Fight goes on to save arts centre

THE prospects of saving a rural arts centre are bleak - but a “desperate” search for funding is still being carried out, according to the chairman of its trustees.

THE prospects of saving a rural arts centre are bleak - but a “desperate” search for funding is still being carried out, according to the chairman of its trustees.

The doors of Wingfield Arts - set up 25 years ago at Wingfield, near Eye - face permanent closure because of a funding crisis.

Both the Arts Council and Suffolk County council have axed long-term financial support.

While uncertainty persists, no plans are being made for a 2006 programme of events and the doors of the centre are unlikely to open as usual this April.

Andrew Evitt, chairman of the trustees, said: “We are still looking for a funding partner to enable the centre to continue but it is true to say we are not having much luck at the moment and the prospects look bleak.

“The county council finds itself in dire financial straits and the Arts Council has other fish to fry. It is a double whammy because private funders also tend to melt away if the big public bodies withdraw funding.”

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Mr Evitt said in tandem with efforts to find a funding lifeline, consultants were being employed to look at alternative uses for the five Wingfield Arts buildings, including a medieval barn.

“Obviously if we can't get financial support we will have to explore selling the site for some other purpose but it will be very sad if we have to do that,” he said.

One possibility following a sale could be to use the money raised to regenerate Wingfield Arts in some other form at a new location.

However, the barn had been converted for arts use with the help of a £750,000 National Lottery grant and this would have to be returned if the site was sold for housing or business use, Mr Evitt disclosed.

“We are desperately trying to find other funders but the prospects are not looking good - they are getting bleaker and bleaker,” he said.

The trustees are having to find £20,000 a year just to insure and maintain the Wingfield Arts buildings.

On the positive side, many of the artists and performers who had previously visited Wingfield had pledged their support in the event of a funding lifeline being found.

Mr Evitt said his perception was that towns and cities were get an ever increasing share of arts funding and rural areas were being deprived.

Rural dwellers had just as much right to access to the arts as the residents of urban areas, he added.

“I hope Wingfield Arts can be saved because deprivation is just as acute in rural Suffolk and Norfolk as in the back streets of a major city,” Mr Evitt said.

“In London you are only a bus or tune ride away from the arts. To get to London from rural East Anglia is very expensive.”

The loss of Wingfield Arts will be especially hard felt among Suffolk schools, thousands of children having been involved in arts projects there over the past 25 years.

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