The Empire strikes back

Hackney Empire. Photo: Ewan-M, flickr

Hackney Empire. Photo: Ewan-M, flickr

The conservative mayoral candidate, Andrew Boff, spoke out today over accusations that his recommendations to bring more funding to Hackney Empire were ‘naïve’.

 The Stage reported that Boff’s plan to transform the Hackney Empire into a variety theatre was rejected as “naïve” by the interim chief executive of Hackney Empire, Clarie Middleton.

Speaking to East London Lines today, Mr Boff said that the Empire’s directors had made “a big mistake” in closing the venue and losing their core audience.

He criticised the current business model for the venue saying: “The most naïve thing to do is to assume that plans that have failed in the past will still work.”

“At the moment it looks like it’s becoming just another mainstream venue. It needs to carve itself a niche in order to thrive.”

Mr Boff said that if he was elected as mayor, he would subsidise community projects at the venue with a repertoire of variety and cabaret acts.

“Variety has been the Cinderella of the performing arts; it’s the least valued, the most vibrant and new, and people can develop their careers. There’s no other local venue catering for that.”

Mr Boff, if elected, proposes to increase council funding for the Empire by “substantially more” than the £100,000 a year that it currently receives.

Clarie Middleton, said yesterday that she thought the proposals showed “great naivety”, adding that the council grant would have to increase ten-fold in order to sustain the theatre as a viable venue.

The Hackney Empire has had consistent problems with funding, despite receiving regular grants from the Arts Council and Hackney Council. It was forced to go dark for “a period of reflection” of around nine months at the end of last year.

A spokesperson for Hackney Council commented: “Hackney Council has given the Empire more than £800,000 since 2006/07 and we continue to support the Empire.”

“We are working closely with the Empire and the arts council to help the Empire get back to a full programme as soon as possible. We are encouraged by the plans the board has drawn up to improve its business model.”

Hackney Council only provides part of Hackney Empire’s income. The venue’s grant for 2010/11 from Arts Council England is £395,523.

Ms Middleton was unavailable for further comment today.

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