Cinema chief slams loss of public funding as Bristol ‘under invests’ in culture

The Watershed stands to lose thousands of subsidies from Bristol City Council
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A cinema chief has slammed the loss of public funding next year as she claimed Bristol under invests in the city’s culture. Next April the Watershed, the Old Vic theatre and Exchange music venue stand to lose thousands of subsidies from Bristol City Council.

Clare Reddington, chief executive of the Watershed, said Bristol “doesn’t have a clear cultural strategy”. The Watershed is one of several cultural organisations which will likely lose funding from the council’s cultural investment programme next year.

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The blow to the cinema and cultural centre comes in the same week that two other cinemas in Bristol close, the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Cabot Circus and Hengrove Cineworld. The cabinet is due to sign off the decision on cultural investment on Tuesday, December 5.

Writing in a blog, Ms Reddington said: “It is with huge disappointment, that I received the news this week that from April 2024 the city council is proposing that they no longer support Watershed with cultural funding. It is obviously hard to question an investment decision that concerns your own organisation without sounding like sour grapes.

“We certainly understand that local authorities are under severe pressure and have to make difficult decisions. But, it is also hard to feel confident about the funding process when the city doesn’t have a clear cultural strategy, or a head of culture in post.”

The council’s cultural investment programme has had its funding slashed by over 40 per cent over the last five years, from £1,015,960 in 2018 to £635,960 this year. Next year, the Watershed will lose £50,000 a year of council funding, if the decision goes ahead next week.

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Ms Reddington added: “This complete cut will be a severe blow. And we are not alone — other brilliant organisations have not had their funding renewed, organisations that contribute huge amounts of social, cultural and financial impact to the city.

“Bristol has long been seen by people across the country as a place for independent arts to thrive, but for this to be true we need to ensure we are also supporting the platforms that enable them. The city has under invested in its culture sector for many years.”

The council is still planning to support other organisations, paying grants to Bristol Pride, Knowle West Media Centre, Spike Island, Tobacco Factory Theatres, the Trinity Centre and more. But the loss to the Watershed was described by the local MP as “desperately sad”.

Responding to the news, Thangam Debbonaire, Labour MP for Bristol West and shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said she would “do everything I can” to support the Watershed.

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Writing on X, formerly Twitter, she said: “This is desperately sad news. Watershed is an anchor for Bristol’s cultural and social life, bringing people together, showing wonderful films, providing a cultural space of huge importance. I’ll be doing everything I can to support them and what they do.”

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