Why Save The Arts? Is Bath Council about to kill the goose that lays its golden eggs?

I wrote this as a very ranty blog post last night – which isn’t necessarily useful for you but it certainly helped me to put things in perspective. Below is the new version which I hope will be much more useful and productive.

Bath and North East Somerset Council have proposed to cut all arts grants as part of their bid to save £49 million over the next few years. The arts and the library were  at the top of the chopping block, whilst foolhardy schemes to decimate a local meadow and build a Park and Ride (against all the evidence to the contrary) to the cost of £11 million pounds remain a priority. And this is just the first year of cuts – much worse is yet to come.

Currently the arts budget funds a wide range of programmes. Their focus shifted to the outlying areas in Bath and those that perhaps don’t experience as much culture as people living in the central area.  Those areas that have just had brilliant programmes of arts will end up with next to nothing. At least there may still be some life left in the city centre but the affects for the outlying areas could be devastating. Other organisations that receive funding include Bath Festivals who run (or perhaps I should say “ran”) the International Music Festival, Literature Festival and Children’s Literature festival. Recently it was announced that two of those festivals would combine to create The Bath Festival. How will the cuts affect them? In honesty they, like many larger organisations have chosen not to speak out against the cuts so far – so we don’t know how this effects them.

The trouble is if your Local Authority doesn’t show any faith in the arts then why should anybody else? It sends out a very negative and damaging message to our audiences and to people living in the locality of arts organisations. We don’t want to become a city that says “We used to have that and it was great. But now all you can do to entertain yourself is get into debt at the shiny new white elephant, I mean casino! And why not park on a field first whilst you’re at it?”

As “artists” (I hate that as a buzzword!) we understand the importance of funding the arts. What we don’t understand effectively is how to convey that message to everyone else.

Today I was sent a brilliant documentary about arts cuts entitled “Making the Cut” which was created shortly after the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton closed its doors. It focuses a lot on Somerset where they had 100% arts cuts, but it makes the case for the arts in a brilliant way looking at all the different effects to local areas. If you haven’t seen it I really suggest you give it a watch.

I could quite happily sit here and reel-off statistics to you about the economic benefit of the arts. But you will probably stop reading and fall asleep. So let’s tackle this in a different way.

I’m going to tell you a story…

Meet Emily!

(Come on now say hello, don’t be shy!).

Now Emily runs a small arts organisation in Bath. She is currently working on a theatre production using local arts professionals and members of the community. On her team are a director, actors, set designer, lighting designer, stage manager, writer and musicians. Emily has to pay all of them. Out of their fees they all pay tax and national insurance which goes back into the treasury.

Now because Emily is local she needs a place to rehearse so Emily sources a rehearsal space. This happens to be at a small community hall. She pays rent on that rehearsal space which helps those running it to get income. They rehearse for two weeks.

Some of the professionals don’t live locally so they need somewhere to stay. So they book accommodation with local B&Bs. Some of them drive to rehearsals so they pay for parking locally.

During that rehearsal period Emily and her team have regular refreshment breaks. They use the local cafe for teas, coffees and snacks. During lunchtime they use a local pub and eat food. After rehearsals they all pop into a pub for a few drinks.

The show itself requires a set and props to be made. They book and pay for a workshop to build the set and props. So Emily’s set designer Bob and Stage Manager Laura get on the phone and buy timber from a local timber merchant. Laura also needs to find props and what’s the best place to find props? Charity shops. So off she pops to visit all the local charity shops and buy some props.

The lighting designer is the next one, off on a mission. They design the lighting for the show and realise that the theatre doesn’t have all the lights needed for the production. So they phone up a local hire company and book some lanterns for hire.

Now the show needs advertising. So they get a local designer to create posters and flyers which are then printed by the local printing company and sponsored by local businesses with their logos and support shown on them.

Finally it’s show week. Emily pays for the hire of the theatre or does a box office split with them. The theatre employs front of house staff, box office staff, technical staff etc.

The show opens and members of the public come along and see the show. They travel to the theatre either by public transport or by car (again they pay for parking). They spend money on tickets (again the VAT on these goes back to the treasury) and money on refreshments at the theatre bar (which just so happens to use a local brewery to source it’s beverages from). Maybe they purchase a programme. Maybe they make an evening of it and arrive early to have a meal at a local restaurant. After the show they pop to a local pub for a final drink before getting a taxi home.

The show week ends and another company moves in and the process begins again.

 

This is just one slightly exaggerated example from one theatre company. Removing funding from arts organisations cause large ripples throughout the wider economy. If you stop funding a large number of them at once these ripples become much more obvious and the waves reach further. It’s damaging to everyone – not just “artists”.

Bath could become a culture vacuum. Where art isn’t for everyone but only for those who can afford it. If you cut out all the smaller companies and venues you are left with something that is not accessible to everybody.

A cultural event draws people to it. For example the Bath Carnival. People will come out just to watch the beautiful colours and spectacular dancing. It’s visual and it attracts attention. But by attracting that attention, by engaging with the community and tourists alike it creates opportunities for businesses around the event to benefit from it. Draw people in with the arts and culture and the whole city benefits.

For every £1 invested in the arts it brings back between £2 and £6 into the local economy.

That is huge!

 

Empty Shops

We currently have a lot of empty shops in Bath that quite frankly make the place look run down and like it’s dying. Which it will if the rates on the shops imposed by the Council keep forcing small businesses out. Why not allow local arts organisations to take over the spaces temporarily and generate at least some income from these disused spaces?

 

Arts Council Grants

A lot of smaller organisations use the arts grants to enable them to match fund larger funding bids to organisations like the Arts Council England (generally you must have match funding of 10% from somewhere else). If there is no investment from the Local Authority there is less chance of getting investment from the Arts Council for projects. Although the Arts Council try to remain positive in their response to the current situation it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they will be more inclined to support areas where their Local Authorities engage with them and support local artists.

