A county council is set to become the first local authority in England to axe its entire arts budget in response to Government cutbacks.
Somerset County Council had its £350million annual budget slashed by a quarter in the Spending Review, despite already juggling a £75million deficit.
Now officials are planning to cut the £158,900 it gives to local arts projects every year.
The move will hit theatres such as the Brewhouse in Taunton, which received £27,300 last year, the Strode Theatre in Street which got £43,900, and the Merlin in Frome which netted £45,400.
Meanwhile, local organisations funded by the Arts Council will suffer cuts of seven per cent next year as it is loses £457million.
Opponents say the arts budget comprises just 0.0004 per cent of the county’s overall spending, and eliminating it will hit the cultural life of the county.
In a joint statement, a collection of local arts groups said: ”It plays a vital role in enhancing health, education and community life.
”It supports villages to put on professional arts events and allows schools and children’s centres to provide greater levels of arts education.
”It also helps ensure the success of local theatres and arts centres and enables participation in dance, visual arts, media, theatre and music by tens of thousand of Somerset residents, from the under-fives to the very elderly.”
The Conservative-led council has promised consultation on the proposed cuts but they are due to be ratified at a full council meeting on November 10.
Council leader Ken Maddock has said: ”There are things we really didn’t want to cut back on, but we just don’t have a choice.
”We already have a huge debt so borrowing more is not an option – each year we pay out £36 million towards our debt.”