however, if it is that important I'm sure Sting, Knopfler & Ferry et al could buy it and run it themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    How Pickles has the audacity to get behind this campaign is beyond me!

    Its his ideological war against urban local government that's causing this problem not some kind of arts purge by struggling councils like NCC.

    Sadly the arts will suffer when Councils have to chose between which vital services to fund after having to find an extra 1.5% on top of the other massive cuts already imposed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    In a week or two's time the bankers bonuses will be announced.

    Realise that in order that the bankers can have a bonus there has to be cuts.

    The bigger the cut - the bigger the bonus.

    It's the way things are. The world over.

    The world belongs to the bankers.
    We are all just also rans.

    And who cares about Newcastle art scene anyway?
    Certainly not a banker.
    They are the only ones that count....

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Just a second, according to the interactive map just produced, Newcastle's 2013-14 budget is a cut of 1.5%.

    Can someone please explain how a 1.5% cut in a council's budget translates into a 100% cut in the arts budget? Am I missing something?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Mr.Ferry, much as I love your music, please can you direct your anger towards your beloved Tory govt, who started off this whole cuts nonsense (whilst avoiding reclaiming money lost to bankers) ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Celebrity and riches dim the knowledge that art, like love, will always find a way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Who voted Labour in Newcastle? Of course they put the blackest spin on anything to try and make the Coalition look bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Irrespective of what taxes these 'stars' pay are they not aware of the concept of philanthropy.Where would much of our arts,education and rich heritage be without generous wealthy individuals of the past giving back to society? Do they not owe something to their beloved north east?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Those who object are all rich men, i wonder how much tax they all pay in the UK.



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