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.

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.