Shaftesbury Art Centre closed at midday due to coronavirus advice and is unlikely to open until the end of May. But there’s a warning that the closure could push this treasured facility into a precarious financial position. Its chairman has asked locals for help.
From her seat in the box office, Jenny Parker had to deliver the bad news to a stream of personal and telephone callers. All Arts Centre events in the foreseeable future, including this week’s debut of ‘Shaftesbury Abbey – The Movie’, are either postponed or cancelled. “We had a meeting last night of the trustees and it was decided that we would have to go along with the government directive and close. We are closing today, Tuesday, from 12 o’clock,” said Jenny.
She is uncertain how long the Arts Centre will remain shut. “At the moment, we think we must be closed for at least a couple of months. We are keeping an eye on it and doing as we are told. It sounds like the end of May. We will review constantly,” Jenny said.
The entire venue will be shut and that will mean bookings made by private groups or the gallery exhibitions will also be called off. “The government has said no small groups of people must meet together. We hope to open the gallery until next week because the current exhibitor is on until then. We will shut it off from the main building but the next people who have hired the gallery have cancelled. We think it will close after Tuesday,” said Jenny.
The Arts Centre has been refunding people who bought tickets for events like this weekend’s tribute act. “We have sold tickets to over a hundred people for ‘The Shadows’,” explained Jenny. “If we have to refund all of those, that would be difficult. People have paid cash so we will need a lot of cash here to refund people. We’re still working on the logistics of this.”
Shaftesbury Arts Centre is a not-for-profit organisation and there are weekly costs to meet. Jenny and her team are worried about the centre’s finances with no shows or activities generating cash. “The Arts Centre costs £1,500 a week to run. We are going to be in quite a serious situation because we have sold hundreds of tickets for the summer and we’re going to have to refund most of them, unless people are feeling very generous and are likely to donate the ticket price.”
If the Arts Centre has to remain closed until the end of May, they may run out of money. “We reckon we have enough reserves to keep us going for a month or more but not much longer. We are going to be in quite a sticky position,” said Jenny. “The other big thing is that we won’t be able to have any rehearsals, so the show that was going to be in April, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, will be off. The summer show of ‘Bugsy Malone’ won’t have time to rehearse. Who knows about autumn?”
The trustees didn’t take the closure decision likely. Jenny says the mood of last night’s meeting was one of ‘despair’. And she wants to apologise to the residents of Shaftesbury. “We are just so very sorry that their valuable resource had to close down at this time, when people are being asked to stay at home, not go away or abroad on holiday. The Arts Centre has been a lifeline for a lot of people,” she said.
The locals Jenny has spoken with so far have been understanding. “People are being very supportive and helpful over it,” she said. At the moment there isn’t a plan in place for meeting the funding gap. “There isn’t yet, but we have formed an emergency committee and we’re all working very hard. It’s less than 24 hours since we decided to close, so this is early days.”
Some wealthy people are living in our area and Jenny has a clear message for them. “Come and help us. We would be very pleased with any help we can get,” she said. Jenny says anyone who wants to give money can email her at chairman@ShaftesburyArtsCentre.org.uk to make arrangements. “I will gladly say ‘Yes please. We would love your cheque’,” she added.
When the Arts Centre finally reopens, it will take time to get back to normal. “I think we will have lost lots of customers. We may be able to get the groups going again and get rehearsal starting and we may have lost shows that we had booked,” said Jenny.
Jenny says she can’t recall such a damaging episode in the Arts Centre’s recent history. “We have recently had our 60th birthday so it’s been going for a long time. I think in the early stages there was a fire. A lot of the building burned down, hence we have the ‘Phoenix’ Room upstairs. It did close for a considerable time, but it wasn’t the Arts Centre we know today. It was just a place where the Shaftesbury Players put on their shows. This is unprecedented. We’re all devastated.”
Jenny, like many locals, is hoping that the strength of community support and love of the facility will help the Arts Centre to rise again. And soon.