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Birmingham's Drum Arts Centre entering 'wind-down phase'


NEWS THAT The Drum, the UK’s premier black-led arts centre, is to close within two months has been greeted with outrage by Birmingham community leaders who have already launched their own campaign to keep it open.

Speculation about The Drum’s future ended last night (Mar 31) at a trustees’ meeting after which its chair Sharon Palmer, MBE, confirmed the centre was “entering a wind-down phase.”

The popular inter-cultural centre, which opened in 1994, is recognised as the UK’s national centre for black British arts and British Asian arts which include music, drama, visual arts and dance.

In a statement Palmer said: “It is important that people understand that the doors of The Drum will remain open up to June and that there will be events.

“Between now and June, the funders, the board and community stakeholders are and will be working hard to keep the doors open for the future albeit under new stewardship. It is the organisation that will be closing.”

The Drum is run by the Newtown Cultural Project Ltd (NCP) and its building in Potters Lane, Aston, is owned by Birmingham City Council, which remains its primary funder along with Arts Council England (ACE).

ACE currently funds the Drum as a National Portfolio Organisation; it receives regular funding of £592,961 per year.

However, with assurances of continued commitment from ACE and the city council, community leaders are confident of a “renewal process” which will take place over the next nine to 12 months.

The Rev Canon Eve Pitts, vicar of Holy Trinity Parish Church in nearby Birchfield, said: “Every community, especially this side of Birmingham, needs a creative space. Whether as a participant or an observer in an audience, it gives life to our souls. Black and minority ethnic arts are an integral part of Birmingham’s cultural and artistic diversity.”

Beverly Lindsay, OBE, OD, DL, who chairs the Association of Jamaican Nationals (Birmingham) UK, added her voice to the campaign. She said: “Due to the recent escalation in gun and knife crime in the area, young people need to have somewhere to go where they can channel their creative and artistic potential.”

The Drum trustees’ chair Palmer, added: “After months of undergoing an organisational review, staff restructures, consultations with staff and external stakeholders, alongside constant negotiations with funders, we can assure the community, staff and supporters that this decision was not taken lightly.

VISIT: Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Charles Small The Drum CEO in October 2013

“Both myself and the board genuinely feel for everyone affected by this decision, especially for staff past and present who have dedicated themselves over the years and to artists who provided the cultural heart to audiences, young people and parents. Without them The Drum would not have such a strong legacy that we can all be proud of.

“It’s important that the community come forward over the next few months to work together in ensuring this legacy is built upon for the future.

Peter Knott, area director for Arts Council England (ACE) said: “We are aware that The Drum (Newtown Cultural Project) has taken the decision to wind down, and understand that this is a challenging and distressing time for the organisation and individuals involved.

“We remain committed to ensuring that Aston’s communities continue to have access to great arts and culture, and will continue to work with our key partner Birmingham City Council to maintain our investment in the area.”

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “While the trustees of The Drum have decided they can no longer continue as a viable organisation, Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England remain committed to continuing to support cultural activity in Newtown and the wider Aston area, and for black and minority ethnic audiences.

“In our local leadership role we will be setting up discussions with a range of artists, community groups and local stakeholders, both partners we already work with and potential partners with an interest in this area.”

Prime Minister David Cameron was welcomed to The Drum just over two years ago by its CEO Charles Small. The PM met key members of the West Midlands’ African and Caribbean communities there to discuss the vital roles they were playing in helping to rebuilt the UK’s economy.

Two years ago Small spearheaded a £4.8 million fund-raising “Raise the Roof” campaign to expand The Drum’s auditorium to “future proof” the building for the next generation, but this proved to be unsuccessful.

The Drum was built on the site of the former Aston Hippodrome where stars such as Judy Garland, Morecambe and Wise and Laurel and Hardy once performed.

The creation of The Drum in the 1990s was to reflect the diverse communities within Birmingham, along with the “absence of black and minority ethnic voices in the mainstream.”

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