Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lancaster's Spotlight writers group Arts Council funding axed

Flashback: James Wood on stage at a Spotlight event at the Yorkshire House in March 2005

The team behind Lancaster's popular writing and performance group, Spotlight, have been left reeling by Arts Council England's decision to withdraw funding, instead apparently choosing to focus backing for writers in the North West only on projects in Liverpool and Manchester.

Spotlight has been running for 20 years. springing from an open mic event to promote new writers - authors and poets - run by Lancaster LitFest.

Over many years the regular Spotlight Club events - first run at the Yorkshire House but these days at the Storey - have successfully given a a platform to a huge range of talent with its mix of open mic and booked 'acts', that have included the occasional comedian and a diverse selection of music performers, most based in the local area. Some who debuted at the event, such as author Ian Marchant and Kim Moore, have gone on to national success.

Poet Kim Moore debuted at Spotlight and
has since gone on to win a New Writing
North Award, who told Spotlight she
was sorry to hear of its funding plight.
In recent years, they have diversified, offering a huge range of workshops in a variety of venues to help writers hone their craft.

"We are shell-shocked that Arts Council England have turned down Spotlight's bid for renewed two-year funding," says co-cordinator Ron Baker. "Despite meeting all five requirements the reason given was 'comparitively weaker artistic quality' in relation to other funding bids.

"“There is nothing like Spotlight in the region," says Ron, who runs the organisation with fellow writer Sarah Fiske. "When LitFest lost its funding, we were led to believe that Spotlight was a priority, and in recent years we have worked hard - often unpaid - to promote projects targeted at younger and older writers.

“I know the situation is tough due to austerity and cuts, but they have funded us for 15 years."

The team have been told Spotlight's failure to secure renewed funding is down to the high level of competition for increasingly low available funds.

"We are looking at other avenues of funding but will be reapplying to ACE immediately," says Ron. "We are very keen to try to reinstate funding but as we know, there are no guarantees.

"It's hard to know exactly what 'weaker artistic quality' means," commented local writer Basil Ransome-davies on the group's Facebook page, "but to me it half-suggests a bias against cultural interventions that bring on fresh, sometimes raw talent (which the Spotlight has successfully done) rather than relying exclusively on 'names'."

"The decision panel decided that the artistic outcomes of the activity were less strong than other applications that were received and considered," Fiona Davidson from Arts Council England told the Lancaster Guardian this week.

Although ACE has awarded grants totalling £47,605 to literature specific applicants across the UK, its funding announcements for 2015 - 2018 would seem to suggest (only a poorly operating 'interactive map' is any guide on their web site) that literature funding in the North West is solely focused on supporting writing projects in Liverpool and Manchester.

Challenged on this on Twitter, ACE responded:

• If you'd like to help Spotlight in their bid to re-instate funding, please write a short email statement about what Spotlight means or has meant to you as a writer/musican, performer or as audience and mail it to spotlightclub AT

• There will be no Spotlight event at The Storey in August as the team are taking a planned break after which they have sufficient funding reserves to continue the event at The Storey until December - which, with cheerful irony, will be the 20th anniversary of the first ever Spotlight.

• Check out the Spotlight web site, where details of many of its past events are featured:

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