Collaborating with other venues has been a core part of ARC’s work for many years. I moved up to Stockton from Berkshire, where four arts centres all operate within a very small geographical area – Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, South Street in Reading, South Hill Park in Bracknell and Newbury Corn Exchange. It made sense for us to work together given our close proximity, so we formed the Berkshire Venues Consortium, which led to successful collaborative programming and co-commissioning activity over a number of years.
Arriving in Stockton, where I knew no-one and was much further away from similar venues, felt quite isolating. It was important for my own development to reach out to other venue programmers. Since 2009, we have established a number of different local, regional and national networks and initiatives, responding to the needs of both venues and artists.
I’m particularly proud of Venues North and what it has achieved, which I blogged about here. As I write this, I am watching entries to the inaugural Venues North Edinburgh Fringe Award arrive in my Inbox. You can read more about that here, and in early July, you’ll also be able to download a copy of this year’s Venues North Edinburgh Guide here.
We recognise that Edinburgh is not the only showcase, and many, many artists are excluded from presenting work there for financial and other reasons. We work throughout the year to find other ways of bringing artists and programmers together. However, the Fringe remains an important meeting point and we wanted to capitalise on having so many Venues North programmers in the same place at the same time. Our influence can actively support North-based work, including through this award, and we hope all shortlisted shows will benefit from the additional advocacy and exposure.
Launching an award feels like quite a big step. We had some lively discussions about selection criteria but ultimately, there is a shared ambition to support artists, and a trust between members that enables us to work together effectively.
Last week I met the brilliant Little Earthquake, a Midlands based theatre company who are leading on the development of ‘East Meets West’, bringing East and West Midlands theatre-makers and venues together. Talking to them about Venues North – why we set it up, how it operates, the successes and challenges – helped me reflect, and identify some of the reasons that I think it succeeds.
I’ll have to write about what those reasons are another time, as right now, I’ve got some award entries to read…