Future of the Towner ‘uncertain’ after cash cuts

editorial image

The future of the Towner in Eastbourne has been cast into doubt following a 50 per cent in funding by the council, according to officials at the gallery.

The council will tomorrow night (Wednesday December 13) approve a cut in funding from the public purse to the art gallery as part of major cutbacks across the authority.

Council bosses announced earlier this year they were looking at a raft of savings which would include slashing the £614,000 the council invests into the gallery by 50 per cent.

The council blamed a reduction in Government funding and said its priory was to avoid cuts to frontline public services.

A paper due to go before the council’s cabinet committee at the Town Hall tomorrow night asks councillors to approve the cuts.

But it has not gone down well with officials at the Towner, especially chairman of the board of trustees, broadcaster and Folkington resident David Dimbleby.

He said, “The council is proposing cuts that jeopardise the future of a critically acclaimed and popular arts organisation that attracts nearly 150,000 visitors a year.

“The 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 ten exhibitions a year, as well as our award-winning learning programme, putting at risk everything that the Towner stands for.

“As we have informed the council’s leadership, a cut of 20 per cent or more will have a serious impact on our ability to deliver the Towner’s charitable obligations.

“We will have to reduce our exhibitions and events. Our Learning Programme, which works with more than 10,000 people of all ages each year, including some of the most vulnerable people in our community, will come to an end unless we can secure philanthropic funding. There will inevitably be redundancies.

“A 50 per cent funding cut, which we now understand will be a reality within two years, means our grant will barely cover the costs of running the council’s property.

“This includes maintaining the gallery building and looking after the council’s collection of 5,000 artworks, both of which we do on its behalf. This in turn may seriously jeopardise our Arts Council England funding as we may no longer be able to offer our world class exhibitions programme. Despite developing our fundraising and commercial activities, we will not be able to replace the funding we receive from these key stakeholders.”

Mr Dimbleby encouraged people to continue lobbying council leader David Tutt.

“Hundreds of people have already written to the leader of the council in support of our gallery and I am very grateful to them all,” said Mr Dimbleby.

“From residents of Eastbourne and the surrounding areas to visitors and supporters from much further afield, we have been moved by these messages and touched by the depth of feeling so many people clearly have for the Towner.

“We want to ensure the gallery thrives rather than barely surviving.

“I hope together we can persuade the council to reconsider its approach.”

A spokesperson from Eastbourne Borough Council said, “Despite the most severe year on year cuts in government funding to the council, this is the first reduction in financial support to the Towner.

“However, the Towner will still receive £400,000 in direct support in 2018/19 from the council and significant indirect support.

“It is well known that our key objectives are protecting the frontline public services that residents in Eastbourne rely on and minimising increases in the council tax.

“Looking ahead we hope the Towner will engage more local people and become the widely accessible and relevant arts resource that we all want to see.”