Bridging The Gaps – A few thoughts and provocations on us and the arts

In 2011 I set up a twitter account to retweet information on shows in Bath, little did I know that four years later it would become a central hub of information with a large following and lots of support from all over the region and the country.

I am incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved so far and humbled by the support that we’ve had from a whole range of different people and organisations. In the same way that we try to keep our door open to everyone, many organisations and people have been willing to the same to us. That is why we exist. That is why I am so passionate about what I do and why I truly love doing it.

Over the last four years we have done the best we can with limited resources and bags of enthusiasm to try our very best to help support not just the theatre community but also the wider arts community in Bath. It’s not always been easy. We’ve come up against many obstacles, many closed doors and a fight with some negative mindsets – but yet we carry on, we learn and we grow stronger with each new connection we make, each new person we reach out to or who reaches out to us.

Theatre Bath is not just about the four of us on the team who run things. Our team extend much further than that. In fact the only reason that Theatre Bath works in the way it does is because of the involvement of the wider community surrounding us. That community is part of Theatre Bath. Without them there would be little point in us existing. Everyone who likes a post, shares a post, retweets us, comments on something, writes us an email or chats to us is a massive part of the Theatre Bath family.

We have already seen positive changes coming from the work that we do. Perhaps nothing that is measurable by local authority or Arts Council logic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less worthwhile – in fact I would argue that because we’re falling outside those tick boxes we’re actually doing exactly what we should be doing. How do you measure success? What scales do you use? Why do we have to always neatly fit in little tick boxes and bend what we do just to keep the ones in power happy? The answer is – we don’t. And we are the proof of that. There is life outside the sterile world of ridiculous application forms and faceless grant makers. Why should a small select few have the right or the power to tell us whether what we do is good enough to be funded or not? How can they truly know? Why do we place such high esteem on their opinions? Why can’t we just create great art and let that be good enough to speak for itself? We shouldn’t need their justification… But yet we’re stuck in limbo because without money we can’t create the work. Or rather we can, but we can’t get paid for it. Therein lies the catch 22.

Certainly it puts us in a bit of a predicament. The organisation is growing. The workload is growing. The want and need for information is growing. So much so that it’s incredibly hard to keep up with demand. We are wanting to expand on what we have been doing. To run more skill based workshops at an accessible price. To support all theatre within the Bath area and further afield. And we can do it, the team are amazing and I think we can cope with anything. But we’re all trying to work other jobs (some of us working a number of different jobs) on top of trying to expand and help out everyone we can. We are all totally committed to the ideas and ethos behind Theatre Bath – but can we survive on love alone?

I’m not sure. That’s the honest truth. 

We’re currently balancing delicately on the edge of the cliff top. The lightest of breezes could potentially topple us over the edge. Whether we fall or fly is the choice that we have to make. Personally to fall backwards at this point would be a massive blow to me personally and I’m not prepared to let that happen. So therefore, how do we move forwards?

At the No Boundaries conference in Bristol recently there was an underlying tone from the Arts Council which should worry us all. The message, bigger is better. My worry is that over the coming years many smaller organisations are going to be led to the sacrificial alter of funding and sliced straight down the middle. Which will not only be damaging for them but also for the cultural and creative ecology of the areas that they serve. Personally I would prefer a handful of smaller, more worthwhile organisations who show real benefit to the people they serve rather than an elitist few who guzzle up more of the money for less return and investment.

So how can we prepare? What can we do?

That’s where Bridging The Gaps comes in.

We have to look at new ways of working. We have to look at new ways we can support each other. We have to open our doors to each other, share our knowledge, our resources, our people and our commitment to the arts. We have to see each other as friends and not as competition. If we truly understand and embrace the benefits of working together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

If the Arts Council want to fund larger projects and organisations then let’s join forces and create ways of working together that can bring large sums of investment in to our different localities. By pooling our resources we may be able to join up some of the work we’re all dong separately and get help from similar organisations or individuals to make these ideas happen. Of course we have to have our own ideas and ways of working – that’s what makes us unique. But by creating a large scale support network we may be able to benefit each other in ways that we may not realise.

I’m not advocating for amalgamations – just more open doors, more support and more sharing. Sure it may not be the easiest thing to achieve – we’re all artists, we’re all unique and we all have our own individuality and strong opinions. But it’s not impossible and it can be done. Other areas are already proving this and the benefits are very obvious throughout the counties.

Our tagline for this conference is “Together We Can” and we strongly believe this.

Our door will always remain open, it’s your choice whether to enter through it or not…

       
For more info on the conference and to book tickets visit:

www.conference.theatrebath.co.uk

   

Why not view our promo video…

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