Venues….we Must. Try. Harder. – a response from ARC Stockton

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When I read Scottee’s blog recently (you can read it here), I felt incredibly sad, but also, if I am honest, a little defensive. It prompted a conversation with Gavin Barlow at the Albany, which has sparked us both to add our own perspectives to the debate.

You can read Gavin’s response here. I’ve used his five commitments to show below how we are trying to be fairer to artists at ARC:

Transparency: our artistic policy has been public for a number of years now (you can read it here), and we have actively encouraged other venues to publish theirs, through two e-publications managed by ARC: A Guide to Venues & Festivals in North East England and Routes In: A Guide to Getting New Work Programmed in the North of England (you can download these for free here). These publications have spawned others, including the recent Venues South West version of Routes In here. We hope this makes it easier for artists to understand how and why we programme the work we do, and the financial deals we can offer.

Dialogue: I believe that a programmer’s job is to talk to artists, and don’t accept the ‘I’m too busy to respond’ argument. Quite simply, it’s our job. At ARC we respond to all direct enquiries we receive, even if it is just to say no.

Pay fees: Since we introduced Pay What You Decide pricing on our entire theatre and dance programme in January 2015, we have offered all artists performing a guaranteed fee. We accept that this is often lower than their ideal fee, but we know that even small guarantees can protect artists from shouldering all the risk. We believe the risk should sit with the venue, not with individual artists and companies.

Do less, pay more: this is the hardest one. We want to pay artists better – but there is less money. We have been on standstill funding since April 2015 and will continue on the same level, or less, for the next four years, so have less subsidy to apply to our programme. As someone who also tours work, I have seen fees offered by venues go down, not up over the last few years. The only way we can increase fees for artists, and ensure their work is financially feasible, is to work with less artists. The sad reality is that this means more money for some but more rejections for others.

Share the power: as Gavin outlines in his blog, we are in active thought and discussion about how we can involve artists more in developing our programmes. We want to reinvent the way we programme to achieve a more equitable solution, that works for venues, artists and audiences – although we don’t know what that is yet. If you’re interested in joining a conversation about this with us and the Albany later in the year, please get in touch.

Thank you Scottee for taking the time to tell us about your experience, prompting us to think more about this, and I hope it will lead to other venues making similar commitments.

I know this isn’t enough though. What else could we be doing?

Annabel Turpin
Chief Executive & Artistic Director