 

Wellbeing

The arts benefit people’s wellbeing. They bring communities together. They promote diversity. They can help tackle social issues. They can rehabilitate people. They teach empathy – the term emphatic arts is being banded around a lot at the moment.

 

Creating Good Art

Even taking it back to the basics – we just want to create good art that everyone can experience and that this enriches the city culturally.

 

Students

We are also home to Bath Spa University which is an artistic university. Will students want to come and study in a city where there is no support for the arts? It won’t matter how good the courses may be (and they are very good, by the way). If you have a choice of going somewhere that you will be supported through your development by a wide range of external cultural experiences or go to a city where the arts are dying and it’s becoming a living museum – which would you choose? Not to mention what happens when these students graduate? If there is no infrastructure there to support them they will take their creativity elsewhere. We should be supporting these artists. They want the opportunity to perform and give back to a city that they have become familiar with. Now they are moving to Bristol or other places because as an “artist” there is very little chance of working here.

 

When the funding is gone we stand very little chance of every getting it back. Looking at some of our neighbouring counties the effects of this are far-reaching and devastating. I’ve used the term before but Bath could become a graveyard for the arts.

 

This all sounds a bit doom and gloom doesn’t it?

 

Well let me assure you we’re not out yet – not by a long shot. There is an ever-increasing number of us that see the bigger picture and will carry on fighting and battling for an industry that we believe in. The support is growing hourly at the moment. And you can all help too!

 

Please sign and share the petition:

https://www.change.org/p/cllr-tim-warren-scrap-bath-and-north-east-somerset-100-arts-cuts

 

ThunderClap

We’ve set up a ThunderClap to go out on the day of the decision. A ThunderClap is basically a scheduled post that goes out on a set date and time. It is the same post from multiple accounts which helps create a lot of noise and draw attention to a particular subject. Please sign up and share our ThunderClap as well:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/52323-scrap-bath-arts-cuts

 

Your Stories

We need your stories of how the arts have benefitted you personally. We need to show all of the benefits of the arts to everyone in the community and from every angle. You can either leave that story as a comment on the petition or email it over to us: info@theatrebath.co.uk

 

We need to stand together on this and fight as one and we need to make our voices heard. If we don’t then the future of arts in Bath is looking bleak and the knock-on effects will eventually filter through to all organisations – even those who think they are sitting comfortably at the moment. It will eventually affect you as well. It’s not about one organisation, or one group, it’s about Bath as a community of culture and creativity.

 

Don’t let B&NES kill the goose that lays its golden eggs.

 
All thoughts are Luke’s own and do not represent the views of any organisation he may be associated with.

#DandD12 – Day Two – Empty Shops, Female Leadership and other bits

Another empowering day of intelligent, thought-provoking open discussion… and a poetry reciting badger – only at D&D!

 

Session 5 – Empty Shop Theatre

A brilliant discussion which led to lots of easily obtainable action points. Lots of links to discussions that happened yesterday; particularly to the session entitled: Bristolians/city-dwellers: How Can We Share More With The Regions That Surround Us? (Link to the report from that session here: http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/events/devoted-disgruntled-12/reports/bristolianscity-dwellers-how-can-we-share-more-wit/

 

Key Action points:

  • Help create a website which contains user-generated content about setting up and running pop-up venues.
  • Establish a network to help each other and to tour work between venues.

 

Useful organisations/Downloads:

The ABTT – Association of British Theatre Technicians

http://www.abtt.org.uk/shop/books/

Free guide to non-conventional theatre spaces
http://www.abtt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Non-Conventional-Theatre-Spaces-17-Aug-2017.pdf

Free safety guide for small venues: http://www.rusafe.org.uk/#download

ISAN – International Street Artists Network

Edinburgh Fringe Festival have a lot of documentation about setting up temporary venues, licensing, health and safety etc

Quotes/Provocations/Inspirations:

  • Learn council speak – speak to Local Authorities using terminology they understand – find language that’s not arts language i.e. Placemaker Activation
  • Realise that it’s not about always climbing up the ladder and heading for a big producing house – remember that we should be proud to produce good small scale work and that we should accept our work is good and not make it into something it’s not just because its the “normal” way of doing things
  • Take pride in the work that you do
  • Create relationships with property developers, town centre teams and councils
  • Don’t be put off by people telling you it won’t work
  • Revitalise thinking about business use that highlights the work
  • Holding more events across an area on one day attract more audiences than running different events over different days
  • Work with an experienced project manager
  • Social responsibility – Look at the larger impact of what you’re doing and understand the positive and negative connotations of doing this i.e. arts can help revitalise a city centre – but inevitably once that area is revitalised there is seen to be no longer a need for the art that helped it get there in the first place. Think about how the success of revitalising a city centre can impact on poorer areas of the city.
  • Licensing: No licence unless selling alcohol and under 500 people. Toilets and fire exits denote audience sizes. PRS music licensing. Insurance.

 

Session 6 – Female Leaders In The Arts: A Norm Not A Niche

I joined this session part of the way through after butterflying around for a bit and catching snatches of other conversations along the way. To begin with I was the only male there which was daunting as a lot of the talk was about men – but also a really great experience for once to be in the minority. I purposely stayed at the edge of the circle for this one – mainly because I just wanted to listen and learn and quite frankly there are enough white, straight, middle class men talking all the time and making their voices heard and this session was not about me and my voice. It was an opportunity to listen and learn and see what I can do to help the situation and to really discover how the gender divide has effected women in the arts and in society in general. And it was incredibly eye-opening. Thank you to those present for being so open and honest and allowing me to observe. I’ve made a few notes that people raised during this conversation and I hope out of context they make sense (please do suggest better ways of wording things if they do not!).

