Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Supporting Creative Councils and Councillors

Although it might not seem so from this blog, I’ve got lots going on behind the scenes at the moment – hence the slight hiatus. Among other things I’ve got several industry meetings coming up at which I will be soliciting ideas for a response to Ed Vaizey’s letter to me about In Battalions. (Drop me a line if you’re a theatre professional interested in coming along.) 

In the meantime, here is a little thing which might be of interest. I recently had a great meeting with Claire Mansfield of the New Local Government Network, a think-tank coming up with new ideas for local authorities during challenging times. Claire had written a great article about the value of arts and culture during times of recession, and I got in touch to see if there were ways in which I might be able to support her work. 

That conversation is still ongoing, but in preparation for our meeting I put together a list of ideas for ways in which I thought local councils might be able to support arts organisations and artists in their area – none of which would cost very much. In a separate development, I was heartened to hear Labour shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman speak recently about the launch of the Creative Councillors' Network, to support those local councillors who do want to protect and support the arts in their area, despite the cuts. 

In the spirit of adding to that conversation, I thought I’d post some of my ideas up here. It’s slightly back-of-an-envelope stuff I admit, but I’d rather it was out there than sat in my notebook. Who knows where it might end up? And if it sparks off any ideas of your own, please do add them. 

So, in times of austerity, local councils can support and encourage arts and culture in their local area by:

  • Listing and describing disused buildings in their area which they are responsible for, and which they would be prepared to offer out for free or cheap to arts orgs, and get them to publish or circulate the list to the arts community – including amateur arts organisation, schools and colleges.

  • Donate some staff time to compiling a weekly or monthly 'What's On' list and circulate it via email to local Heads of Drama in schools via the Councils education department lists. The same list could also be sent to the local newspaper to supplement their own listings section. This could include less visible opportunities such as summer schools and youth theatres, as well as more public-facing work.

  • Do the same for small scale plays on tour which are available to ‘buy in’, and circulate to Heads of Social Services departments, children's homes and NHS children's or OAP wards.

  • Donate some office space or the town hall for regular round tables or social events for artists in their area to network and share skills and experience (e.g. fundraising). Guest speakers could be invited each time.

  • Do the same to broker connections between artists and local businesses seeking to sponsor arts work in their area.

  • Encourage local business tie-ins with evening arts activities to stimulate the night-time economy, e.g. 10% off your local cab firm or restaurant if customers show a ticket to a local play.

  • Invite big well-funded arts organisations from out of town to come and visit for a few nights (e.g. the RSC Newcastle season) and curate a local fringe festival surrounding the visit, in which local companies get to perform nearby and share the same promotional season brochure, with discounts if multiple tickets are booked.

  • Hold a public event in the town hall, a bit like the Fresher's Fair at universities, where local arts organisations are given a stall for the day and invited to man it with personnel and brochures - a 'one stop shop' for the pubic to see what's on and meet their local arts companies and artists, and leave with some literature, or having signed up to a mailing list. Amateur and professional arts could be given equal billing, as could opportunities for general interest classes for local residents to develop their own creative skills.

  • Ask the council press office to donate some time to promoting local arts events via their email mailing lists, or helping smaller companies by looking over and giving advice on their press releases.

  • Put a call out to local tradespeople who the council licenses (builders, carpenters etc) who might be prepared to donate some time to helping out a local community arts event, e.g. helping build a set for the local youth theatre.

  • Compiling and circulating a list of ‘invisible’ facilities at local schools, such as on-site theatres or school gallery spaces, and circulating it to local artists who might be interested in holding exhibitions or performances there, as a mutually beneficial arrangement - or indeed for local amateur groups (e.g. pensioners' art classes) who might be looking for spaces to perform or exhibit their work.

  • Promote local arts events internally to Council staff, via the Councils own intranet email system, with maybe 10% offers available to Council workers' friends and family.

  • More actively promoting work experience for local school and college students in arts organisations, perhaps via a networking event where everyone can meet beforehand and swap details. Once in post, work experience students and their families could be offered free or discounted tickets to events in the organisation in which they're working.

Got any ideas of your own? Post them below. Remember that where possible, they should be about utilising Council’s existing facilities and resources rather than creating extra costs or demands.


Anonymous said...

Great ideas.

I'd offer incentives for the builders, carpenters, press officers etc: free tickets for them and their families/friends according to how much time and help they give too.

Lucy Flannery said...

One thing councillors can do is actually support their art centres, theatres, galleries and museums by attending them - and not just arts portfolio holders. All too often, the only political presence at cultural events is the once-a-year formal Mayor’s visit. If elected members actively engage with their local arts scene - and then tweet and blog about it - everybody gains.

Sadly, many councillors keep their distance, failing to perceive the value-added benefits of a vibrant arts scene and the crucial role it plays in local economies.

At a time when High Streets are dying and towns and cities need to find new ways of attracting visitors, championing and helping to boost the cultural life of your area would seem a no-brainer.