Friday, 4 February 2011


Issue: Change: react or create? What do we want to make?

Convener(s): Gloria Lindh

Participants: Kelly Lovelady, Anna Barrett, Rachel Lynes, Joon Lym Goh, Rebecca Manson Jourer, Daniel Bye, Jonathan Holmes, Jonathan Petherbridge, Tom Mansfield. (and 1 or 2 others who dropped in but I didn’t get their name)

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Discussion (and some conclusions)
The question came out of an interest in what we wanted to do, rather than what we would do in response to changes in arts funding, the way organizations work, new practices etc.

The discussion kicked off with thoughts about how things stand currently, what our options are perceived to be. The idea that creative work is set by the model of production: whether that’s a regional theatre having the demands of production, spaces and money dictate the program, or of the fringe practitioner adapting to resources available. Are there alternative models?

If there are alternatives, it was clear from discussion that not everyone thought the existing models aren’t fit for purpose or that we should get rid of them (at least from T). The word was plurality, a place between the two. K gave the example of the concert musician world, where a piece of music written 200 years ago sits in the same program as a piece of music written last year.

In considering models the discussion turned to funding. This was in response to imagining ideal models of what we would like to make, in which money always seemed to feature! JP asked if the model is of public funding, who is involved in the discussion of setting the agenda? How are audiences, practitioners, politicians, experts, the public involved in this? Joon raised the idea of structures of autonomy: A structure of sustainability. A structure where people see value in the arts. Resources and knowledge.

But what entitles an artist to have the freedom to create what we want to create, and be funded to do so? Why should anyone give you anything? In this country we are well funded, even with reduction in that funding. Has the cake led us to arguing about crumbs?

We talked about being an artist, and someone said they hate the word artist. We talked about professionalism and specialism, and whether it would be more interesting to talk about an artistic spectrum to describe levels of engagement and skill. This and public funding found their way into an extended metaphor about cave painting. Bear with us….

What if we started again? What kind of system might we make? Here we are with our pre-historic society and there happens to be someone quite good at painting bison. Are we happy to go out hunting and gathering so chief cave painter creates really good bison pictures? We think so.

But then…does everything remain that way? What if our cave painter becomes complacent? An exciting new cave painter comes up with a new way of painting bison. Is it the role of established cave painter to mentor the exciting new cave painter?

Did I mention this was a (very) extended metaphor?.....

And say our civilization also has someone who can make medicines and fix headaches. Do we attribute equal value to cave painters and doctors? The discussion now moves beyond our wilting metaphor to consider how we feel about being on the artistic spectrum in the context of wider society. If we’re not contributing economically, we’re contributing in other ways. Why is there a sense of insecurity about that contribution, asked J H.

How do we get feedback about how good our work is? In some sectors people receive more money to do something if they are good at it. Perhaps it’s through whether anyone comes to see your show. Or if you get asked to do anymore work. It’s not always if you receive public money (which given the above discussion about arts funding is interesting). It might just measure your capability to fill in forms.

I asked about imagining other ways that making theatre works in an economic context, because it seemed to me that the model of growth economy permeates my thinking so much I find it very difficult to imagine any other way to structure artistic activity within that economy. Perhaps, it was suggested, that’s the fun of it. Of bumping against something, the tension created by being within and without the system.

There was a suggestion by J H that we don’t talk about the things that we do of benefit, for various reasons. If we make work, or a process that someone else says changed their life, do we tell that story? If this service that we offer enhances people’s lives….should it be a public service, with artists as public sector workers? This would offer its own challenges. And what would be the other alternatives? We make the case for arts on the terms of fitting within the existing economic model, but this has limitations. Finding ways to articulate other ways of expressing value would be useful.

Comparisons were made between the level of public funding the BBC receives and the arts in general. Clear differences between BBC services and arts service were identified, but perhaps there are things we can learn from how the BBC talks about itself and the perception of the organization as a unified body.

And back to the cave painter. Maybe the problem for the modern day cave painter is that we haven’t taken people on the journey with us. We can’t ignore that some people don’t think theatre should receive public money and don’t think it’s important. Have we failed to tell the right stories about the good things we do? Or (whisper it) take some ownership that some theatre is a bit shit?

I fell in love with theatre because I got to do it, then I went to see it. T raised the football analogy: millions of people play football and watch football in their free time, where there are also professional footballers playing the game at an elite level. If we want to get people to see new work, shouldn’t we be creating opportunities for them to experience the process too? Perhaps we need to consider our approach.

The summary, summarized:

We examined how things worked and how things didn’t. We talked about being an artist, and social responsibility. We imagined salaried artists, a diagnostic artistic spectrum and spaces and money and why we seem to keep imagining the same models.

As the convener, I want to say thankyou to everyone for creating an illuminating conversation which gave some insight (to me at least) as to why I have difficulty imagining alternative models to the arts funding non choice of ‘cake or death’. And for that cave painting metaphor.

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