Artrix was opened in the English Midlands in 2005. Michael Turner reports for Slipped Disc on its sad demise.
Community and amateur music and culture has always struggled to survive. Often existing purely on ticket income and member subscriptions, many choirs, music clubs, orchestras and similar have found their precarious existence further threatened as a result of Covid-19. Depending on where lockdown struck in their season, many organisations have found their finances undermined through costs incurred for events that had to be cancelled. Inevitably, this lack of activity has had a knock-on effect to other parts of the cultural food-chain,
with extra players, soloists, conductors, instrument hirers and venues among the “support services” to suffer.
So it has been at Artrix, a relatively new venue in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, which has recently ceased to operate. Designed by architect Glenn Howells, this acclaimed, multi-arts venue opened in 2005. Its modest size, seating just over 500 across its two spaces, made it an ideal location for community activities, providing a venue for rehearsals, classes, workshops and performances. In musical terms, unusually for the type of building, the acoustics were first-rate, offering a more than respectable alternative to the churches of Worcestershire. An excellent and diverse music programme involved local ensembles (including The Redditch Orchestra, Elgar Chorale, Worcester Youth Jazz Orchestra), along with national and international artists, many of whom appeared as part of the Bromsgrove Festival. Notable musical events included complete cycles of the Beethoven and Shostakovich quartets.
For the populace of Bromsgrove, and nearby Droitwich, Redditch, Stourport-on-Severn and Alvechurch, in addition to music, Artrix offered access to comedy, drama, dance and live streamings, reducing the need to trek into Birmingham or Worcester.
So, Artrix has gone. Struggling for a viable existence since 2018, when funding from Bromsgrove District Council, Heart of Worcestershire College and Worcestershire County Council was withdrawn, due to local government cuts, the Artrix charity found it impossible to meet the venue running-costs during the lockdown, despite having furloughed its small staff. There has been the expected petition raised to see Artrix saved. However, with local government’s commitment to culture having mostly withered away, there is the inevitable question: who can make it work? Comparable venues the country over will be asking similar questions.
With the national focus of the cultural community being on iconic venues and arts organisations surviving Covid-19, where does that leave the amateur and community sector? The societal glue that this sector provides has seemingly never been valued by successive Governments, before Covid-19. I posed a question about the need to sustain community and amateur music and culture to the DCMS, early in the lockdown. I received a reply pointing me to the support to be gained from Arts Council England, whose coffers are already empty. This, however, was targeted at the professional sector. So, while we know that some high-profile arts exponents have had contact with the Government over the post-Covid-19 cultural landscape, we need a strong voice to defend amateur and community cultural provision. Without it, certain communities will undoubtedly start to come unglued.