Many readers of the SlapMag Website will have been to Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove to watch films, theatre and dance, laugh at comedians in their early days who went on to become major stars, and listen to music in a wide variety of genres, and will have been sad when the venue went into administration in March 2020.
There were many protests immediately after the closure, as the Arts Centre had been for the fifteen years of its existence an artistically, culturally, economically and socially an important part of the Town and the wider North East Worcestershire District, and there were widespread demands that the District Council take action to keep the Arts Centre open, so that audiences could return to the Venue and thus Bromsgrove was not embarrassed by being the only major town in Worcestershire without an Arts Centre or Theatre.
So what has happened to Artrix in the last three years? And will it re-open as a Venue?
Bromsgrove District Council has ducked the issue until now and has said that the decision as to how to re-open Artrix is in the hands of “The Artrix Holding Trust” (AHT), a body made up of six Bromsgrove District Councillors (BDC) and two representatives from the Heart of Worcestershire College (HOW) and which technically owns the Artrix Building and the land on which it is built.
Many people in Bromsgrove fail to see the differentiation between the Council and the AHT, 75% of which are Councillors!!
However, the AHT was able to postpone having to make the decision as to how to keep it open as an Entertainment Venue, as in due course it was able to let the building to become a Covid Vaccination Centre, and so it stayed until the autumn of 2022.
Bromsgrove Arts Alive ( B.A.A. ), which is an association of Arts and Cultural Organisations in Bromsgrove, had submitted a paper on the future of the Venue to the AHT in August 2020, but disgracefully, the AHT did not even acknowledge this letter and it remained silent on the future until April 2021, two years after it had closed, when its Trustees set up an Artrix Advisory Group (AAG) to provide advice to the AHT on identifying a future operating model and suitable operator for the Building.
The AAG comprised an Independent Chair, who had considerable experience in running Arts Centres, members of B.A.A., members of AHT and other people with relevant knowledge.
This group met several times and produced a short report which illustrated that the previous operating model was unlikely to be sustainable without some form of subsidy – Bromsgrove District Council short-sightedly withdrew its financial support in 2018, despite all the benefits that Artrix bought to the Town and District – and set out a range of options for future models.
This report was submitted to the AHT in December 2021and was reviewed by the AHT in early January 2022. After a period of further inactivity the AHT met again five/six months later in May / June 2022 and decided to ask external consultants to do further work!!!
The consultants’ report was submitted finally to the AHT in October 2022 – neither of the reports are in the public domain, despite them being paid for by the council tax payers of Bromsgrove.
In February of this year, B.A.A., totally frustrated by the continuing delay in any decision as to the Venue’s future,( thirty four months after it closed !! ) wrote an open letter to the AHT and to the District Council about the matter, which it released also to the Bromsgrove Advertiser and the Bromsgrove Standard.
As far as the AHT and the Council was concerned, this put the cat among the pigeons, as this letter released the frustration among the people of Bromsgrove and the Standard published four pages of letters from its readers, the great majority of whom wanted the AHT / Council to come up with a plan to re-open the Venue.
It is now local election time in Bromsgrove, and at an open Council Meeting in March, the current Conservative Majority Council announced its intention to keep the Council Tax increase for the 2023 – 2024 Financial Year to 2%, as opposed to the 5% which it was allowed to do. The Liberal Democrats proposed an increase of an extra 1%, on top of the 2%, which would yield £92k approx and which could be put towards re-opening Artrix, but the Council used its Conservative majority to vote against this.
In its election publicity, the Conservative Party is claiming that “it is proud to have secured over £600k investment for Artrix”, which is for improving the lighting and heating in the the Venue, and it is claiming also that “working closely with the AHT, we will develop a clear business case to enhance and secure our creative sector across the District”. But why has it been waiting for three years, since Artrix closed, to “work with the AHT”, when it could have been doing so since April 2020?
The re-opening of Artrix is an election issue between now and May 4th, and nothing will happen until the new Council is formed. But whichever Party, or Coalition, forms it, the pressure will remain on it / them to re-open the Venue – the genie is out of the bottle!!
To re-open Artrix will need long term vision and serious financial investment, but this will be rewarded by the re-establishment of a successful venue which will bring artistic, cultural, economic and social benefits to the Town and District.
Will the new Council have this vision?
By: Nick Taylor