Notes/Key Points/Quotes

  • Self-empowerment – give yourselves permission to go for roles
  • Gate keeping – other women in leadership roles bringing women up through
  • Creating a new model of leadership which isn’t patriarchal
  • Women to take responsibility for how women are viewed in the arts
  • Women talking and advocating for each other – name dropping other women in conversations, twitter, interviews etc
  • Leadership qualities – how to change the male orientated view of leadership so that it better represents women and their qualities
  • Remembering that emotion is the sign of a strong leader and not a weakness
  •  Start empowerment through schools – governing boards – education
  • Need to change the vocabulary that we use – not just in the arts but in everyday life as well
  • Look at the Iceland model for equal rights of the mother
  • Get rid of preconceived and deep rooted ideas of what a mother should be
  • Equal childcare / paternity
  • Why should women have to fight their way back into jobs from the bottom after having children?
  • Change the culture of male language and put an end to questions such as “do you think you can deal with men” being asked in interviews to female only candidates

After this session I sat down and thought about everything I’d heard and discovered and one thing I’m going to do much more of is shouting about and name-checking the brilliant women that I work with or have conversations with. Especially on social media via my personal account and the Theatre Bath account. I’m also going to look very closely and the vocabulary I use and keep taking stock of how I say things to see if I can make them more gender-neutral. This discussion resonated and reverberated long after it finished so thank you again for letting me listen.

 

img_1523Session 7 – Making things easier to understand (or f**k art speak)

I accidentally wandered into this session and I’m so glad I did. Personally I hate jargon. It’s one of my massive bug bears. I work or have worked with a lot of large organisations that are full of acronyms and slang terms and I absolutely loathe it – just call things what they are and quit labelling them all the time. I also hate that we are expected to speak in cultural tongues in order for us to ascend the cultural leadership ladder. No! Just no! Talk proper like… :p

 

Notes/Key Points/Quotes

  • Whatever we say or think – not everyone has internet access – not everyone is computer savvy
  • Why do we rely on past success to sell shows? Are audiences really interested in some obscure production that someone they have never heard of by a company they don’t know has produced sometime in the past? Why not just write good copy about the actual show
  • Some venues use Skype/Facetime to get artists appearing their to talk about their forthcoming work
  • Realise the value of actual contact with artists creating the work
  • Getting people who have been involved with or seen the “product” to advocate for it and help to write the copy for it
  • Reconnect with why you are involved with a company. Why are you involved with doing the work? This shifts the ownership of the work.
  • Use of the word “Artists” – has it become a dirty buzz word? Is there a certain snobbery or elitism associated with the word? Search for a title within the word that represents what it means to us as individuals
  • Have a bullshit filter or a friend/colleague that can act as a bullshit filter to help us better describe our work
  • Use the 25 words or less method of describing the show / work

 

Session 8 – Want to perform a show in Bath? What can we do to help?

I called this session to try and help connect people who want to perform in Bath with the right venues and organisations and to share what I know with anyone who was interested.

The key points that came from the discussion were that Bath and Bristol do have bubble and cliques that from the outside can be very hard to penetrate. Theatre Bath is going to look at how we can help with this including potentially re-starting our informal networking nights / tweetups so that people can meet with other theatre makers and get the advice/help/connections that they desperately need.

Also pointed out that there is very little scope for development of new work in Bath or showing of new work. So to address this we’re going to look at potentially starting scratch nights so that anyone wishing to show work and get feedback on it from audiences or other professionals locally have a platform from which to do this.

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Closing Thoughts for Day 2

Usually at the end of D&D I feel exhausted and emotional. Today I felt empowered and ready to take on the world. The power of openspace and the ability to connect with so many people on an open playing field is empowering and beautiful.

I’ve spent the last two days walking around the space smiling at strangers, them smiling back and saying hello to lots of different people. I became very aware as I left the circle this evening and headed to catch a train that the feeling of open space didn’t exist in the world that I’d just stepped back into. The reality of walking up the approach to Temple Meads Station and for a moment forgetting that the people milling around me going about their daily lives don’t yet contain the open space magic that the rest of us get to take away with us. I forgot for a moment that if you smile at normal people sometimes they don’t react in the same way as they do in open space. I got some very weird looks from those loitering outside the station as I began adjusting back to the real world but still smiling madly at them. It just reminded me that we’ve got more work to do yet and that we need to spread the open space magic a little wider. Am I going to stop smiling madly at strangers… occasionally saying hello… not a bloody chance. We are all responsible for creating a change and being the change that we want to see in the world. Open space has again re-ignited something within me that I can now keep and take forward in a positive way and implement in the work that I do in the future. From small acorns grow mighty oaks and all that.

I can’t wait to see what the final day brings and I look forward to it with a heightened sense of optimism that things can change and be made better.

Until tomorrow.

 

Contact / Social Media:

Personal Twitter: @LukeJohnEmmett    –   Website: www.lukejohnemmett.co.uk

Theatre Bath @TheatreBath    –   Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatrebath

Theatre Bath Bus: @TheatreBus

 

Email: info@theatrebath.co.uk    –   mail@lukejohnemmett.co.uk

#DandD12 – Day One – thoughts and other ramblings

It was great being back at Devoted and Disgruntled and being surrounded by intelligent and interesting conversation and ideas about the theatre industry.

