ONE of Scotland’s most important theatre companies is in danger of becoming much diminished following the decision of Glasgow City Council not to award it municipal funding. The 2023-24 funding round will be the first in more than 30 years in which the council hasn’t given financial support to the famous Tron Theatre.

The decision follows a series of recent announcements that signal a significant decline in arts provision across Scotland. In late 2022, it was announced that the Edinburgh Filmhouse, Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival were to close with immediate effect.

Following those closures, the Modern 2 gallery in Edinburgh (which is part of the National Galleries of Scotland) closed for a number of months as part of a cost cutting exercise. Then the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh closed its doors with a £5 million to £7.5m hole in its redevelopment fund (due to the sudden deterioration in the fortunes of the UK economy).

In the case of the Tron, the loss of its £130,000 council grant accounts for 10% of the theatre company’s annual budget. That lost revenue could force the company into invidious choices, artistic director Andy Arnold explains.

“Unless we can turn things round, there’s a strong possibility that we will have to dramatically change what kind of organisation we are”, Arnold told the Sunday National. There is, he continues, “a very real possibility” that the council cut could lead to fewer staff employed at the Tron and fewer productions on its stages.

Arnold points out that the council’s cut comes on top of a six-year freeze in his theatre’s grant from arts funding body Creative Scotland (CS). That freeze has amounted to a real terms decrease in CS support of 25%.

The directorHe points out the irony that the Tron’s splendid theatre building is actually owned by the Council and that the theatre company, as custodian, has invested heavily in the upkeep of the playhouse. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds over the last few years upgrading this building”, says Arnold. “We just spent £20,000 last week on new boilers.”

Arnold is dismissive of those who suggest that theatre is a middle-class pursuit with no relevance to working-class communities. “Our last two productions of last year – Moorcroft and Underwood Lane [both of which took as their subjects working-class Scottish communities] – had 50% of the audience that had never been to the theatre before”, he points out.

Moreover, he continues, the Tron is involved in all manner of community outreach programmes with people in historically disadvantaged parts of the city, such as Cranhill in Glasgow’s north east.

Looking at the broader picture where arts funding is concerned, the director believes it is imperative that the city’s leadership change the way in which they allocate funding. Currently, arts organisations and community projects are in competition for funds from the same pot of money.

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Arnold wants “the council to acknowledge that the arts and culture should be funded separately from community projects. Whatever the budget is – even if it’s a tiny budget – we [in the arts] shouldn’t be competing with very worthy community organisations, such as women’s refuges.”

Fatima Uygun, manager of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust (which provides both community services and arts programmes) agrees. “Of course the arts and community resources should be funded from separate budgets”, she says.

“Councillors shouldn’t be deciding between the needs of a theatre and the requirements of community initiatives. They shouldn’t be in competition with each other.

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“It’s not either/or. As I hope we’ve proved at the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, we need both.”

Arnold thinks the Tron’s current travails pose a question as to whether city council leaders still “believe that culture is part of what Glasgow is about.” They did in the past, he says, “particularly after Glasgow was the first British city to be European Capital of Culture back in 1990, which completely transformed the image of Glasgow.”

Arnold is set to meet councillors and council officers for crisis talks next week. The director is hopeful that the meeting could bring about a change in the council’s decision to reduce the Tron’s financial support to zero.