Thursday, 14 October 2010

Do or Do Not, There Is No Try

Budget cuts and the fate of public funding for the arts are seriously hot topics in the cultural world right now. Everyone has the fear and is responding en masse to the imminent culture spend being published, this month I believe, and is rumoured to contain cuts up to 40%.

There is no doubt that that is a scary figure, particularly in the face of an already pretty frugal system for arts subsidy. Coupled with the Tories proclaiming that private or commercial philanthropy will be an appropriate patch for the cut; sort of like sticking a Hello Kitty plaster to the wound after someone has just ripped your arm off!

Campaigns like I Value The Arts (which I do, by the way, and have branded my company website with their Twibbon) are really valuable just in terms of gathering responses not just from the industry itself but from thousands of people all across the country who have their lives enriched by a trip to the theatre, browsing a museum, viewing some art or going to a concert. Petitions such as these provide tangible evidence that there is prevalent public support for the sustainability of culture.
I was very heartened to see the number of Twibbons that adorned the profile images of friends on Facebook whose day to day life could not be further from the creative industries, other than their personal enjoyment of what the arts scene in this country has to offer.

Although I will always join the rally to protect arts funding and speak up for its importance, in the political and economical climate that we currently find ourselves I think substantial cuts to the cultural budget are inevitable. Sadly there is too much widespread belief that if trimming the fat is required then the arts are an easy first slice off the outside.

However, that being said, I don’t live in fear of a post-apocalyptic waste land in which the creative industries becomes an underground, rebellious movement that with all their good intentions are a bit dirty, smelly and live on rat burgers!
Artists and creative types will always find a way of making their work and pushing forward with opportunities to develop. Grassroots, collaborative attitudes have always been the founding ethos of 90% of some of our most prolific and successful artists; illustrated quite beautifully in Charlotte Higgins’ Blog on the “complex ecosystem of British arts”.

Speaking from view point of someone who makes work themselves; my theatre company, Rhymes with Purple, have never been formally funded and we have produced 5 theatrical works, 4 Edinburgh Festival Fringe productions and created a brand new festival concept for Glasgow, all within our quite insignificant four year tenure. For all our projects we rely on the dedication of a creative team of three performer turned writers turned producers turned directors (when your wallet is empty it is considered economical to turn your hand to almost anything), all of whom believe firmly in our ethos. Coupled with that is in-kind support from our network of other creative types, a network that operates on an “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” policy, a policy which has never failed us.

Now some purists might argue if you don’t assemble a large team of expensive practitioners; from the hot designer on the scene working on your set to employing a cast of Sam West’s that you aren’t to be taken seriously. To those people I say, you are not very culturally aware. There is no such thing as a theatre company or an artist who springs fully formed and funded into the cultural consciousness. Fortunately that attitude isn’t too common amongst the wise and influential but there will always be the obstacle of narrow-minded pretentiousness within the industry to find your way around.

Obviously you succeed or fail, ultimately, on the quality of the work but I still remain an advocate of make the work you want to make. Development and getting better, or sometimes getting worse, is all a part of the practise. And anyone with any level of artistic vision will find a way of making that work. There are plenty of initiatives and venues that find a way of supporting emerging and established artists without having to write large cheques, such as the Forest Fringe and The Arches.

I want to cite a pretty exemplary example of not only making the work you want to make but also finding a way of making things happen for you out of sheer hard graft and tapping into your support network.

It’s not a theatre company, but a band; dark acoustic rock band from Glasgow, Gorman.

An extremely talented local group that have been invited to participate in Japan Music Week, an international, all-genre music conference, taking place in Tokyo this November. Currently they are the only group representing Scotland at this event, which is fantastic in itself.

Japan Music Week presents an a opportunity for musicians, bands and DJs to showcase their work to an international market that will allow them to grow audience, expose themselves to media and record labels and network with other artists from across the globe. Therefore the opportunity to develop and take their artistic career to the next level is significant.

What I think is special about this endeavour is not only Gorman's defiance of the cliquey, music-industry press (who have yet to recognise their efforts as valuable) but also of the limitations they are up against with increasingly limited formal funding for music artists looking to showcase internationally.

Japan Music Week can provide every level of support whilst in Tokyo however raising the capital to get there is the responsibility of the artists themselves.

Not deterred, Gorman sat down at the drawing board and formulated a strategy. A strategy that relied on being pro-active, creative and ambitious. What they have achieved through sheer graft and alternative arts-funding ideology is utterly commendable.

They have raised over £5K for their project without a funding application in sight. How? Well, WATCH THIS to find out.

Their efforts are exemplary and, I think, should act as inspriation not only to other bands but any kind of artist faced with the challenge of getting seen, heard and elevated.

I don't believe the arts will die a death. Not while there are so many talented, inspiring indivuduals out there making it happen for themselves and keeping their heads above the deluge of negativity and Tory delusion. The death of arts funding does not necessarily herald the end, but perhaps the birth of a whole new way of doing things instead. *Now Playing: Don't Stop Believin' by Journey*

And death does not need to be scary....sometimes it's very cool! CLICK HERE

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