The Government Comprehensive Spending review is under way already and decisions will be delivered in October. It is essential to make politicians and key decision makers all over the UK from every party (particularly the ruling Conservative Party) strongly aware of the quality, impact, importance and immense variety of work created by ITC members.
Two things got me thinking this week about the power and importance of the Independent performing arts sector (not that I don’t always!). One was a new young company coming in for some advice and talking convincingly, passionately and simply about their work (which involved provoking debate and exploring issues around organ donation and end of life care). The other was a PHD researcher wanting to do a study of ITC and its members because she had identified us as a ‘purpose-driven’ rather than profit-driven organisation and wanted to know more about the nature and working of our community. One of the things she asked me was ‘why do you work for this sector?’ – There followed from me an out-poring of enthusiastic reflections, which I realised I firmly believed in. There is very little financial gain to be had from making work in this sector, there isn’t much fame and not even enough recognition most of the time. Almost all of ITC’s 430 members, however, are vision-driven, energetic, skilled, professional companies and practitioners. Most of them reach people who do not usually have much access to the arts and some have a particular focus on the most excluded groups in our society (prisoners, people in care homes, learning disabled, young people at risk of offending, people in isolated rural communities, refugees, and homeless people – to name but a few). These companies and their dedicated staff and participants become expert in reaching these people, engaging with them in a respectful, non-patronising way, empowering them and finding effective ways to enhance their lives. None of our companies create elite art for the wealthy few and all of them make scarce resources go a long way to achieve maximum impact where artistic inspiration is needed – hence my enthusiasm and respect!
I also found myself telling the researcher that ITC is the largest performing arts management association in Europe (in terms of most number of members – not income or turnover!) – which must mean that the UK has the most highly developed, organised Independent Performing Arts sector in Europe.
Next week our staff team will be up in Edinburgh delivering free advice and events for artists and practitioners on the Fringe and we are looking forward to the opportunity to see a diverse range of our members’ work from all over the UK. This will hopefully help us in the vital profile raising work we must do for the sector over the next few months.
Our sector is vulnerable because most of the work is not based in permanent buildings and a lot of it is engaged in by the most disenfranchised, least vocal, least visible groups of people. Every company needs to contact their MP and make them aware of who they are working with, how they reach people, what the response of people is to their work, how their work helps to shift problems, promote debate and improve people’s lives, why they make the work, the resources they need to make it happen, how they manage those resources – in short the impact and value of what they do. We will be working hard to get this message across and we need input from members to do it effectively. We also need you to be making approaches locally yourselves and we can support you in doing this.
Our sector has suffered badly from funding cuts and reduction of funding opportunities over the past few years. It’s too easy to cut a small, non-building based organisation because there is no ‘body to bury’ – no embarrassing empty building to remind people of the loss. It is our job to keep the work of this sector in people’s minds and remind them how important it is. The new, young member who came to see me this week reminded me again how varied, exciting and thoughtful the work of ITC members is. We need to make sure everyone is taking about it all the time. Make sure you contribute to the noise!