North East based Opera Singer Dawn Furness speaks about art funding cuts in Newcastle at the North East Peoples Assembly between 2 top notch notch solo performances:
Opera has often had the reputation as an elitist art form but from a young age it has always been a passion of mine. Following my studies in Manchester and Newcastle I was privileged to work with some of the most prestigious names in the industry and toured with Scottish Opera for several years. Following family illness I returned to the region with ambitions of starting a grand opera company in Newcastle.
I began with a series of recital concerts introducing the Mozart Operas to a lay audience, presenting information on the history and a background to the stories and characters. Sadly, the good people of Byker were clearly not ready for a semi stage performance of the Marriage of Figaro with myself playing all the female parts and several of the male ones too!
Unfortunately, it became to expensive to sustain, to the point where I was subsidizing performances with my own living costs. Something which is all too familiar to many artists. But it was brought home in very real terms when one day I couldn’t afford to pay my gas bill. I remember thinking that “We’re all in this together “ as the police threatened to breakdown my front door.
Unable to afford heating due to escalating energy costs I developed pneumonia, was bedridden for 6 weeks and couldn’t sing for 2 months. I recovered only by purchasing a deep sea wet suit from Ebay for £10 and promptly strode around my bedroom practicing vocal exercises like a Wagnerian Jaques Cousteau!
It was at this point when I realized that I could not work for free.
The arts need support. This can be audience based, educational, even recognition from the community as well as financial.
When Nick Forbes of Newcastle City Council proposed a 100% Arts funding slash, shock waves were sent through the sector in a dangerous precedent. After staunch campaigning this was receded to a £600K culture fund, However, as a comparison ….
For 2012-2015 Arts council England has ring-fenced £77, 426, 062 for the Royal Opera House. While I am the first to applaud the achievements of Covent Garden this is disproportionate to any regional support and represents an annual state subsidy of 50 times the entire arts funding for the city to a single London institution.
So our illustrious government does support the arts, just not here…
As artists we are continually told to be more creative in sourcing financing, I agree, but the government should take the lead. Opening a wealth of opportunities for national events.
I was not alone in my dismay at the escalating costs of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral.
Spending millions seemed excessive during a time of austerity measures that were causing real hardship to so many families, particularly when several mining communities in the North East would have gladly put her in the ground for free.
In the end the £3.2 Million bill was paid for by the tax payer which spent, in 3 hours, an amount that would have sustained the entire Newcastle Culture Fund for 5 ½ years.
When the grandest protest we have is to download a Munchkin Song (which I did ,twice) something is desperately wrong.
As a community we must continue to challenge the disparity of regional funding for the arts, education etc. But as regional artists we can not afford to be reliant on financial support that is not available to so many of us.
I am currently seeking Crowd funding for various film, music and opera projects to be developed and created in the region. The first of which is a Seasonal Music Track, with a subversive nod to those pesky Munchkins, entitled Ding Dong (The Christmas Song) so fingers crossed for a number one.
If this is unsuccessful I may have to leave the region. The North-east has a wonderful community of artists, theatres and warm friendly people. I was born here, raised here and it is my home but must be realistic about performance opportunities.
Sometimes I sing on the streets of Newcastle. I would rather perform free for strangers, than not perform at all.
Like the Puccini’s Heroine Tosca
I have Lived for art
I have Lived for love