For those of you who don’t know what Devoted & Disgruntled is or who would like more information visit their website (where you can find reports on all the discussions happening there): http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/

 

As a bit of a preface to coming along today we have just learnt that B&NES Council are about to cut all Arts funding by 2020 and also we risk losing our library in Bath (or should I say it’s getting downsized to not much more than an internet cafe). So before coming to D&D today I attended the protest about that, but with the new information about Arts cuts weighing very heavily on my mind. So I was in a strange place. Fired up by the brilliant protest but despairing about the imminent and deadly cuts that were creeping upon us like a thick black depressing shadow, reaching out with its chilling hands to rip away the cultural heart from the city I love. Dramatic much?!?

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So with that in mind I somewhat curled up into my introverted and contemplative protective shell and sat back and listened more than joining in with the discussions. Below are a few of notes and observations.

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Session 1 – New Venue – How/What/When Licensing

This was a really interesting session which featured a range of experience of setting up and running venues. I forget the openness and the willingness of people to share best practices and advice. D&D really enables these discussions to happen on an equal playing field.

We discussed everything from finding audiences / users of the space to setting up boards, legislation, subscriptions and everything in between. Below are a few quotes and notes.

“Sweat Equity – Time Banking” – doesn’t always have to be a financial arrangement for using spaces

“No group is too small to be contacted about using the space – go everywhere in the community and talk to everyone”

“Always have a brand leader”

“Make sure it’s the right space for the right show”

Important question – “Why are you actually doing it? Why are you setting up the venue”
This leads on to forming mission statements and business plans.

Artistic Policy = Soul of the venue

Trustees – get them to buy in to your vision. They don’t have to donate financially but they should benefit the organisation.

Create really good art and build a family of support around you.

 

Session 2 -How Can We Help Straight, White, Middle Class, Able-Bodied, Cis Men Know They Are The Minority And The Not The Norm?

Stella Duffy called this session and it was great to be able to sit and listen to the items discussed and how we can all help be part of the change that needs to happen. As someone who ticks most of the boxes for the title of this discussion I wanted to know what more I can do and I felt that this discussion has helped open my eyes to a few more areas that I possibly wouldn’t have considered before.

Some of my favourite quotes were:

Diversity – the Highlander effect. Everyone is fighting for power and to see who can be the most powerful by going around chopping the heads off of others and taking their power.

 

“By empowering others you gain power by power growing”

 

And my absolute favourite quote of the day from Stella herself:

“If men are manspreading – start C**t spreading.”

 

img_1518Session 3 – Collaborate to support Bristol Artists making new work

I have to say I left this session part of the way through when it was made very clear that Bath organisations weren’t particularly welcome to collaborate here. Which is a real shame as our doors are open to Bristol artists and we would love to work with you. Is this the infamous Bath/Bristol divide in action again?

What became abundantly clear though was the feeling of elitism and hierarchy within Bristol that was leaving some Bristol artists feeling excluded from “the club” and left looking in from outside the bubble. This was discussed at some length with talk of gatekeepers and allowing entry and then curation of that entry.

A brilliant idea was raised which was the most simple and effective idea of all that Theatre Bath has used to great effect – although the idea seemed to be somewhat dismissed. What artists need is space to talk and to meet with people running the venues in and around the city. This just means opening up one of the spaces and getting the right people there and allowing conversations and networking to happen. We used to run Tweetups which were informal meetings at a pub where anyone with an interest in theatre would show up, share ideas and ask for help. From these sessions connections were made by companies with local theatres and practitioners which then led on to those companies being able to take their work into the venues and stage it. And all we did was to arrange a time for people to meet with the right people and enable this to happen. It truly is the simplest thing in the world to do and I hope someone grabs the idea and runs with it.

For any Bristol artists reading this if you want to bring a show to Bath get in touch and I will put you in touch with the right people at the right venues. I will help promote your show via the Theatre Bath website and I will also put you in touch with people who know about flyer distribution and marketing of shows in Bath. We welcome you with open arms and will do everything we can to help support you and your work. Drop us an email: info@theatrebath.co.uk

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Session 4 – Bristolian / City Dwellers – how can we share more with the regions that surround us

This was an inspired session discussing creating a smaller inner-cities version of the Rural Touring framework to help link venues from the outskirts and regions together.

A few key points:

“Neighbours not community” i.e. people that pass us by on the way to work.

Collaborating more with tours to surrounding areas. Creating satellite suburb towns.

The power of rural touring is word of mouth – value of audience from communities spreading the word about shows. How can we capitalise on this free publicity? Longer runs of work?

Transport to venues for audiences and practitioners a real issue to regions. Lobby to help change this and get councils etc to see the importance of good transport links.

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Day 1 Conclusion

A real mixed bag. I’m exhausted. I’m inspired. I’m definitely fired-up for day 2.

See you tomorrow!

 

Contact / Social Media:

Personal Twitter: @LukeJohnEmmett    –   Website: www.lukejohnemmett.co.uk

Theatre Bath @TheatreBath    –   Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatrebath

Theatre Bath Bus: @TheatreBus

 

Email: info@theatrebath.co.uk    –   mail@lukejohnemmett.co.uk

The Snow Child at the Rondo Theatre and the Accessible Theatre Experience

Snow Child Poster ImageWe have reached the end of week one of Butterfly Psyche Theatre’s production of the Snow Child at the Rondo Theatre in Bath. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster of a journey which started over two years ago, but one which is proving to be an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone involved and I find myself feeling very emotional at the end of our first production week.

When I was first asked to be involved with an accessible production I had no real concept of what that meant. What is accessible theatre? What makes a production accessible? So we’re just putting on a children’s show right?

What I have learnt is that actually making a production accessible is not as scary or hard as it may first sound.

This production is fairly unique in the fact that accessibility has been included from the very start of the process, not as an add-on at the end or something extra that may happen if you get chance. Including accessibility into the initial planning stages and getting the right consultancy from Include Arts has enabled the entire company to dispel our preconceived ideas of what theatre is and to work in a very open and honest way breaking through the traditional fourth wall and removing it completely.

