Towner threatened by substantial budget cut

Elena Chabo, 19.12.2017
Redundancies expected at Eastbourne art gallery
South-east England’s largest regional gallery faces a 50% cut in grant funding that could lead to redundancies, fewer exhibitions and events, and the end of its learning programme.

The Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne receives £614,000 a year from its biggest funder, Eastbourne Borough Council, which is proposing a 50% cut to the annual grant within four years, starting with a £200,000 reduction in April 2018.

Eastbourne says the Towner will be protected from financial cuts in the year 2019-20 but if the local authority’s budget continues to be reduced by central government, the Towner grant will be cut a further £50,000 in each of the following two years.

“The real tragedy of these cuts is that they are inevitably going to hit the work we do with the community of Eastbourne the hardest,” said Niamh Pearce, the acting director of the Towner.

The gallery, which cares for the building and the 5,000 artworks on behalf of the council, said that if all the proposed cuts are implemented it would only be left with enough money to maintain the collection and the property.

It would result in the end of its learning programme and the reduction of its exhibitions and events. It is also concerned that the cuts will threaten its Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation funding.

The Towner employs 37 members of staff and attracts about 150,000 visitors a year. The council invested £8m in the construction of the new Towner building, which opened in 2009.

Councillor David Tutt, the council’s leader, said that since 2010 the grant that Eastbourne receives from central government has fallen from £10m to £5m a year, the remainder of which is to be reduced by a further 30% this year.

“In this climate, when we have many competing pressures, including the need to spend more on addressing homelessness, as the Universal Credit changes hit many of the most vulnerable in the community, we have to make some tough choices,” Tutt said. “It is with no degree of satisfaction that we are cutting the budget for Towner, as the council is strongly supportive of the arts and the benefits that they bring to society.”

Tutt said that the Towner receives additional council support for back-office services, which brings the total funded by Eastbourne to more than £800,000.

“We have made it clear to Towner that we would be happy to help them to develop other sources of income, but they cannot continue to be isolated from the cuts government continue to impose on local councils,” Tutt said.

In a public report to cabinet in 2013, Eastbourne Borough Council pledged to maintain the level of grant provision to the Towner for four years but would then be reducing it.

David Dimbleby, the chairman of the Towner's board of trustees, said: "Towner has played a central role in the cultural and social life of the town, the surrounding area and further afield, for nearly 100 years.

"We could lose six out of 10 exhibitions a year, as well as our award-winning learning programme, putting at risk everything that Towner stands for."

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