The Phyllis Stein Arts Centre

The modelling of a new system of management accounting has been  based on the issues encountered at this medium sized arts centre somewhere in England.  I’m extremely grateful to the trustees of the Phyllis Stein Arts Centre for willingly giving up their time to help with this study. Without their opinions, freely given, this study would have been much the poorer. I include here a brief history of the the Centre for those unlucky enough not to know about its sterling work.

The Arts Centre which now bears her name was the brain child of Phyllis Stein, cousin of the more famous Gertrude and distant relation of Rick, a tenuous link which the current catering department stretch to within an inch of the copyright laws.
Thanks to three judicious marriages each of which ended in divorce Phyllis was independently wealthy enough to turn her family home – The Old Dyeing Mill on the mouth of the River Stench in Mordent, – into a centre for music and art.
Phyllis’s opera directing techniques were considered at the time somewhat unorthodox.

Phyllis Stein

Here she is seen rehearsing Kathleen Ferrier and Joyce Grenfell in the 1949 production of Macbeth, famous for having only 2 witches as the production was well over budget before the ink was dry on the contracts.
She was a keen, if inaccurate, amateur bassoonist making up in enthusiasm what she lacked in talent; “a never to be forgotten evening” was one of the kinder reviews of a recital she gave in aid of the war effort, though which war was never quite clear.
Her own artistic talents may have been limited but Phyllis was a consummate networker and outstanding hostess, attracting not only leading artists to her “little festival by the sea” as she called it but recognising rising talent. She loved all aspects of the arts, hosting at the Old Dyeing Mill each year

  • a literary Festival (she offered an annual award called The Book Prize),
  • a summer opera season, (first solo role for the great diva La Spazzatura)
  • an annual art and sculpture prize (though nothing abstract: Phyllis liked to be able to recognise what she was looking at )
  • concerts throughout the year, culminating the Christmas Community Messiah.
  • Fanny Craddock was a regular performer in the 60s until she refused to take part in a planned bake-off (Phyllis’s term) with Elizabeth David and Albert Roux. There was always something going on.

This scattergun approach is maintained to this day.

The present
In 1986, the 92 year old Phyllis set up a trust to ensure the future of The Old Dyeing Mill, leaving enough money to see it into the 21st Century and to refurbish the facilities, particularly the lavatories, to modern standards. The main auditorium was soundproofed as the noise of the river lapping against the sides of the hall at high tide was not considered conducive to concentration.
Some of the original Trustees appointed by Phyllis remain on the Board. To this day.
After much discussion the name was changed “to mark the generosity of its benefactor” but many also felt calling it the Old Dyeing Mill was putting off a new audience.
Today the facilities consist of

  • a 450 seater auditorium, not renowned for the comfort of the seats but the acoustics are good. Doubles as a cinema
  • a small rehearsal /meeting room which can be hired out for community meetings. The local choir meets there every Monday (Tenors needed)
  • large entrance with wall space for exhibitions
  • Bar/cafe is in the entrance: open all day for coffee and light snacks and sandwiches. Open in the evening before events and during the interval. Small terrace outside by the river

The Centre runs its own box office. It has paid front of house staff, not volunteers.

The programme for 2013-14 consists of

  • The literary Festival – which ran from 15 to 20 May
  • Regular concerts throughout the year with visiting artists – usually 2 a week.
  • Cinema: 2 film nights a week – on Tuesdays and Wednesdays plus occasional childrens matinee on a Saturday. Certain amount of work involved in resetting for concerts
  • Opera season in the summer – small scale (but that’s still expensive) semi staged versions – for 3 weeks in September
  • This year for the first time there will be a panto (oh yes there will) – produced in house. Aladdin, or maybe its Cinderella.

Key Staff:
Apart from the Director (fairly new, still finding her feet – new to the area)

  • Finance Director – Gilmour Hill – has been in post for years. He prepared the budget with the previous director, who has gone to Australia
  • Finance Manager: Ann Harbour currently on maternity leave (must congratulate her on the birth of her twins, Pearl and Sidney). No maternity cover – her duties split – Gilmour preparing the management accounts, and other duties shared between the two part time finance assistants, Miss Posting and Miss Casting.
  • Bar manager: – Grace Note – fairly new in post. Been a bit of a turn round in bar staff since she arrived
  • Front of House Manager: knows the place like the back of his hand. Also responsible for maintenance

Additional income:
Apart from box office income from the performances and hire to community groups. And the bar takings.
£200,000 – grant from the Arts Council
£40,000 – grant from local authority (control changed in May election)

Sponsorship from local businesses: varies but Literary Festival popular. Legal and Accountancy firms support individual concerts. Opera has been supported in the past but the programme this year is a bit more esoteric.
Burnham Bites – a national up-market organic crisp manufacturer based locally has just agreed to sponsor the panto (oh yes they have), to the tune of £70,000

Friends of Phyllis: membership gives 10% off the ticket price to any event as well as priority booking. The Friends scheme is effectively managed separately by very keen friends some of whom were indeed friends of Phyllis.

And finally – the location. Mordent. On the coast..not too small.

  • Near enough London to attract an audience.
  • Enough holiday homes to ensure visitors during the summer and trade for the good food shops.
  • Enough bistro hotels for visitors to stay if they want to.


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