Shetland Arts has been refused money upfront from Shetland Charitable Trust to help prepare for the opening of Mareel. Instead the organisation is to be told to find savings from within its £12.2 million cinema and music venue project or get its supporters to raise extra funds through music or other events.
Yesterday’s snub to Shetland’s flagship arts centre was greeted with disappointment by Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons who was surprised that trustees did not know that any savings from capital spending could not be used towards running costs.
Shetland Arts had asked for a £30,000 advance from the maximum £100,000 one-off grant that the charitable trust agreed in 2007 to help underwrite Mareel’s expected losses during its first year of trading. It wanted the cash to buy stock and pay for marketing in advance of its opening next June.
Trust financial controller Jeff Goddard said Shetland Arts effectively wanted the agreement changed to get the money as a grant rather than to underwrite losses.
But trustees rebelled against the approach, led by Gary Robinson, with the only supporter of advancing cash being Florence Grains. Mr Robinson branded it “slightly like blackmail”, expressing surprise that Shetland Arts had not anticipated the need to buy stock in advance and carry out promotion of the new centre.
He criticised the hiring of London PR and branding firms Make Happy and Franklin Rae when the marketing budget was already over-burdened. “What are they playing at?” he snorted, before inviting Shetland Arts to come down and join the same planet as the rest of us.
Mr Robinson was incensed by comments made by Mr Gibbons on local radio to the effect that funders of Mareel would be outraged if the trust was to refuse the advance.
He moved that it be refused with the £100,000 remaining in the budget for next year to underwrite a loss. However, he did leave the door ajar for Shetland Arts to return with a much better explanation of why it needed money upfront – but only once it had raised some funds itself or found savings. Allison Duncan was quick to second him.
Another enemy of Mareel, trustee Jonathan Wills, said if Shetland Arts does not find the money itself then only the cinema should be allowed to open next year because it is projected to make a profit. He said he was sorry if that would disappoint people.
He also called for the “London-based consultants” to be fired, adding that they should never have been hired.
Even Mareel converts like Laura Baisley, who said she had taken a lot of stick for her support, were disappointed by Shetland Arts’ approach seeking to change the three-year-old agreement with the trust. She called on supporters of Mareel to rally together and put their hands in their pockets for a tenner.
She described it as “throwing down the gauntlet”. “Let’s say to Mareel: go and look for your supporters and see if they can help out. Let’s see what sort of support you’ve got in the community.”
It was actually Mr Robinson who pointed out that it was already Shetland Arts’ intention to do so before the end of this financial year.
Gussie Angus said the project’s budget seemed “as chaotic as ever” and he dismissed the projected audience figures for film and music as “in their dreams”. To grant money upfront for Mareel would, he said, send a signal to the struggling voluntary sector that there was one rule for them and one made for others.
Anderson High School headteacher Valerie Nicolson said too little detail had been given by Shetland Arts to justify why it needed the advance. She said in her job she was required to “account for every ha’penny”.
Mrs Grains, who is the council’s culture spokeswoman, supported the advance, criticising opponents for appearing to prefer to have an empty building standing and the resultant waste of millions of pounds being of no consequence. She failed to get a seconder to advance the £30,000.
Betty Fullerton persuaded her colleagues to ask Shetland Arts to find the money from savings within the Mareel building budget. If it could not find that sum then the whole project “needed looking at”.