Archive for December, 2013

In for a penny, in for a pound

December 1, 2013

It’s the eve of the annual deadline for the Artist in Residence scheme I look after at the regional venue in which I work (Oxford Playhouse; views here obviously my own etc etc…), and I’ve just read this blog post by Amelia Bird suggesting venues abolish their artist development programmes in favour of paying higher fees for fully finished productions.

Here are a few thoughts on why I think differently.

Because it’s about value not cost.
We offer 3 artists £1,000 cash a year, plus access to the full resources of the Playhouse to use however they see fit. They don’t have to spend that cash on a production (though some choose to do so); they can spend it however they want to develop their practice – including train fares to go and see mentors, fees for taking part in masterclasses, coffee to make it all bearable, match funding to leverage other investment, subsistence costs to support themselves during R&D periods, whatever they want… The scheme has been deliberately and lovingly designed to be as un-top-down as possible; to be entirely and genuinely artist-led. We just invite artists to make a pitch to us encompassing what they’d like to do with that combination of time, cash and resources, and we let three of them do just that. And I know for sure that they, and our audiences, get a lot more than £3,000-worth of value for that cash investment. I also know that spending that £3,000 on marketing or paying 3 visiting artists an extra £1,000 on their fee wouldn’t yield anything like the same (tangible and intangible) return for any of us.

Because creative producing is about artists and audiences, not about one or the other.
Artist development is audience development in my book. Growing, developing and serving audiences includes doing our bit to grow, develop and serve artists. A few venues or producers are explicit about putting artists first (see David Jubb’s entry in The Producers for example), but for a lot of us, the two go hand in hand. They’re not mutually exclusive things, and our job is to bring them together as meaningfully and as congruently as we can. Investing in artists ensures we’re continuing to do our best for our audiences: sowing seeds, fledging ideas, starting up artistic romances which one day just might flourish into an extraordinary experience for our audiences.

Because it’s about the important rather than just the urgent.
About the future and not just the now.

Because it’s about being generous with what we have.
Mi casa su casa and all that. Because none of us has very much, or as much as we’d like, to do all the things we’d like to do. And because so often the exacting realities of the responsible stewardship of sizeable organisations mean we can’t muster up great big cheques free of strings. So what we do have, which we can offer generously and without strings, we should.

Because we have to be about breadth not depth.
Venues have a greater responsibility than artists to make an open invitation to a really broad cross-section of audiences. Artists have a responsibility to themselves and their work to focus in depth on their practice and on the materialisation of their ideas with as much integrity and authenticity as possible. Venues’ responsibility to offer a portfolio of experience includes seeking out a broad range of opportunities where a little can go a long way.

Because we need to take risks. And to manage those risks.
One of the most exciting things we do is to introduce a new artist to our audiences. But we can’t start at that point; we need to start somewhere long before that. We need to get to know an artist, and that artist who’s never had anybody invest anything in them needs someone to take a risk on them, by investing something which can start something more. Because if we only ever invest big bucks in artists we already know and trust, what happens to the artists nobody yet knows or trusts?

Because we should play a creative role in our place
Venues should have a sense of responsibility to the idea that a vibrant creative community should be able to thrive in their city, town, or region. If we don’t think that creative community is yet as fulsome and as productive and as supported as it might be, and as our city or town or region deserves it to be, then shouldn’t we, as a home to creativity in that place, do our bit to encourage more of it? To make more of something possible?

Because one size doesn’t fit all.
I’m thinking particularly about our Artist in Residence scheme this evening because that’s at the top of my inbox this coming week, but this is of course only one aspect of our artist development activity. It’s right for some artists; it’s not for others. There are other opportunities too, which suit other artists better. But just because this scheme isn’t right for everybody doesn’t mean it’s not really really right for somebody.

Because we want a relationship not a one-night stand.
And my best guess says that a lot of the 70 or so applications I’ll find from artists on my desk tomorrow morning will be saying the same thing.

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