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I am sure that people who use the Centre will be asking the same questions about the future that we do as we look forward to the easing of restrictions. So this update frankly covers how we see things at present.
With the Arts Centre shut down because of Covid 19 most staff are furloughed, but three of us are remote working to keep the ship on course and picking up the administration after things stopped so suddenly. We will now struggle to fund the Centre and the programme in a situation that is so full of unknowns. It’s too early to tell what we have to work with or when we can think seriously of opening the doors again. What we do know is that the success of this last year will be the foundation of our future no matter how lean things are over the next few months.
Up to March this year the Centre had never been as busy or run as smoothly since it was founded back in 1981 when we restored a group of derelict buildings and built a sustainable Arts Centre. We have survived and prospered through Austerity because of our independence from revenue grant aid and our ability to programme without the support of public funding. Our course was set when we won a Times RIBA Community Enterprise Award in 1988 and since then we have developed each department of the Centre as a separate sustainable activity that has a role which contributes through team work to the Centre as a whole.
Newcastle Arts Centre also has had an exceptional year to date as a social enterprise that has beaten the downward trends on the High Street over the last 6 months.
Year on year turnover for all retail departments and public event spaces averaged an increase for the month of February of 27% ….a stunning result in view of the poor performance of larger retailers and leisure enterprises in the City.
This is undoubtedly due to the fact that we have focused on being a community destination with real content and notable because we have decided to withdraw from internet retail trading.
The Arts Centre hosts 84 organisations and groups mostly within the Arts, Education and Charity sector which together with our own programme of courses, Live Music and Exhibitions totals more than 1200 events per year all supported by more than 80,000 visitors per year. This has all come to a sudden stop. Our venues are silent together with the closure of our three shops, Café, Bar and Studios. Sadly, the shutdown has brought everything to a halt, 17 staff are furloughed, and scores of artists, performers and tutors are out of work and so far up to 200 events are postponed or cancelled.
Even so, within the scope of Government support we do not automatically qualify for grant aid from either the Business Continuity Scheme or the Arts Council of England’s Lottery Funded grants for organisations outside of the National Portfolio. We should have received support from the Business Continuity Scheme which is Business Rates related but our buildings have been incorrectly listed by the Valuation Office which means that two of our shops, our Café, Black Swan Venue and Bar, gallery and conference rooms are listed as ‘offices’ and ‘offices – other’ . So as we are not listed as “shops, bar or entertainment venues” therefore being overlooked by the administration of the grants.
A similar problem is with an application to the Arts Council – we clearly meet the “Art for All” criteria but as we have not needed to apply for direct revenue funding in the past we don’t qualify as an existing client and therefore will probably be excluded from support. A bit irksome as our venues are used by the Arts Council, Craft Council and Lottery for meetings and training.
We do sponsor, present and promote Jazz performances, festival and Art Exhibitions by artists and musicians funded by the Arts Council and this hopefully this may open the door to funding.
With all our venues and shops closed there is very little income for the Arts Centre and we are seeking a bank loan to take us through to a time when we are fully operational. Fortunately we own the Freehold of our buildings and have a very small mortgage.
Re-opening will happen with very lean funds and will be in stages and start with activities where the social distancing rules can be maintained. Regrettably the reopening of performance, social and meetings venues will be last. The need to serve artists, craft makers and education with supplies and the ability to open some studios will be first, and it seems best that we should use our courtyard as the public entrance where distancing can be maintained. To start with it is probable that we will not be allowing public access to our stock shelves but operating an old style counter service and requesting that customers make contactless payments where possible. Meanwhile, after the immediate pressure to get a sound administration and working budget established, we will be developing our online presence to share creative energy and get some income by retail trading.
Be assured, we will reopen, fresh and alive.
Take Care Everyone