How are we supposed to do more when we have less?

kate hazel, 21 September 2012

It appears that as funding cuts gather apace those of us who are currently in receipt of National Portfolio Funding are expected to fill these gaps, but with no extra cash. How are we expected to do this and maintain standards and why do we have to try and be all things to all people? We are being encouraged to diversify our revenue streams, but how? How can we get bums on seats and yet still be allowed to take creative risks, especially when we are continuously reminded by Arts Council that we must be innovative and cutting edge.

Many questions led to some interesting debate that covered a whole host of topics, some more contentious than others. However, we kept coming back to a few key points. Firstly, we talked about how we sell ourselves. In the UK we often hide the arts behind other criteria, ‘it’s OK, it's not really an arts project, it's acutally an opportunity to increase footfall within the city centre and increase tourism' etc, etc. Are we being bold enough in the way we represent ourselves? If we stop hiding and say it like it is, will it encouage more people to enagage with us, or does it put people off?

At a time of significant public sector cuts, it feels as though it is difficult to build a strong case for the arts, when there are less police, teachers, nurses etc, but surely it is in times of hardship that the arts are an even more valuable contribution to society.

They give us a time to reflect, time to feed the soul, time to celebrate and time to socialise. Surely the arts are a fundemental human right, and perhaps we need to start shouting a bit louder about this, rather than hiding our light under a bushel.

Much of the discussion focussed around the difficulties venues are facing in the recession. Capital funding is hard to find to improve buildings, and yet people don't want to come into a place that is falling down. This led on to a debate about whether we really need to save our theatre spaces aka ‘money pits’ or should we close them down and channel the money into making more work that takes place in found spaces or outdoors? Contentious? Yes. The discussion then evolved into talking about how venues need to be more canny about how the spaces are used. Empty spaces cost a lot, how can we minimise the ‘dark’ times.

Thinking postively, questioning what we do can lead to thinking radically about our practice. Sometimes times of hardship can present opportunities that we have never thought of. It gives us a reason to think radically and re-evaluate - rebuild the house so to speak. However, it was felt that the revolution can often be held back by the people holding the purse strings. How can you add another 200 seats to a Victorian theatre when the building is listed and the local authority says no? So often we are weighed down by bureacracy which ends up limiting the time we have to be creative.

Going back to the issue of how we sell ourselves for a minute the discussion then led on to talking about the importance of letting people know the real cost of what we do in order to put a value on it. Is a £20 ticket price really expensive for a show that has been in development for 2 years, that has cost £100k and employed 10 people?

However, there is a concern that if we reveal the true cost, the public's reaction is an unfavourable one, ‘how can you spend £100k on a piece of theatre when nurses are being made redundant?’ and so the discussion beings again.

So how do we get round this? We need to change the cultural understanding of what an artist is - it is our job, it is not a hobby (blah blah!). We strive to make things look effortless, but should we be making it look so easy? Not just anyone can be an artist, this is not for the fainthearted, therefore do we need to show the struggle a bit more?

We need to ensure there are spaces for artists to fail and to take risks; failure is part and parcel of being creative. The need to get bums of seats means we are at risk of increasingly programming more audience friendly, commerical work, but this doesn't add to the cultural economy, it doesn't create a vibrant arts sector.

A very interesting point was raised about stress being the antithesis of creativity. How can a venue lower the risk for themselves and for the artist? Perhaps one of the ways to do this is to look at the relationship between the indoors and the outdoors. This is not to say that people who attend free outdoor arts festivals translates to ticket sales, in fact the two are often diametrically opposed, but supporting companies to create both indoor and outdoor work could provide a way to bridge this gap.

Many issues were raised, some answers were found, but this is a debate that will run and run. At the basis of it all, however, is the need for us to remember that what we are doing is vitally important, not just for ourselves, but as something that is a fundamental human right. Creating work of quality is at the core of what we do, and we need to make sure we have the right people and the right space to do this. We cannot be all things to all people and nor should we be.


funding cuts, Winchester, Risk, Venues, Creativity, outdoor arts, winchester, creativity, festivals, venues, theatres, risk