Last week Arts Council England announced investment in two pilot performing arts ‘producing hubs’ – place-based partnerships that are designed to develop the performing arts sector in those areas. It was brilliant to see Derby and Bradford selected, where fantastic work is already going on. Importantly, there are genuine cross-sector partnerships already in place in both cities. The powerful mix of buildings, theatre and dance companies and non-arts organisations involved have the potential to support real change in those places, increasing production capacity in a way that involves and is responsive to their local communities. Both bids are led by inspirational people, some of whom we have been lucky enough to work with at ARC.
Lyn Gardner’s article in The Stage today makes many valuable points, not least this one:
‘The big question is not how the arts might become relevant in the 21st century, but how partnerships can ensure they employ their considerable resources, expertise and creativity to enable everyone in their communities – not just the artists they already know and the audiences who already come – to reach their full and shared potential?’
This is exactly the question we are tackling at ARC – much of our programme simply wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t worked in partnership with local people and organisations.
However, the article’s headline – Should we fund people and places instead of buildings? – felt very unhelpful. Yet again we are pitting buildings against artists, as if we are working against each other.The headline is neither accurate – as the investment in being channelled through two building-based organisations – nor reflective of the article’s content. I’m hearing this rhetoric about artists vs buildings more and more, and it makes me very sad, and occasionally defensive. Surely our arts buildings are there (amongst other things) to facilitate artists to make and show work?
Most artists I talk to are unhappy with buildings because of the way they behave towards artists. Of course, it isn’t the bricks that are behaving badly, it is the people within them – or some of them at least. Imbalances – real or perceived – are at the core of this, imbalances of power, privilege and money. We simply have to change this, and perhaps the producing hubs, through their artist/building partnership models, can set out a route map for change that others can follow.