Monday, 25 June 2018

Taking art outdoors (Greenwich & Docklands International Festival)

My parents took me to Covent Gardens regularly as a child to see the street performers. Growing up in London, seeing performance and art in public places was fairly normal. However, this weekend I was watching not only as a spectator but as a maker too. Being able to see the amount and variety of outdoor art on offer at Greenwich & Docklands International Festival with making in mind was overwhelming and made the performances all the more impressive. Thanks to Articulture for making this trip possible. 

I want to highlight five key characteristics of outdoor arts that became clear to me this weekend, and that I’ll be taking forward in my producing role with Powys Dance.

RoboPole presented by UliK Robotik was an example of precision and simplicity. A 10-minute performance displaying outstanding skill, making the audience gasp and turn to each other with raised eyebrows. The performer and robotic arm were perfectly in sync, and if I’m correct that it was all pre-programmed, the performer’s precision in standing at exactly the correct point over and again to interact with the machinery was so interesting to watch. Although the development must have been detailed and the subtext could be discussed for hours, the piece itself was simple and concise.

An obvious trait but one that becomes all the more significant when you set out to make is that there is no backstage, there’s no hiding, everything is laid bare. Many companies make this a focus of their work. I loved to see this embraced by Helen Eastman Production’s Bicycle Boy, and Dip by Max Calaf Seve. In Bicycle Boy, we saw the wires and audience members provided the pedal power; seeing the way things work was at the heart of the show. The Dip soundtrack was made in collaboration with the audience. Words, crisp crunching and bottle popping looped as a backdrop to breathtaking trampolining.

The skill in looking like you don’t know what you’re doing is immense. I was lucky enough to get some overalls and make my way into the big white tent for Plock! presented by Grensgeval. To start, I really was tricked into believing I was going to watch someone simply paint for 55 minutes. It wasn’t until I became aware of the most beautiful and subtle soundtrack, I realised that every movement, moment of eye contact and mark made on the paper was perfectly choreographed. When watching Doble Mandoble’s La Belle Escabelle, it wasn’t the final balancing on top of a step ladder by your neck spectacle that was most impressive to me (although that was pretty jaw dropping!). It was the timing and skill required to make their intricate bottle and glass choreography look chaotic and wild.

Connection between the performance and audience is what many artists aim towards. However, this weekend, I realised again how this is dependent on the spectator’s subjectivity not only the quality of the work. Teatro So’s Sorriso’s was indisputably beautiful and faultless but I failed to connect emotionally (despite trying!). I saw in the characters’ interactions one last dance with life and when the male figure took the largest balloon I imagined it floating to the heavens. But he popped it and I realised that what I saw was not what was intended and my connection with the piece was lost. Conversely, a scratch performance by Flintlock Theatre at the HUB called Last Words wasn’t based on a subject I felt instantly connected with. However, the skill of the single performer in storytelling and including the audience, particularly through her eye contact made the work touching and compelling.

Lastly, seeing 14 shows across the weekend was a wonderful opportunity to really think about why outside? This is probably best exemplified in the piece that I found myself thinking about for most of the long journey back to Wales. Rodadoras presented by Becky Namgauds could have been performed inside in terms of scale and production. Three dancers performing powerful and primal choreography in soil didn’t have to be under a tree in the corner of the gardens. So why should it be? Firstly, being situated outside added to the artistic vision. The organic movement coming from the earth amongst nature and against the backdrop of the sky heightened the performance, making it so much more interesting that had it been performed in a pristine black box with professional lighting and surround sound. Secondly and most importantly for me, there were people who saw that work that would not have seen it had it been performed at Sadlers Wells. The deliveroo cyclists that stopped to watch at the fence, the toddler who paused puzzled at the women kicking the soil and the little girl in the front row ‘face timing’ her dad to show him what he was missing. None of this would have been possible in a venue and that’s what its all about.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Introduction to fundraising

Fundraising is its own world with its own language. Alongside the terminology, there are key phrases you’ll find throughout a funders guidance and the applications made. These change based on who you’re applying to and also the policy or preferences of the moment. Yesterdays ‘innovation’ is todays ‘resilience’ and tomorrow’s ‘sustainability’.

For now, here is a brief look at the different types of funding available for participatory arts projects and some useful terms.

Grants – money given to an individual or organisation for a specific project determined by the person applying. It doesn’t have to be paid back. Individuals or organisations can apply to a grant funder often through a competitive process via an application form (sometimes with additional film or interview). The funder will set eligibility criteria and priorities in their guidance materials which should be read carefully to avoid wasting time on the wrong applications.

Restricted or unrestricted grants – a restricted grant asks the grantee partner to set out exactly what they will spend their funding on before the grant is released. The grant has to be spent in the way that’s been agreed. For example, if you say you’ll spend £200 on marketing materials but only spend £100, you’d have to check with your funder that you can reallocate the underspend to another part of the project. An unrestricted grant is less common. The funder commits an amount to be spent in order to achieve an agreed outcome. The way that grant is spent is flexible.

Commissions – a formal arrangement for a sum of money to be given to an individual or organisation to carry out a piece of work. Most commonly this project will have been identified, researched and developed by the commissioner themselves and not determined by the person carrying it out. For example, a local authority might commission an organisation to provide a youth arts service. There will be contractual obligations and reporting required.

Profit - making activities raising money through your own activity provides unrestricted income. Ticket sales to performances, fees for workshops or income from consultancy can be invested back into the company or pay towards core costs such as salary or overheads (see below). Many grant funders like to see you are matching their contribution with your own efforts to maximize the impact of their support. One issue with raising income this way is that often participatory arts projects work with marginalised communities who can’t afford to pay fees or public bodies with tight budgets.

Donations and sponsorship – individuals or businesses can provide charitable donations or sponsor a project or event in return for publicity. Crowdfunding can be a good way to ask individuals to support your project financially whilst also raising awareness of what you are doing. To gain sponsorship you need to be clear about what you can offer a sponsor and what value to place on that. For example, you might include them in your event programme, acknowledge their support on your website and social media, and ensure local press coverage.  

Loan finance & investment – This option is only available for companies who can trade (for-profit or trading arm). Specific organisations offer low interest rate loans for creative businesses often funded themselves by government to support growth in the sector. This relies on you being able to generate profit through your activity in order to pay back the loan with interest, or provide a return on the investment made.

Useful terms

Outcomes and benefits – Grant funders will want to understand what your project will do: what outcomes will be achieved e.g. performances, workshops, documents, and what impact this will have e.g. increased confidence amongst participants, new learning for partner organisations. Different funders use different terminology so read the guidance carefully to understand what they are asking for.

Legacy – Grant funders value projects that can have a legacy beyond the funder’s support. For example, if you establish a new network they’d like to know that this will continue after the project funding has ended. Some funders will be happy with your ideas as to how this might happen and others will need evidence on how this will be resourced moving forwards. Legacy plans need to be realistic and flexible to respond to what happens in the course of the project.

Overheads – These are the costs necessary to make the project happen but not to directly deliver it. They might also be called running, operating or core costs. Each funder will have specific criteria in relation to overheads with most only allowing 10-15% of a grant to be spent on these. They might include office rent, insurance, non-delivery staff, accounting and marketing. As you can see these are essential and with grant funders reluctant to cover them this can be a challenge.  

Match funding – Demonstrating you have multiple ways of bringing money to a project shows there is wide support for it and that its more sustainable than being reliant on a single funder. For some funders this is a preference and for others a requirement. For example, some might only fund up to 80% of a project’s costs and the other 20% must be sourced from other funders, partners or through the project’s own activity (e.g. ticket sales).