The Gardner Arts Centre (GAC) Board has announced that the spring season 2007 will be its last season in the Gardner Centre.
In making the announcement, the GAC said that it was faced with an increasingly competitive arts economy following decisions by the Arts Council and Brighton & Hove City Council to concentrate financial support on city-centre venues.
On 2 November the City Council announced that it was ending its £30,000 annual grant; and on 6 December the Arts Council South East decided to cease its £190,000 a year funding, because the GAC had not been able to produce a viable future business plan.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alasdair Smith, said: “Over the years, the Gardner Arts Centre has helped to pave the way for the now thriving and dynamic arts scene in Brighton and Sussex. It was a beacon for theatre and the arts for the local community when the University was founded in the 1960s. We should today remember its successes and pay tribute to all those involved.
“For the future, we will want this remarkable building, the Gardner Centre itself, to play an important part in the life of the University."
The University for its part had been committed to continuing to provide its annual funding of £125,000 a year to support the Gardner Art Centre’s activities as a service to the University community. In addition to this revenue support from the University, the Gardner Arts Centre has also had free use of the Gardner Centre itself and free access to a range of University services.
The University had worked with the GAC Board last year when it undertook a study, with the support of the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, to consider options for the physical development of the Gardner Centre building.
Development would be necessary if the GAC were to develop its mission in a way that would have seen it creating work rather than just presenting it – a prerequisite to allow it to seek continued funding from the Arts Council. The study suggested a capital investment of around £14m, a figure that the GAC Board felt unable to raise.
The University confirmed to the GAC Board that its capital funding priorities were focussed on the needs of teaching, research and the student experience, and that the University would not be in a position in the foreseeable future to commit a significant fraction of the substantial capital investment that this development of facilities for the GAC would require.
While a sad loss for community provision, the end of these Gardner Arts Centre activities will in practice have little impact on the University’s successful and thriving teaching and research programme in the arts, where Sussex has highly popular degrees in areas such as media studies, drama and film.
The Gardner Arts Centre is a separate organisation and has not played a direct role in the University’s arts teaching and research activities.
Teaching and research buildings on campus are being refurbished and developed to improve support for the University’s drama, film and other arts courses. For example, the Education Development Building in the centre of campus is being developed over two years as part of a £2m refurbishment programme.
The Gardner Arts Centre’s own financial situation in recent years has meant that even student drama productions have not been put on in the Gardner Centre because of costs charged by the Centre. Happily, though, two student societies will be putting on productions during the spring season.
For the future the University will seek to preserve the unique characteristics of this listed building, recognising that it offers social space, performance space and the largest tiered seating space on campus.
A group will be formed, chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Layzell, to examine options for the future use of the Gardner building. The group will consult academic staff and students (through USSU) and review the range of possibilities, including some that have been suggested in recent years, and make recommendations to the Strategy and Resources Committee by mid-2007.
The University has agreed with the GAC Board that the University will operate the building through to the end of summer 2007 to meet commitments to a number of external users who already have bookings. This includes bookings made by University schools and departments. During this period, additional bookings may be made through the Conference Office.
At this stage, the intentions of the GAC Board are not clear with respect to the café that operates in the Gardner building. The University is working with the Board to establish whether the café is viable once the main performance schedule is completed.