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