Radio Sandwell Local News

The Drum arts centre in Aston set to close down after funding crisis

2016-04-01 23:00:08

The DrumThe Drum in Aston

The Drum arts centre in Aston is likely to close its doors after 22 years.

The venue is due to shut in June unless a new source of funding can be found.

The Drum, which had been due to undergo a major extension, has become known for organising the annual free Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park, which had Steel Pulse and Apache Indian on stage.

It has also hosted performances from the likes of singers Laura Mvula and Mary Wilson and comedian Richard Blackwood.

Laura MvulaLaura Mvula

It specialised in entertainment and resources for the Afro-Caribbean and Asian community, although its doors were open to everyone.

The Drum is on the site of the Aston Hippodrome, a major variety theatre between 1908 and 1960 which hosted Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Judy Garland.

The organisation behind The Drum is called Newtown Cultural Project Ltd and its board has taken the decision to wind down and liquidate.

Events publicised between now and June will go ahead but then, unless a way of saving it can be found, The Drum will close.

Anthony HamiltonJazz musician Andy Hamilton was honoured when The Drum named a studio after him

The centre has been funded mainly by Birmingham City Council, the Arts Council and from its own events.

Trustee Margaret Wellington said: “We hope that the winding down process will give us breathing space and the opportunity to find solutions so we don’t have to close.

“A lot of factors have come together, financial and other considerations, so that we couldn’t see another way out.”

Sharon Palmer, chairman of the board, said: “After months of undergoing an organisational review, staff restructures and constant negotiations with funders, we can assure everyone that this decision was not taken lightly.

Dr Julius GarveyDr Julius Garvey, son of Jamaican independence campaigner Marcus Garvey, at The Drum

“We genuinely feel for everyone affected by this decision, especially for all staff members and to artists who provided the cultural heart to audiences.

“Without them, The Drum would not have such a strong legacy we can all be proud of.

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

Chief executive Charles Small said: “It would be a shame to lose such a valuable service.

“We can’t all rely on everything being in the city centre. Birmingham is a large place and we need cultural and arts facilities throughout the city, especially in areas of real need.”

Jesse JamesJesse James looks at a picture of herself taken when she was 16, on display in an exhibition called Black to the 70s by Neil Kenlock at The Drum

Two years ago The Drum celebrated its 20th anniversary and seemed to be in good shape.

At the time, Mr Small said: “We’ve have four consecutive years of surpluses and are increasing our audiences by 10 per cent every year to around 40,000 people. We turnover around £1.7 million a year.”

He created Young Gifted Brum, which signed up more than 600 people to help them to sing, dance and act.

Peter Knott, area director of Arts Council England, said: “We understand this is a challenging and distressing time.

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

A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “We will continue to support cultural activity in Newtown and Aston.

"We will be setting up discussions with a range of artists, community groups and stakeholders to find a viable solution that meets local needs.”

Laura MvulaCGI of the planned redevelopment of The Drum unveiled last year

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