Firstly you have to have the right team on-board and Artistic Director and Writer, Alison Farina has assembled an amazing bunch of people and has gained support from a wide variety of different sources. This has been really integral to the process – having a team that says “yes, we can make that happen!” has made a huge difference. And it truly is the whole team that have been involved including the Rondo Theatre. All areas of access have been considered and planned for in great detail.

All of the actors, crew and staff at the venue have undergone accessibility training and Alison has worked Makaton into script itself. Makaton is language programme which uses signs and symbols to help people communicate. It is designed to support, rather than replace spoken language. I have to admit I was sceptical about how this would work when I heard about it – I felt that perhaps it would jar with the performances and make them seem unnatural. But actually it has the entirely opposite effect and is so integrated into the production that it feels like it is truly just a part of it, a natural extension to what the actors are doing on stage.

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From my point of view, I was tasked with creating an accessible lighting and sound design – the thought of which slightly terrified me. Having never done anything like this before I had no idea what to expect or how to achieve it. The reality  – it was actually really easy to accomplish and I needn’t have worried. We had a lot of meetings and discussions about sensory items and how the show could be visually stimulating. The lighting design itself contains lots of bold and bright colours, a mirror ball, snowflake gobos (a gobo is a metal disk that has an etched shape on it which is inserted into a lantern and projects the pattern), a series of hanging light-bulbs to represent stars and a Northern Lights effect (created using a dual gobo rotator with a glass gobo in the back set to rotate slowly clockwise and a steel gobo in front with a soft focus to give the image a blurry look). There is always plenty to look at and hopefully capture the imagination. We also have a Packman snow machine which creates a realistic and safe snow effect over the stage (backlit with a couple of led batons).

Creating the main design was only part one. Because we have different types of performances (relaxed performances and performances with integrated British Sign Language), I also had to consider how these elements may change the overall design. Again I needn’t have worried, with a few very simple tweaks we managed to add in extra elements to make this work.

When you think of BSL interpreted performances you normally think of a signer stood in a spotlight at the side of the stage. That is not the case with this production. Our signer, Simon is completely integrated into the show and joins in with the action, in effect becoming the 6th member of the cast and another storyteller. We held a special rehearsal to work him into the show and make him a part of the action and it is an incredible thing to watch. Certainly it is something I have never seen done before and really adds to the piece. From a lighting point of view the main consideration was making sure that his hands were well lit at all times and that was it… Easy!

The relaxed performances were a whole different ball game and I don’t think any of us really knew quite what to expect. Relaxed performances are designed to allow ANYBODY to attend. The audience are encouraged to make noise and it is made clear from the outset that this is absolutely fine. There is also a safe soft-play area, filled with sensory toys which is outside the main auditorium and anyone can leave at any point they feel like to go there and calm down. The audience are allowed, and that’s the key thing ALLOWED to respond however they want and by giving them permission to do so creates a really friendly, open and relaxed atmosphere.

Snowflakes

From a lighting point of view all that was needed was to keep the house lights in the auditorium on at 30% throughout the entire show so that if anyone wanted to get up and wander about they could do so safely and also so that the auditorium was never in darkness so it felt safe for those sat watching. Instead of just having house lights on I also put snowflake gobos around the auditorium which were also left on. This again created a friendly atmosphere and gave something visual to look at throughout.

From a sound point of view all that was needed was to drop the level of all the sound by about 20% to make sure there were no really loud noises that might have startled audience members. It really was as simple as that.

As a technician who has worked in a variety of different job roles including stage management and event management everything you are trained for goes out of the window. Allowing audience to invade the stage, even for the stay-and-play at the end of the shows would normally be a big no-no. You immediately just see all of the risks involved and all of the paperwork and risk assessments. It does take a while to adjust to the fact that actually this is okay to do and it does mean dropping your preconceived ideas and putting aside some of the ways you’ve been trained to be open to working in different ways. But that is just the thing – if you are open to it you can achieve anything and the fact that a small company in a small fringe venue can do this makes me question why a lot of larger theatres and companies aren’t doing more to help with the creation and integration of this type of work. It is not as hard as people think – it just takes an open mind.

Sunday was our first relaxed performance and we were all a little nervous. But actually it was one of the most beautiful things to experience and witness. Because the cast had worked on accessibility from the outset they were prepared that anything might happen. It was a very emotional experience. Here’s what I posted on Facebook about it:

“I know I keep banging on about the Snow Child but it really does feel like this production is making a huge difference to families that wouldn’t normally be able to attend theatre and is achieving more than we ever dreamed it would. Today was very emotional. A young lad kept jumping up onstage and holding hands with the actors during the show – and you know what it was totally fine – fine with the other actors who were prepared for it and fine by the rest of the audience who just accepted it. It was a really welcoming and friendly environment. A boy with severe autism came to the show. He normally wouldn’t play with other children and would run away scared. At the end he came up onstage and joined in playing with the other children. His dad, who was almost in tears said it was a massive step for him and something he would never normally do. THAT is why we do this. So proud of everyone involved right now!”

Stay and Play

I’m still feeling very emotional writing this now, but seeing that everything you stand for and believe in can become a reality is a truly amazing experience. The arts CAN be accessible to everyone and they can help transform lives and we MUST encourage more companies to embrace this and help create opportunities for ANYONE to experience the magic of theatre and to feel that they can be included in it.

 

For more information about the accessible aspects of the show visit Butterfly Psyche’s Access Page

To book tickets for the production please visit the Rondo Theatre’s website

 

The production runs until Sunday 20 December at the Rondo Theatre in Bath with plenty of relaxed performances, BSL performances and a Big Scream performance as well.

