Arts, Venue

‘The jewels in the crown’: Norwich’s independent venues in the coronavirus crisis

Following the roll out of government funding packages, I spoke to local Arts venues: the Norwich Arts Centre (NAC), the Maddermarket Theatre and the Norwich Puppet Theatre, on adapting to the pandemic and the effectiveness of government support.

The Norwich Arts Centre, a venue renowned for its independent character, is on the precipice of its 40th anniversary. The Maddermarket Theatre has been in the city for 99 years, and the beloved Norwich Puppet Theatre opened in 1980, and is one of just three dedicated Puppet Theatres in the country.

 “We are a registered charity that depends almost entirely on ticket sales and kind donations […] so losing most of our income virtually overnight has certainly been a financial challenge,” writes Emily from the Maddermarket.

Ian from the Norwich Puppet Theatre reflected on the concerns of working from home. “It is a lonely experience, even if you have a partner living and working with you.”

The biggest challenge has been trying to find necessary funding. “The uncertainty is not helping either,” as Kelly from the Norwich Arts Centre tells me.

Norwich Arts Centre still have gigs booked in, and they are hoping that, by Autumn, they can run a few of their events with limited capacity, with hopes of a return to some normality before Christmas.

The Maddermarket seems to be of a similar mindset. Emily wrote of her hope “to be offering an exciting programme of shows and events from the Autumn,” while Ian Woods of the Puppet Theatre tells me that their Autumn scheduling is constantly being reworked and changed.

It seems that some optimism remains in a few of our venues, but there is no escaping the uncomfortable fact that many of these venues are very apprehensive about the coming season.

Government funding has been met with apprehension by many in arts sectors. Emily tells me that as of yet there is no news on how the package might benefit them, and Ian does not feel positive, but is partially hopeful. “In general, yes, I would say we have been supported, but there is not a good understanding of the nature of our sector.” He continues, “It is hard to get it right for all, but with a little bit of effort they could have got it right for more.”

The furlough scheme is appreciated, but these conversations revealed concerns surrounding the lack of help for freelance artists, across a sector where working freelance is common.

While it may seem relatively grim for arts organisations, the sector is no stranger to funding challenges. Our local venues have put together creative activities that maintain relationships with audiences and raise funds at the same time.

The Norwich Arts Centre is collecting memories and stories from the last 40 years here. You can also donate here to support the NAC. To support the Maddermarket, you can send them donations, or sign up as a volunteer. The Puppet Theatre is selling face masks made by volunteers here and there is a donations page up and running for the theatre here. They are also running puppet making tutorials online.

We must not forget one of the most imperative steps to take. As Kelly tells me, “The best way people can support small venues is really just not to forget us and when we’re back open to attend live events.” Ian Woods compares the Puppet Theatre to the “jewels in the crown” of East Anglia, but it is clear that Norwich’s venues are all jewels in the national cultural crown.

Thanks go to Ian Woods, Fiona Fletcher, Emily Youngs and Kelly Robb for their contributions.


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Callum Gray