For a very long time yours truly has been frustrated, and not a little annoyed, that a large amount of theatrical, creative (so basically the arts ) power has lain at the doors of so few organisations, predominantly those who receive funding from either the Arts Council, from sponsorship and/or the Arts Council itself. As far as theatre is concerned it is mainly theatres themselves and/or a performing arts company who wield the power. In “The Stage” recently Lyn Gardner wrote on the advantages of crating funding for places. How would it affect the whole theatre ecology if instead of funding venues we funded artists, and instead of funding buildings we funded places? Just imagine the transformations if we stopped building theatres and started investing in the creativity of communities.
According the Gardner, “There are signs of change. A newer national portfolio organisation such as Heart of Glass in St Helens is an example of a place-based arts company following a different creation model for socially engaged practice. In St Helens, artists and local people are co-creating on projects that last not just two or three but many years.”
She goes on to add “… perhaps more change is on the way with the news that Derby Theatre and Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill have, together with a consortium of local partners, been awarded £1.5 million each to become producing hubs. These are Arts Council England-funded pilot schemes that will examine different producing models that are very much place-based. It is telling that the funding body has chosen two venues that already have embedded relationships with their local communities, rather than much larger organisations.”
In 2016 it was the Devlin Report which raised the prospect of different producing models that would move arts organisations and buildings away from their tendency towards a silo mentality. Instead, they were to think of themselves as platforms creating capacity for their communities and encouraging creativity whether people thought of themselves as artists or not. The intention, declared ACE at the time, was to “test a place-based approach to supporting artistic risk-taking and developing and strengthening talent and audiences as the basis of building vibrant local theatre ecologies”.
In a way “Fun Palaces”, which happen every October all over Britain, are a break from the norm, and if they follow their creator’s wishes (Joan Littlewood) who said: “Today we need universities of the streets, which are laboratories, work places, educating nuclei, Fun Palaces, call them what you like”. Creativity should be in the hands of communities, not buildings was her doctrine.
Again, back to Gardner: “To some degree, organisations such as Battersea Arts Centre are already moving towards working this way. What will be fascinating in the longer term is the impact its partnerships with Wandsworth’s agencies, grassroots organisations and people has on the long-term commissioning and programming of its spaces.”
Another good example is Hull’s astonishing success in reaching the 97% of the population who took part in cultural events in 2017 because the City of Culture that year went to the people and didn’t expect them to come to it. More arts organisations are recognising this. The Royal Exchange in Manchester announced recently that it is creating long-term residencies in Greater Manchester boroughs with the aim of responding to the “cultural ambitions of each community”. It is a reminder that the cultural ambitions of one place may be very different from those of another community a mile or so down the road. One size does not fit all. And this can be said of many towns and cities.
Back to Derby and Bradford; Derby’s partnership is with the local council, the university, and with national producing organisations such as Crying Out Loud and China Plate. But it is also with the local football club, Derby County, and with a number of artist-led local companies such as Maison Foo, Milk Presents and Not Too Tame. The Theatre in the Mill consortium includes Mind the Gap, Kala Sangam, 154 Collective, Common Wealth and Displace Yourself.
Most of all, the producing hubs are about trying to create a partnership with the people of Derby and Bradford, listening to what they want and building something from the ground up rather than top down. Derby already has an excellent artist development scheme, but as Derby Theatre’s Sarah Brigham points out, it only attracts those who identify as artists. What about the untapped creative potential of those living in the city and how can it be harnessed for the good of all to make Derby a better, more enjoyable and happier place to live? And that can certainly be asked of any town and city and village for that matter in the country. And if we go back to Joan Littlewood, one of the mantras of “Fun Palaces” is “Art for everyone and everyone an artist”. Producing Hubs can certainly help to bring this about and by so doing make the division of financial resources fair and equitable for all. Now that sounds very sensible……..
Image credits; Edinburgh Fun Palaces – scienceceilidh.com, Hull City of Culture – British Council, Hull City of Culture – thedrum.com
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