 

Set Design by Natalie Remington.

Photos by Owen Benson.

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…

No Boundaries 2015 – Inspirations and Revelations – #NB2015

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NB2015 1Thank you No Boundaries for an inspirational, thought-provoking and connected couple of days. There have been so many great thoughts and ideas it will take a while to process them all and for them all to sink in but below are a few of the things that have inspired me about the conference and a few of the ideas that I now have because of it. I will probably expand on these a few more over the next few weeks but here is an over-view of some key points.

Possibly one of the most emotional pieces came from Kully Thiarai, Director of Cast in Doncaster. It was emotional for a few reasons. Having heard Kully speak before it felt like we were personally part of the journey that they had been on over the last year. It was amazing to see how far they had come and all of the wonderful things that they had achieved.

“It’s all about people and place – not buildings.”

Kully Thiarai, Director – Cast in Doncaster

“I was sitting downstairs having a coffee and some little 10 year old kids with skateboards came and pressed their noses up against the window and said ‘Mister, what’s this?’ and I said “It’s your theatre!” And they didn’t really know what a theatre was, so I told them. It’s out of those little moments that you know. Because that’s what I remember as a kid, someone taking the trouble to say: ‘Come and have a look at this’!”

Kevin Spence, Board Member, Cast

I was totally inspired and felt very emotional and close to tears watching the film from Cast in Doncaster, it actually made me well up and gave me a huge sense of belief in all of the ideas that I personally stand for. Arts and culture really can transform a city and the joined-up thinking by Doncaster and true inclusion of the community was incredible to watch. What an amazing journey they have come on in a year – my wish is that other Local Authorities and businesses would take their example and roll it our across the country. What an inspiring model and it proves that when we work together we truly can transform communities with the power of the arts and culture.
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Censorship in the arts

This section was very alarming. With a number of shows hitting the headlines this year and being cancelled due to censorship issues it really is an area that we should all be concerned about.

“In my country artists fear for their lives. In the UK artists fear for their funding”

Natalia Kaliada, Belarus Free Theatre

“Pre-emptive censorship by the police is a clear infringement of civil liberties.”

Julia Farrington – Index on Censorship

So what can be done? What power do the police really have to stop a production from happening? I think that we need to find a better way of opening up communication with the police and unite as organisations to talk to them about any fears they may have. What we cannot do is stand by and allow our work to get censored because it “might upset someone”. I also worry that we are living in a culture where we have a tendency to self-censor as well. Some of this comes from having to twist and bend ourselves to fit certain tick-box criteria on funding applications. It’s a totally bonkers and backwards way of working that is completely soul destroying. Why can we not simply just produce good art? Why do we have to constantly fight and justify our existence in order to survive. Why do we bow down to the restriction imposed on us by funding bodies? Why do they presume that what they want is actually what is the best thing for our audiences – the people we are creating the work for? Maybe it’s time for a shake-up and to find new, more forward thinking ways of working. Perhaps a change in thinking is needed – but this has to come from the top and a big part of that is helping the Government to realise the true benefit of arts and culture. Not in financial terms. But in terms of good quality art. The benefits of arts and culture to towns and cities should be obvious for all to see without having to set criteria against them to measure them. Some of them are simply not measurable and again take away from the work itself. We are being forced to spend too much time ticking boxes and not enough time focussing on what is really important – making good art.

“Diversity is inviting someone to a party, inclusion is asking them to dance”

John Dyer

Possibly my favourite quote of the whole conference and John Dyer clearly highlighted that more needs to be done to promote diversity within our arts organisations. We think we are diverse but are we actually? How can we change this? How can we change years of ingrained thinking and ways of working. Of a culture where we instinctively recruit and work with other people who are similar to ourselves because of unconscious bias. It’s a big challenge to undertake but it needs to be done.

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“We shouldn’t be frightened of a big idea just because it threatens our patch”

Maria Balshaw, Whitworth Art Gallery

A running theme of this conference was collaboration. It seems like an obvious thing but why don’t we all work together more? How much more could we achieve if all arts organisations across a city came together and opened their doors to each other? We seem to live in a culture that is very over-protective of our own ideas. We don’t want to share what we’re doing for the fear of someone stealing our ideas and doing it themselves. This culture needs to change. In Bath we have started breaking down these boundaries in a number of ways, and we’re by no means perfect but a few of our ideas are working and having a real benefit to the whole cultural sector in the city. Our organisation, Theatre Bath (not to be confused with the Theatre Royal) is a grass-roots organisation. We run very much from the bottom upwards. The ideas for the work that we do comes from the community around us and their suggestions. We are social media driven and it’s through that engagement with the people in Bath that most of our best ideas come. Through our conferences and open meetings and networking events we have helped organisations within Bath to open their doors to each other. Sure there is still much more that can be done but simple things like shows in different venues advertising in each others programmes, companies sharing props and sets, actors auditioning for each others shows have all helped to create a shared ecology which is of benefit to everyone. There can be some adversity to working together but it is worth battling through it and continually trying to push boundaries and make things better for everyone.

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Does Size Matter?

According to Darren Henley of the Arts Council – yes it does. He commented that we should be focusing on bigger audiences. I disagree with this statement. In my opinion having large audiences is not as important as engaging with the right audiences. That’s the largest part of the battle. How many of us are making work with our target audience in mind when we work? Like it or not theatre in this country has a certain audience and until we find a way of changing that you could argue it would make sense to make work for the audience that is there. Certainly financial sense and let’s face it that’s what a lot of our friends in the commercial sector are doing. But what more can be done to connect with new audiences. When our stereotyped audience is no more then who will watch our work then?

