Theatre company is back on track as EU Culture Agency supports its battle against a funding partner

Attempts by Milan-based theatre in prisons company, CETEC, to dismiss UK theatre company, Escape Artists from an EU-funded collaboration (AP230) have been thrown out following an investigation by the EU Culture Agency.

Having failed in July 2010 to pay Escape Artists its allocation of EU cash for costs incurred as part in ‘The Edge Festival’, a €360,000 project tackling social inclusion issues, the Italian lead-partner raised formal allegations in February 2011 that the UK company had breached its obligations under the original Grant Agreement in seven different ways. All seven were rejected by the Agency and Escape Artists was formally confirmed as still being part of the project. The Agency then demanded a plan from CETEC, indicating how the project could still be implemented according to the initial agreement, with Escape Artists still involved in its contracted part of the project. That plan has now been accepted, with the caveat that CETEC must submit a written report to the Agency every month until the end of the project, giving an update on the project’s progress.
Escape Artists should now receive their share of the project funding from CETEC to complete their part of the project over the coming months, including running a conference on the Arts and Mental Health, which is now due to take place in London during the last week in November. Taylor told AP: “The relationship between the partners has been badly damaged by the actions of our Italian partner, but what is important now is that we are able to complete the contracted work and the initial vision for the project is fulfilled.” He added: “The work of Escape Artists has suffered a severe setback during the long drawn out process of sorting out this complicated and financially damaging issue, and we will be exploring all avenues that can potentially return stability to the organisation as soon as possible.”
It is not yet clear whether the project problems faced by Escape Artists have been a one-off incident, or are part of a wider picture involving the misuse of EU funds. Agnes Bohley of the German community arts organisation spielraum e.V. , has since 2009 been attempting to convince those managing the European Social Fund ‘BIWAQ’ programme to help them claim the role that was initially proposed for them in their project. spielraum e.V. had designed ‘Phoenix’, a forum theatre project , to be delivered with funding partners Stiftung SPI, who, according to Bohley, have failed to contract spielraum e.V. to implement their part of the project. As a result, spielraum e.V. had to cease trading in August last year. Bohley told AP: “…our ideas are now not only being used in the current Phoenix project, but SPI has also applied for another theatre project in a different town using our ideas and even some of the phrasing we used for our concept - and we can't do anything about it.” She added: “Our fear is that small organisations like ours will never be able to receive funds for EU projects because we depend larger organisations to apply for the money in the first instance – they have administrative systems to handle large amounts of money and they appear more credible than small organisations. These bigger organisations will always be in a position to influence EU funding to their own advantage, potentially to the detriment of the smaller organisations involved.”