The Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in south London – one of the country's leading community arts centres – is facing closure after Wandsworth council announced it would axe its £100,000 funding from April this year.
Wandsworth is also planning to charge the BAC over £270,000 a year in rent and running costs.
Stewart Lee is one of the creators of Jerry Springer – The Opera, which started its life at the centre. 'The BAC is world class – a real treasure to have on your doorstep,' he told Socialist Worker.
'It's an unusual place. Many places of similar size only put on things that will make money. But at the BAC they give companies the space to develop new theatre.
'If you take that away, you'll be left with bland theatre that people think they can make money out of. Culture would look very different without the BAC – and its closure would be a huge loss.'
Similar cuts are being pushed through across the country. Northampton's Royal & Derngate arts centre is facing cuts of up to £200,000 from this year.
Cuts by councils have a domino effect on funding from other areas, with organisations such as the Arts Council typically following the local council's lead. This has already happened in Basingstoke, where the Haymarket closes this week after losing £260,000 in funding.
Local arts centres like the BAC don't just provide forums for creating new theatre – they also give working class communities a rare opportunity to access contemporary arts. Many such centres run school activities and classes, either for free or at a price that people can afford.
Mark Down is one of the founders of Blind Summit, a theatre and puppetry company whose show Low Life is currently on at the BAC.
'The most important thing about the place is its commitment to both the artists and the audience,' he told Socialist Worker. 'The scratch nights are probably the best examples of this, where companies show new work and then talk it through with the audience.
'Wandsworth council should be proud of the BAC. It has a duty of care, and these cuts are a disgrace.'
Our community arts centres are places where the elitism often associated with theatre is brushed aside. We have fight to keep them.