I went to London a few weeks back to watch American Idiot – the Green Day Musical. It was loud and proud, the book was poor (as you unfortunately tend to expect with a jukebox musical) but the execution of the songs was brilliant. What struck me most about the audience for this show was that they were predominantly young people. A lot of them who looked like fans of the music. But the show had successfully broken down the normal boundaries of musical theatre and was engaging with a whole new audience and it was an amazing and inspiring thing to see. So perhaps alternative audiences are there… We just need to learn to talk to them and ask them what they want occasionally rather than telling them what they should see because we think that it is “worthy art”.

David Lockwood

David Lockwood

What Does Success Look Like?

“The message, whatever happens we go on, we adapt, we come back stronger… Is it possible to learn how to stop interfering? When is the right time to leave an organisation, especially one you’ve founded?”

David Lockwood,  The Bike Shed Theatre

My favourite speech of the two days came from David Lockwood of the Bike Shed Theatre who have recently become a part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. His speech rang true in so many ways. “Is joining the club such a good thing?” The struggles of fitting in the time to complete the monstrous funding application forms of the Arts Council, perhaps to the detriment of the organisation in the short-term as your attention is distracted, to adapting to jump through some of the ridiculous hoops and red tape that they can set you. Perhaps the most poignant moment was his own personal reflections on his journey and where he goes from now. Thought was all have at some point or other – when is the right time to walk away and move on. David showed a self-awareness which other “cultural leaders” would be wise to learn from. Sometimes the best thing is to leave an organisation and move on – for yourself and the organisation’s future. It takes a very brave and honest person to be able to admit this and I applaud David for his openness.

“Are we living in a monastery or a public square?”

Vasif Kortun – Salt Gallery, Instanbul

A really interesting discussion about buildings and spaces. Are the spaces we work in actually a barrier to the work we create and the audiences were are trying to reach? Should more be done to break down the boundaries of these institutions and bring the work out to the public? One comment we have heard locally is that a child was part of a youth theatre here in Bath and her mum would always wait outside to pick her up. When the child was asked why she did this the reply was that the mum didn’t think she would fit-it in the theatre. She had no idea what was expected of her. How she should dress or look. The building in itself became a massive boundary to her personally. This is a real shame and we need to do more to open up our doors to the public and to people who feel uncomfortable with our elitist, grandiose organisations. I would like to see more open days, more events which these members of the public would feel comfortable attending. We need to make an effort to engage with people who are scared of crossing our thresholds.

Rebooting Museums – Cooper Hewitt Museum

WOW! That’s all I can say! When a cultural organisation just gets things soooo right. The inspiration behind the very simple idea of the Cooper Hewitt pen is something to behold. The way that the interactive pen has changed the way that people engage with the museum and exhibits is an incredible thing. It totally inspired me. I began thinking about things on a larger scale. What if ALL cultural organisations in a city signed up to a scheme like this. Using pens across venues and organisations to create a really unique visitor experience with content they can download and share at home. Everything about this museum was incredible. It was boundary breaking and it’s great to see a large cultural organisation not being afraid of innovation and forward-thinking. The BEST part – everything to do with the project, down to the font they use has been made Open-Source (available to everyone). What a gift to the cultural world they have offered – I only hope that people engage with it and understand its full potential. I, for one would LOVE to play with one of those pens. Having a technical theatre background the potential uses I can see for it are pretty limitless. They should be used to transform visitor experience in all organisations, Theatres, Museums, Galleries. Let’s embrace the new technology and allow it to enhance our futures rather than remaining stuck in the past.

I encourage you to read more about it here: http://mw2015.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/strategies-against-architecture-interactive-media-and-transformative-technology-at-cooper-hewitt/

NB2015 7Arcadia

I can’t leave this blog-post without mentioning the incredible guys behind Arcardia. They were so inspirational. Proof that if you dream big you can make anything happen – you just have to be brave enough and trust in your vision. What they have created out of scrap is nothing short of amazing. I wish more organisations would be brave enough to take the sort of risks they do. Imagine how many amazing things we could create if we just said “yes” occasionally rather than being afraid to take risks. It’s one of my pet hates. I’m a massive believer that you can achieve anything if you go into it with a positive mind-set. Sure the plan will evolve and change along the way but to not risk creating something out of fear of failure is criminal. It’s an attitude I wish we could change in many of our cultural leaders. Many of them are sitting far too comfortably. A quote that comes back to me from last year’s No Boundaries conference is: “Let’s get comfortable with our uncomfortableness”. Let’s take some risks. Let’s try new things and lets open our doors and say yes to each other, to our audiences, and to ourselves. Give yourself permission to fail. It’s really okay not to succeed every time because actually you learn so much more because of it. Theatre Bath wouldn’t exist at all without this mentality. We don’t say no we say how can we. I would issue this challenge to all artists – “Be the change”. Together we can do it. We can change the future direction of the industry. We can be more open. We can be more diverse and we can help each other out and work together.

Our door is firmly wedged open (okay we don’t have a physical door but go with us on this), and at any time we welcome you to step through it. We would love to work with you whoever you are and wherever you’re from. So what do you say? Let’s be the change together… We can’t rely on our “cultural leaders” to do it for us. The change starts with us. Together we can. Feel free to email us (info @ theatrebath.co.uk), tweet us or contact us via Facebook.

For more info on the No Boundaries conference and to watch the brilliant speeches visit:

www.nb2015.org

Or search the hashtag on Twitter #NB2015

My first post can be found here: No Boundaries Initial Thoughts

Is Bath To Become A Graveyard For The Arts?

On Tuesday 1 September I attended a meeting at Burdall’s Yard in Bath which was billed as a round-table discussion with Ben Howlett MP on the Cultural and Creative Economy in Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES).

