Monday, January 11, 2010

Lyn Gardner: "We Need to Act Now to Save Theatre"

Lyn Gardner on the Guardian theatre blog, has written an article on arts funding with the title above. Interesting to see a non-American viewpoint. Through my own particular filter, here is the money paragraph:
What we need are fewer grandstanding capital projects and more Sultan's Elephants, more Beautiful Journeys in disused dockyards, more participatory projects from companies such as Quarantine, more Royal Court and Bush theatres firing on all cylinders. We also need more regional theatres engaging directly with their communities, while at the same time making work that aims to be of national and international standing (as is already taking place in Liverpool, Plymouth and Newcastle, and looks to be happening in Bristol, too).

The tragedy would be if funding cuts swept away all the advances of the last 10 years, leaving us lumbered with expensive buildings but nothing to put in them, too many bureaucrats and too few artists, and disengaged, dwindling audiences. The questions being raised by Missions Models Money and ERA21 are crucial: it's easy to blame the current economic crisis for the difficulties faced by arts organisations, then try and solve them with the sticking plaster of the Sustain Fund (now closed to new applications). Instead, to create a financially viable and artistically vital arts economy, we may have to rethink models of funding....It will mean considering the viability of loans rather than grants in some instances, diversifying beyond sponsorship and grant-based giving, embracing social enterprise models that aren't at the expense of artistic integrity. And it will mean finding new ways to collaborate with audiences and other art forms, not least because sharing resources will help relieve companies from the pressures of under-capitalisation and over-extension.
She concludes: "I certainly don't have the answers, but the questions need urgent attention. We don't have time on our side."

Indeed. Over on our side of the pond, we regularly ask the questions -- Outrageous Fortunes is the most recent report to expose the problems. It wasn't that long ago when it was Mike Daisey. We all have a pretty good sense that There Is a Problem. The real problem, however, is that we can't quite get around to actually changing anything. Instead, we spend most of our time picking holes in the ideas of those who actually have proposals, pointing out all the reasons why we ought to just keep on doing what we're doing until the Perfect Solution is proposed.

Well, guess what? There is no Perfect Solution. There are just going to be a bunch of imperfect attempts that will move the ball forward a little bit at a time. If we wait for the Perfect Solution, or keep simply asking questions and making complaints without actually taking action, a decade from now the theatre will have gone the way of the horse and carriage.

The first thing we need to do is admit the system is broken. Admit theatre (and the theatre education that supports it) is:
  • too expensive
  • too rootless
  • too irrelevant
  • too homogeneous
  • too boring
  • too moribund
  • too braindead
Once we can admit that, the next step is to commit to the idea that It Doesn't HAVE to Be That Way (a much harder thing to admit -- most of us take comfort in the idea that things suck, but they are the inevitable result of Progress). And then, finally, that change, even imperfect change, is better than the status quo.

1 comment:

ukejackson said...

I loved the "Sultan's Elephants". The Royal de Luxe company are the planet's most amazing street theater.

Here's a link to some photos of their work for the Berlin reunification celebration last year.