The changes include the removal of both management and arts groups and plans to offer a youth arts service only. There would be no remit or funding for its previously broad spectrum of professional and community arts provision, which ran alongside an existing youth programme.
The decisions by Newham Council could lead to a reduction in community access to the arts, especially for working class, disabled, and black, Asian and minority ethnic people who make up the local community.
The protest was organised by Equity North & East London branch. Speakers included representatives from Blue Sky Actors (pictured above), a theatre company for actors with learning disabilities and difficulties who were previously resident at Stratford Circus. Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming and James Ivens, Secretary of Equity's North & East London Branch also spoke, as well as allies from the National Education Union and local activists.
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What's the issue?
In November last year, Newham Council removed Stratford Arts Trust, the organisation that ran Stratford Circus, from the performing arts centre. Now the council is tendering for new management to run Stratford Circus offering only a youth arts service — with no remit or funding for its previously broad spectrum of professional and community arts provision, which was run alongside its existing youth arts programme.
This move lost the borough £300,000 a year in national funding from Arts Council England and has left Blue Sky Actors, a professional theatre company for adult artists with learning disabilities, without a home and struggling for funds.
Equity is calling on Newham Council to make a fully functioning arts centre with a broad spectrum of professional, community and youth arts part of the official bid requirements for Stratford Circus, and to reopen the venue. All the local arts projects displaced by the attack on Stratford Circus, including Blue Sky Actors, must also be rehomed — at the Circus where possible.
Ray Downing, Artistic Director of Blue Sky Actors, said:
"The ongoing cuts to the arts in our borough by Newham Council, and the untruths peddled by the Mayor and her team, are both appalling and heart-breaking. Blue Sky Actors are a semi-professional ensemble of disabled performers who have been based at Stratford Circus arts centre for over 15 years. We and our communities have lost our home but not our hope. We will continue to fight for our right and tell our truth."
James Ivens, Secretary of Equity's North & East London Branch, said:
"The Circus is a crucial hub for East London arts — both for employment, and as a platform for working-class and black voices. The council's decisions are gutting the funding for those jobs while not saving the borough a penny.
"But there is another way — Newham Council has actually increased its usable reserves to £616 million during the pandemic. Instead of its sham consultations and broken promises about talks with the union, it should fully fund the arts and campaign alongside Equity for more cash from central government."