Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?
Is NPO the way to go?
amy golding - 29 January 2017
WHO WAS THERE
REPORT DETAILAttendees: Amy Golding, Jenny Pearce, Sam Curtis Lindsay, Tom Spencer, Lyn Gardner, Phil Gibby, Matthew Linley, Morven Macbeth, Ben Monks, Tom Davies, Rebecca, Cath Greig, Lizzie Clapham, Rod Dixon… and a few more bumble bees who arrived a bit later..
I called this session as Artistic Director of an independent company (Curious Monkey) applying for NPO for the first time at the moment.. To discuss:
- Is it the right model going forward?
- There's lots of us applying at the moment, we won't all become part of the portfolio.. what's the alternatives?
The group at the session was mixed in terms of those who are currently NPOs and applying again, those applying for the first time, those who were but no longer NPO, those that see it as their future (if it still exists) and those that choose not to be an NPO, as well as representation from ACE and independents. We discussed many things including:
- practical stuff around the process of applications and questions around this..
- Why are we applying?
- What impact does being an NPO have on you and your organisation?
- What's the alternatives?
- Is subsidised theatre coming to an end? What's next?
- Churn in the portfolio!
We discussed the process including mandatory conversations with ACE relationship managers, the timescale (apps in 1st Feb).. then a business planning period in consultation with ACE if successful from July 2017. The new banded system - an under £250,000 category making it more realistic for smaller organisations to consider applying. The commitment to regional spread (lets see what actually happens!) That new strategic funds map will be announced at the same time as NPO to fill gaps for those unsuccessful.
Why are we applying?
Many orgs have been on a journey headed towards NPO through G4A project by project funding, building a relationship with ACE, catalyst consortiums, ACE funded organisational development projects (The journey Curious Monkey has been on)… but through the journey not knowing if the ultimate NPO goal will still exist, is realistic or is tangible for their organisations..
We aim towards it as covering core costs and sustainability to run indepth work is the most challenging in the funding world and it seems like a place of more security, longevity…
What impact does being an NPO have on you and your organisation?
There's a danger we discussed that the vision for the company becomes more about the vision for NPO.. some reported the NPO application process has been really useful in terms of clarifying aims, mission, vision, artistic programme.. encouraging longer term thinking and planning.. and spending quality time with the board on this… but for some the 3/4 years of being NPO becomes about the next round of applications looming.. Does your mission then become “How do we remain an NPO in the next round?”
We discussed the change from being a G4A company to NPO being more challenging than you may think.. in terms of cash flow and the level of reporting.. someone described it as preparing ‘pre-birth’ with no real understanding of what its like ‘after-birth’ - you can't know until it happens..
How do we as new NPOs who join the portfolio this time remain true to our values/ ways of working as independent companies and be key in keeping real relationships and communication with the independent sector.. become a bridge between those NPOs that are harder to communicate with/penetrate.. We discussed various challenges with collaborating with NPOs.
A big question was around the level of investment from ACE.. Does the amount of money you get make a big enough difference? Is it a blessing or a curse to fund an NPO less than they apply for? We discussed the capping of amounts applied for by those already in the portfolio.. should those applying first time now have in mind the amount they get may never increase even with growth within the company in subsequent rounds (if subsequent rounds exist!) Is it more responsible of ACE to fund less companies at their asking amount than offering less money and including more new orgs in the portfolio? Or vice versa?
What's the alternatives?
We discussed entrepreneurial approaches.. looking at assets and how we create income elsewhere. EG: Bikeshed cocktail bar in Exeter, renting space out, Live Theatre's quayside monopoly in Newcastle… Curious Monkey's future camping-glamping/theatre venture.
How do we find our ‘thing’? our great idea? How many avenues do we have to go down before we find ‘the one’.. the one that can truly diversify our income.. how much time and effort do we put into new ventures and how much do time and energy do they take away from creating our art and our raison d'etre?
What are other ways we can change the look of our income pie chart to be reliant less on ACE subsidy? We discussed crowdfunding, local authority support (and lack of..).. Do we have a new generation of leadership coming through who haven't had the luxury of ACE funding being easy to procure and have grown into the industry thinking differently? What can we all learn from them?
Leading to the biggy…….
Is subsidised theatre ending?
Do we have to go commercial or think different? What is life without NPO? How does it look?
Churn in the portfolio:
The last thing we discussed was the need for ‘Churn’ within the portfolio.. more NPOs need to come out for more to go in.. There is a fear of upsetting public and organisations by removing big institutions from NPO.. the South West is particularly good at churn.. losing Dartington in 2011.. the rest of the country could do with making more ballsy decisions… Losing some organisations/buildings that are sucking up resources but not moving forward or progressing. Buildings are place makers and people get attached - its hard decisions to make. But they need to be made.
Current NPOs should be rigourosly held accountable to their creative case for diversity statements in the last round and if they are not progressing and are just paying lip service to it they should be ‘churned’.
Thank you for coming.. and for your patience with this report as we are deep (as I'm sure many of you are) in NPO character counts and grantium challenges!!
Artistic Director - Curious Monkey
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