Friday, 8 February 2013

Interview with Ilana Mitchell from the Star & Shadow Cinema about the Proposed Funding Cuts by the City Council

Ilana Mitchell, one of the founding members of the Star & Shadow Cinema

Recently, the Newcastle City Council proposed to cut 100% of their funding to the “independent cultural organisations” in Newcastle by 2015/16. This plan is still in consultation and it remains to be confirmed.

If these cuts were enforced, the Newcastle-based cinemas would be affected by them - ie funding from the council to these cinemas would be reduced to zero by 2014-15.

On the 29th of January 2013, I went to interview Mark Dobson from the Tyneside Cinema, Graeme Rigby from the Side Cinema, and Ilana Mitchell from the Star & Shadow Cinema to ask them how they felt about it and how they might be affected by the cuts.

This is the transcription of the interview that I made with Ilana Mitchell, one of the founding volunteers of the Star & Shadow Cinema.


A photo of the 65-seat single screen at the Star & Shadow Cinema - here a full house for the Delia Derbyshire night on 20 January 2013

The Star & Shadow Cinema is a cinema that opened in 2006, and that is entirely run by volunteers in a non-hierarchical structure.

I first asked Ilana Mitchell how much funding the Star & Shadow Cinema was getting from the Newcastle City Council at the moment, and what the proposed cuts were:

Ilana Mitchell:

“This financial year coming up, so April 2013 to March 2014, we’re going to get £15,000 from the Newcastle City Council, as we did last year. And then from 2014-15, we'll receive nothing.”

Ilana Mitchell clearly made the difference though, between the funding decisions made by the City Council as an authority, and the staff from the Arts Development team at the City Council, who she felt were very supportive of the Star & Shadow Cinema. She also explained that she would really worry if these members of staff had to go:

Ilana Mitchell:

“The staff in the Arts Development Team at the Newcastle City Council are really clear that they value the Star & Shadow, and they want to find ways to support us. They want to see if there are other bits of money.

At the moment, the people who support us, the key members of staff at the Newcastle City Council, are still in jobs. When they go I’ll be really worried. Because I think that there’s a lot of value in having those great relationships and the trust. Because there aren’t many people who give you £10,000 by sending you an email, and then say, “oh, actually do you want a bit more?” [the City Council used to give £10,000 a year to the Star & Shadow Cinema, and they decided 2 years ago to give the cinema £15,000 a year, without the cinema asking for it].

These aren’t grants that we’ve had to write hours and hours or funding applications, and email backwards and forward and justify with a million receipts, and all of that admin. The City Council get what we do, they trust us. And they trust us because they can see what’s happening. So that’s a fundamental issue. And it is a real worry about the staff going for me, because of the relationship that we have.”

The bar at the Star & Shadow Cinema - here during Josie Long's gig (live comedy).

Ilana Mitchell also explained how much she is proud of the Star & Shadow Cinema Cinema and of what it does:

Ilana Mitchell:

“There’s a lot of love for what we do, because we do so much on so little. Basically running on entirely volunteer-time is worth so much. But also, what we do is genuinely crossing out of art-form boundaries and demographics. Looking at the English language group today I was thinking “someone really ought to take a proper photo of this!” [The English Language Group is a group that gathers every Tuesday 4pm-6pm, for people to come and practice their English]

There were 18-year olds with 70-year olds, working together  to make sure that people from all around the world, who happen to be in Newcastle, and who are trying to make their lives here, of all ages and all nationalities, are finding ways to meet people and communicate. For free, while having a nice cup of tea, and in a really relaxed way, that feels incredible social and incredibly lovely.

And it’s just easy and sociable, and nice. And about being real people. I just felt really heart-warmed by seeing this, and at the same time I felt really sad, because, yes, that can happen anywhere, but there aren’t that many resources for it, and there aren’t many places where the tea’s also free. So in that sense seeing things like that makes me really proud of the Star & Shadow Cinema and of what we do.”

The Star & Shadow Cinema bar

I finally asked Ilana how she felt about the cuts, and if she was still hopefully for the future of the cinema:

Ilana Mitchell:

“I am spurred on to do the work to make it happen, and I think other people are as well, so that makes me hopeful. I am pessimistic in general, about things in a much broader sense, because I think that the things that are happening in the whole country are destroying our social structure in an extremely horrible way.

And I think that makes me more determined to make something like the Star & Shadow Cinema live on. The Star & Shadow is an alternative, but the great thing about it is that we’re different, but we’re still part of the society, rather than being totally marginalised. And I’m really determined that there is a culture outside the mainstream consumer culture, and that we’ll fight for that. And I think that other people will as well.”

Fundraising and percentages

The Star & Shadow Cinema is entirely run by volunteers, and this makes fundraising activities more difficult simply because it represents a lot of hours of work. Most cultural organisations have a team and full-time members of staff whose job it is to fundraise, but this is not the case for the Star & Shadow Cinema. For that reason, the revenue funding that the City Council is currently giving to the Star & Shadow is particularly precious, as it doesn't require much administrative work.

To put things into perspective, the £15,000 a year that the Newcastle City Council is currently giving to the Star & Shadow Cinema represents about 20% of its turn-over, and pays for the rent of the cinema for about half of the year. It is therefore a very small amount compared to what is given to larger organisations, but it is a rather large amount for the Star & Shadow.

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