THE much-criticised Illuminating York festival cost the city’s taxpayers £26,000, new figures show.
A financial breakdown of the four-day autumn event, which included a Museum Gardens “Wonderland” created by comedian Vic Reeves, has revealed it would have lost money were it not for City of York Council funding.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show the authority contributed £26,000, on top of a £59,684 Arts Council England grant, while ticket sales raised £55,814 and food sales £700.
This meant income of £142,198 and a profit of £16,442 after costs, which included £91,000 to the artistic organisers, £23,456 for operational matters and £11,300 for public relations and marketing.
There were complaints about the previously-free event’s £5 admission charge, while Reeves’ artworks, projected onto the Yorkshire Museum, drew a wave of negative comments.
Council officials defended the show as “amazing” and said it would not have been possible without charging for tickets, but said they would take feedback into account for 2013’s event.
In an FOI response to The Press, the council said the £91,000 payment for the artistic programme was to Bright White Limited as the “lead partner” for the artists involved and including equipment hire, artworks and security.
The council said it did not hold information on how much Reeves or individual artists were paid.
Former council leader Steve Galloway, who also submitted an FOI request on the costs and funding, said: “The ‘Wonderland’ disappointment, along with that of the Gunpowder Plod fireworks event at Knavesmire, is symptomatic of a council which seems to increasingly act on impulse, and the result is a deteriorating financial position.”
The Liberal Democrats’ leisure and culture spokesman, Coun Nigel Ayre, claimed enlisting Reeves and increasing artists’ fees had forced the introduction of admission charges.
He said: “This got the ruling Labour group some good headlines leading up to the event, but overall the show was considered a let-down by the public.”
Gill Cooper, the city council’s head of culture, tourism and the city-centre, said its £26,000 contribution was budgeted for and ticket income beat the £40,000 break-even target, while savings were made. She said 18,000 people bought tickets and the event had “80 per cent capacity in the first two days and 100 per cent subsequently.”
Coun Sonja Crisp, cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, said: “We are seeking to vary the experience enjoyed by the public each year, while limiting the cost to the council. Officers secured significant Arts Council funding, which joined the council’s investment, and profit will be invested in next year’s event. This represents an improvement in value-for-money terms to the taxpayer from previous years.”