Tonight, the first Cultural Parliament took place in the Club Room of Darlington's Arts Centre. Over a hundred people were packed into the room to discuss the future of arts and culture in the borough.
A meeting at the Arts Centre on October 7 was called to discuss the situation, and a steering group was set up to develop an alternative to potential closure. The Cultural Parliament tonight was chaired by Paul Harman and it involved the steering group reporting on their progress and explaining the CIC proposal. It was heartening to hear the enthusiasm for the arts centre expressed by a student from the neighbouring Queen Elizabeth College, and the commitment of people with experience in management, media, and youth theatre to saving the Arts Centre.
Questions from the floor were constructive, however when Lib Dem councillor Mike Barker spoke from the floor and criticised the council, and the motives of the chair (Paul is a Labour Party member, this is no secret), there was an angry response from one man, who loudly demanded that he "should resign as a Liberal councillor in protest at government cuts"! Members of the steering group expressed the view that the project is not party political.
It was acknowledged that council employees face an uncertain year, and I was conscious of that it is a stressful time for Arts Centre staff and local government officers present. Darlington Borough Council expects large and front-loaded cuts to be imposed by the Tory/Liberal government, and the ruling Labour group has put forward proposals, which include withdrawing the generous subsidies for the Arts Centre and the Civic Theatre. (Though the details of the funding settlement with the government won't be known until next month, it's likely that the council's expectation is correct - the government is keen to outsource decision-making on cuts in the name of "localism", as I've detailed in a previous post.)
At the end of the event, representatives from twenty one arts associations and the overwhelming majority of those present backed Darlington For Culture's proposal to establish a CIC which will work to keep the Arts Centre open into the future. I'm sure that support for this initiative will grow and hope that other groups of service users and providers will consider developing co-operative proposals to keep services going.