MILLIONS of pounds of lottery money has been spent on coffee bars and bistros rather than facilities for young people, says the man in charge of the Government campaign to save youth music.
School music services have lost an estimated Pounds 100 million over the past two decades. But young musicians are unlikely to find much solace at their local arts centres - despite the Pounds 170 million of lottery funding that has gone their way, says Gavin Henderson, principal of Trinity College London, and chairman of the newly-launched Youth Music Trust.
Arts centres, once at the cutting edge of community involvement, are failing to invest in practice rooms or studios. Instead, more space is devoted to refreshments or auditoriums - despite a nationwide shortage of good touring productions.
In fact they are fast being overtaken by clubs which offer teenage dancers, musicians and even computer animators the chance to develop their work and show it off to an appreciative audience, says Mr Henderson.
He asked: "Where are the workshop rooms and studios that are going to create the talent of the future?" he asks. The spaces that were designed to foster creative experiences have been turned into more and more bars and bistros. "
An Arts Council survey shows that the proportion of centres offering rooms for music practice fell from 61 to 46 per cent in the decade up to 1996 - a trend he says is continuing. In contrast, the number with bars rose from 65 to an overwhelming 95 per cent.
Catering has been crucial in the financial rescue of Kendal's picturesque Brewery Arts Centre. With the help of Pounds 2 million lottery cash the Brewery - which draws audiences from as far away as Carlisle - will soon boast three bars, an expanded restaurant, two cinemas, a theatre, but only one room for music practice.
Deb Chapman of the brewery says: "Because we have had a lot of financial problems in the past few years, along with everybody else we have had to look to our commercial side, to keep things running. We have a very good bar and catering side which is very popular with young people."
Even the high-minded Beaford Arts Centre in north Devon, an acknowledged leader in combining top-quality performance with youth and community involvement, bows to the carrotcake.
"Unfortunately the days of adequate subsidy are gone," says Jennie Hayes, the director. Arts centres, she says, have to work hard for a youth audience. "They're not going to flood in through the doors. Why should they?" Mr Henderson's concerns are shared by the Music for Youth charity which runs the Schools Prom and the annual Youth Music Festival.
"Arts centres are now run by people who have to make the books balance, " says founder and chief executive Larry Westland. "They have more interest in revenue than in providing a service for the community. I rarely speak of young musicians and their achievements in the same breath as arts centres."
Mr Henderson, whose trust has Pounds 10 million of lottery money for each of the next three years, wants to see a national network of open-access music and arts schools. This is the sort of role once associated with arts centres themselves which, in their heyday, pioneered community participation. But 15 years of cuts to the arts infrastructure have left them preoccupied with their own survival.
"The practical involvement I want to see is being sold short," says Henderson. "It has to come from somewhere. It's not coming from the schools. They have backed off anything beyond the most rudimentary arts provision."
Dance clubs provide one view of the way forward. "When you look at youthful performance, a club culture has emerged where you can see quite a lot of the things that used to happen in the arts centres. A lot of the more dangerous stuff is going on in the clubs, even among my own students: dance, performance work and even computer animation.
"There are many arts centres where good work is going on. But in general they haven't found it easy to define their role. Who can blame them? They've not been taken seriously."