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Black theatre company, Talawa, issues a Judicial Review in the High Court
Britain's longest running Black theatre company, Talawa, has issued a Judicial Review in the High Court challenging Arts Council England’s decisions to withdraw funding from an ambitious project to build the UK’s first home for Black-led theatre and to cease funding Talawa’s productions and community projects during the next 18 months.
Patricia Cumper, writer said: "If Arts Council England can withdraw its support from Talawa, the longest surviving and most prolific Black theatre company, in their quest to establish a home for Black British theatre, I fear that they continue to see us as marginal and not the possessors and creators of a vibrant theatrical tradition of our own. This decision feels like a huge backward step”.
The Talawa Board Board said: “It is somewhat ironic that in the very month London celebrates Black history, the future of one of the UK’s leading Black-led arts organizations hangs in the balance. London is ready for a Black-run, Black-led theatre. The UK is ready. Talawa shares this vision. The Talawa board is united in fighting for the rights of artists and theatre goers to have a long awaited home for the unique and valid artistic expression of Black theatre in the UK. We are fully committed to a long term vision for Talawa and a home for Black theatre in the UK and that has not changed.”
Talawa’s solicitor, John Halford of leading public law specialists Bindman and Partners, said: “Arts Council England’s policies rightly acknowledge that particular care needs to be taken when withdrawing funding from small, community based organizations, especially those which – like Talawa – work to improve opportunities for Black and minority ethnic people in the UK. The Council’s own research also shows that these groups are under represented both on the stages of UK theatres and in their audiences. Regrettably, neither decision shows that degree of care being taken. Within a matter of months, the Arts Council has shifted from its historical position of full support for Talawa’s work and the new Westminster theatre project to one in which Talawa’s future as a theatre company is in peril and the half-built theatre may have to be abandoned. It is not too late for Arts Council England to think again, however, and that is what Talawa has urged it to do through the judicial review process. There is every reason for both organizations to collaborate to ensure that Black-led theatre, and Talawa in particular, can realize its full potential to enrich the UK’s cultural heritage.”
Talawa aimed to build the UK’s first Black-led permanent purpose built theatre in the heart of London on the site of the old Westminster Theatre. The Westminster theatre project is located in Palace Street Westminster as part of a mixed-use site. Of the £9.2 million needed to complete the project, Talawa had raised £4 million from Arts Council England, £1.8 million from the Millennium Commission and £1.6 million from the London Development Agency, the balance to come from other sources. Work on the site started in May and the shell of the theatre was half completed when Arts Council England announced its decision to withdraw its support. The Millennium Commission and London Development Agency both expressed their deep regret that without Arts Council England’s backing, the project was no longer financially viable and they would also need to withdraw their support.
A Judicial Review is the means by which High Court judges scrutinize decision making by public authorities to ensure they act lawfully, fairly and take relevant considerations into account.