The meeting was attended by over 50 people from different Cultural and Creative organisations in Bath.

Full notes from meeting can be found here: Meeting Notes

  

I have to say I left the meeting feeling very despondent and with very little faith in our Council.

  
Ben Howlett himself was brilliant. Full of energy, drive, ambition and future vision. I wish I could say the same for his fellow councillors.

  
We are going to have a real problem in B&NES in the near future and I think certain parts of our Council need a massive shake-up if the arts are to flourish here in Bath.

I was totally uninspired by our Council’s lack of understanding, passion and drive about culture and arts in Bath. It felt like everything was too much hard work for them. There was no vision further than the end of their noses. No inspiration. And not a lot of help either. I can begin to understand why the relationship between the Arts Council and B&NES has become so fraught. It was very clear that they weren’t just on a different page to the majority of people in the room, I think they may have been in an entirely different book altogether.

  
The question was raised about the need of space in Bath to create artistic work and the potential release of vacant shops as temporary arts spaces. The meeting was told in no uncertain terms that this was difficult and probably not possible because of the amount of paperwork it would generate for the property team. You could feel a ripple of disbelief shimmer across the room. Bristol Council manage it very successfully, in fact they openly encourage the use of vacant shops – so why can’t Bath do the same? 

The Councillors also made it very clear that profit and businesses come before arts and culture in Bath. Yes we understand that the Council have to get the best price out of property rents – that’s a given but if you walk around Bath at the moment there is a high amount of empty units just sitting there doing nothing when they could be generating at least some income for the council. As Andy Burden pointed out, if they gave us these disused spaces they would be looked after and income would be generated for Council.

  
The Cultural & Creative industries generate more income in the South West than normal businesses so therefore if the arts are generating so much money how can it make sense to cut their budgets? No-one seemed to have an answer to this.

  
Cllr Tim Warren (leader of B&NES) made it very clear that he wasn’t interested in funding small organisations any longer but wanted to focus more on larger scale organisations and work at the farther regions of B&NES. He also said that we would have to rely a lot more heavily on volunteers in the future.

I’m sorry but that really is bollocks and made me quite angry. There are barely enough arts jobs that pay a living wage as it is at the moment without saying that if you want, for example, libraries to stay open then you’ll have to run them yourselves and not get paid for it. It’s a very dangerous and unhealthy culture to get into and really shows how much value the Council puts in us and our skills. Also and more importantly it is actually a lot of the smaller organisations who are carrying out the most vital work, going into communities and running projects that wouldn’t otherwise happen. Without them there will be a massive void that is left unfilled and will have a detrimental effect to people who use these services. It will be the people, the end-users who will ultimately suffer from these types of cuts.

  
Participants from the floor made some really good points about how other cities are much more advanced than us Culturally. Many of our twin cities in Europe have their own proper concert venues, symphony orchestras etc and we have none of that. These cities that are successful are so because they fully understand and embrace the importance of the Cultural and Creative industries, they understand the Economic benefits of cultural tourism and they embed the arts at the heart of everything that they do.

  
I think Ben Howlett made a great point. Bath is not a museum. It’s a living evolving thing. Those of us who work in the arts can see this (although admittedly some organisations are still doing things the same way they did the 30 years ago and need to have a long hard look at themselves and change and adapt as well!). Without a singular, joined-up future vision, without being brave and innovative, Bath is never going to move forwards. It’s going to be stuck in its past whilst other areas thrive and flourish and look to the future and embrace it. It’s a World Heritage City. That should be an amazing thing to be and we should be at the forefront of Arts and Culture and unfortunately we are being stunted and held back by our Council and their lack of vision and ambition.

  
I do have to say that out of all the Council departments I’ve personally found the Arts Development team to be the best, most understanding and most supportive. They have helped me a great deal over the last three years and a lot of the projects I have run would not have happened without that support and those projects have been of benefit to a lot of people in Bath and the surrounding areas.

  
It seems to me that as ever, if we want Bath to evolve and reach its full potential then it’s going to be down to all of us who are involved with the Cultural and Creative industries to do it ourselves in spite of the Council. And I know there are those of us that will fight tooth and nail to help Bath reach the amazing and outstanding heights that it should be at. It really does not have to be this hard though. The Council just needs a massive shake and a bit of a slap around the face to wake them up to what the rest of us can see so clearly – arts and culture should be at the very heart of our beautiful city. Bath is a vibrant city because of our arts and culture and all of the benefits they bring. Without support and a change in mindset we risk Bath becoming as stale and as lifeless as the Roman skeletons that inhabit the Roman Baths. Bath must not become a graveyard for the arts.

  
So I ask all of you to keep on producing amazing work, keep on believing in what you do and NEVER stop fighting to make this City the best that it can be. It is OUR city, and it is us that makes it everything it is – not a load of out-of-touch politicians who have spent far too long stuck behind the confines of their desks, slowly building up layers of dust and becoming more like relics of times past that they so love that they never seem to experience the wealth and variety of culture that we have to offer them. The culture that is right on their doorsteps. Perhaps if they experienced more of it they would begin to see it’s importance and relevance in the same way that we do. I know not all of them are the same – we have some amazingly supportive councillors as well and I truly do thank those that support us.

  
We are going to have a fight on our hands over the next three years, there is no question about it. It’s time for us to join together and unite to make our voices heard. If the Arts Council want a single vision and clear message for the future of Arts and Culture in Bath – then let us give them one, together. We have something the Council seems to lack – creativity, vision, passion and drive. It’s up to us to move this city forwards, together.

I’m ready for action, are you?

   
This post contains my own personal opinions and in no way represents the views of any of the organisations that I work for or am affiliated with.