The spirit of the Eastbourne Arts Centre comes from the old Tivoli cinema in Seaside, which Mark Brewer converted to a Performing Arts Centre in 1983.
In 1987 the Tivoli Theatre closed its doors for the last time due to lack of funds. It is true to say that if this remarkable little theatre had not existed, the Eastbourne Arts Centre might never have come into being. Following its closure, friends of the theatre began meeting with the idea of creating an Arts Centre.
The group proposed the centre
• Would be a fringe theatre
• Would embrace all the performing arts
• Would be a place for new playwrights, individual performers and professional theatre companies to display their talents to a small but appreciative audience
• Would form links with local schools
• Would provide programmes for younger children
For all this to take place the next step was to set about finding suitable premises and, some 18 months later, a golden opportunity presented itself.
In April 1989, the group chairman - the late Ernest Wiegand - received news that the Library intended to close its basement lecture theatre in order to save administration costs. Immediately, the group registered a charity - the Eastbourne Arts Centre Trust - and with trustees including Margaret & Tony Cable, Barbara Wilson and Air Vice Marshall Jack Furner - took the plunge and acquired a lease on the venue.
On Sunday 1st October 1989, the trust took custody of the theatre, initially on a six month lease as not everyone was convinced the venture would be a success.
'Great Oaks from little acorns grow'.
With grant funding from various sources and with a band of growing volunteers, the Eastbourne Arts Centre played host to touring theatre companies, classical ensembles, presentations, puppet workshops and more, and proved the venture had a future. EACT took on a five year lease ... which they were proud to be able to renew.
Over the next ten years, the evolving committees and merry band of passionate volunteers continued to run up to thirty events in a year with often five different events in a month.
By 2001, financial subsidies - a key element and for some years already dwindling - all ceased, and the then committee set about revitalising and rejuvenating the project.
With a 'rebrand' of the theatre performing space as The Under Ground Theatre, the venue continued in its mission, attracting many award-winning fringe touring companies and expanding its mechanism for hirings - using monies earned, as per the charity's charter, to reinvest in the venue and to improve its image and facilities.
A freak flash flood in February 2007 caused the theatre to close for six months, but (thankfully fully insured) it reopened again with a new look and improved technical equipment.
Volunteers came and went, yet each brought with them their own skills, strengths, passions and generosity of spirit and time to bring new events and new ideas to the wonderful cultural space in the heart of town.
And the legacy continues.
With an even larger growing band of volunteers, strong business acumen and some welcome sponsorship, the Under Ground Theatre - home of the Eastbourne Arts Centre - is continuing to evolve: reaching further, connecting to more organisations and providing more and more for people of all ages ... and still, proudly, much of it for free.
The new website now integrates fully with the Borough Council's own 'Visit Eastbourne' site, the brochure is now in full colour with a print run of 5000+, morale is high and some of the healthy profits have been spent on further technical improvements, new foyer lighting and a modernisation of the popular bistro... with many more upgrades planned.
It's with immense pride - and with immeasurable gratitude to all those who have come before - that the present committee celebrate 25 years of the Eastbourne Arts Centre, and propose a toast to another 25 years and beyond!
Because of the split-level nature of our 1960s building, disabled access is unfortunately very unlikely but we do video or sound record many events and these are available by request for those unable to attend. Future goals include that we can make events available live on the internet.
Thanks to a grant from the Big Lottery Fund in 2014, we have an advanced Hearing Loop system and greatly improved lighting in our foyer and art gallery.
Our patrons are much-loved television and theatre actress Louise Jameson, renowned local artist Andrew G Forrest and instigator of our Chamber Recitals Robert Milnes.
The Chair of the Eastbourne Arts Centre :
Ernest Wiegand (1989 – 1999)
Mike Mansell (1999 – 2002)
Robin Gregory (2002 – 2005)
Pam Keen (2005 – 2011)
Veronica Gottlieb (2011 – 2015)
Steve Rolls-King (2015 - )
With much love for
(1922 - 2003)