No bottomless pit of cash available, arts chief Howell tells community council

The “funding fairy” culture, the idea that there was a bottomless pit of money for Shetland Arts, has to go.
So said Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell, addres­sing a meeting of Lerwick Com­munity Council on Monday.
He had been invited to the meeting following a constituent’s fear that the Garrison Theatre was being “starved of support”.
Mr Howell explained that
Shet­land Arts was funded by Shetland Charitable trust, and ran the theatre under contract to the trust.
The Garrison generated income in three ways – one being “con­versations” between the theatre and the landlord (the charitable trust). The other two ways, which bring in around £50,000 per year, were from earned income from users and income from organisations (such as Creative Scotland).

Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.
Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.

But ideally more was needed, Mr Howell said, even though theatre in general was one of the “most heavily subsidised” of all the areas Shetland Arts supported.
He referred to findings which emerged from a survey of people from the theatre world and the public about the future of theatre in Shetland following a series of meetings.
Five key areas on the Shetland residents’ wish list were more youth opportunities, a well-maintained and well-run space and subsidised use for Shetland-based drama groups, as well as professionally-led community productions and high-quality touring productions. Mr Howell said that £100,000 per year would be needed to deliver these objectives, thus there was a shortfall of £50,000.
He implied that funding for the Garrison was a constant problem – at present, he said, the Garrison was “too cheap to hire” – the cost of £104.16p per day plus VAT had not increased since the building was taken over from the Islesburgh Trust in 2007.
This did not compare well with Lerwick Town Hall, which he cited as £30 per hour, and he said Garrison hire prices would be going up within the next two weeks. He would be writing to hirers shortly.
He added that the Garrison only set ticket prices for its own shows, such as those staged by Shetland Youth Theatre – groups hiring the theatre set their own ticket prices.
Shetland Arts was committed to run the Garrison until March next year, Mr Howell said, but there were many other places in the isles where theatre could be staged, although the Garrison was the only “proscenuim arch theatre” [which creates a “window” around the scenery and performers].
However, there were “long-term structural issues” in many parts of the building which required “significant investment”.
Other areas Shetland Arts looks after are Mareel and the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale. Regarding Mareel, Mr Howell said that in the first year of operation audience figures for the cinema had been “unbelievably high”, thanks in part to blockbusters such as Skyfall.
Figures were lower last year, but Mr Howell said: “We are where we expected to be.”
He said he was looking to develop “alternative cinema” – that is filming of theatre events such as The Crucible and Love’s Labours Lost – and said “there’s more we can do”.
Streaming (albeit recorded) had proved successful, and “event cinema” would be a good thing to explore. This could include events like Wimbledon, or anything that could be enjoyed in a “group setting”.
Mr Howell called Mareel an “incredible facility” where around 28 students are studying music. Discussions are taking place with Shetland College about courses in film-making and journalism, and the first apprentice in technical theatre (lighting, sound and setting up stage) will be recruited in May.
All this would encourage young people to stay in Shetland, he said, and it was “all positive”. He added: “I’m very excited about it all.”
Regarding Bonhoga, “serious thought” had to be given to the gallery, he said. He did not want to expand of that, but added: “Every­thing in Shetland Arts is up for review at the minute.”
What needed to be done, he said, was to develop a “collective vision”, together with other agencies, in­cluding the council, of what people want Shetland to be in 10 or 15 years time.
Meanwhile, Mr Howell is keen to continue supporting events in Shetland’s more remote areas with “whatever’s appropriate”



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