Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Northern Ballet (arts 84)

I am writing on behalf of Northern Ballet in response to the Culture Select Committee enquiry into arts funding.

· Northern Ballet is a national touring narrative ballet company based in Leeds. We are committed to creating full-length productions that appeal to a wide audience and tour throughout the UK and overseas, developing new audiences for dance.

· We tour to more towns and cities and give more performances than any other of England’s large ballet companies (Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet).

· Northern Ballet gives great value for money. We create more new full-length work than any of the other large ballet companies and in the past 10 years we have commissioned an unparalleled 10 new full-length ballets.

· Northern Ballet achieves this on far less public subsidy than the other major ballet companies. We receive less than half the subsidy from Arts Council England than the other major ballet companies receive.

· Northern Ballet is a creative and high quality company working within tight budgets. We are a shining example of working in partnership with other organisations. We have already had a funding cut and further funding cuts will result in a fundamental change in who we are and what we do.

· I believe Northern Ballet is a representation of the impact the funding cuts will have on a touring company and therefore although I am representing my company, I am sure I am adding a voice to the many others you have already heard from.

1) Funding and the impact of proposed funding cuts

Northern Ballet is an Arts Council England regularly funded organisation and receives 57% of its income through public funding. Northern Ballet is also supported by Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Grants. We generate the remainder through ticket sales, from trusts and foundations, through sponsorship and individual donations.

Although the Company receives public subsidy it does so at a much lower level than all the other large ballet companies in England. Despite this, in 2009-10 Northern Ballet gave 168 performances in the UK, touring for 26 weeks in 16 different venues (in any one year Northern Ballet may tour to Aylesbury, Bath, Bradford, Canterbury, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Llandudno, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Sheffield, Woking);

reaching an audience of slightly less than 121,000 people.

Northern Ballet gives great value for money. We create more new full-length work than any of the other large ballet companies (Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet) and in the past 10 years it has commissioned an unparalleled 10 new full-length ballets.

Dance is the fastest growing art form in the UK and Northern Ballet is leading this growth in the North. At a time of uncertainty we are riding high on the success of our move to new headquarters and the creation of a new full-length ballet, Cleopatra (opening February 2011). We are championing growth, ambition and innovation at a time of economic uncertainty.

Northern Ballet takes risks and gives opportunities to young choreographers. For example, it commissioned Cathy Marston, rising star of British dance, previous Associate Artist of the Royal Opera House and Artistic Director of Bern Ballet, to choreograph A Tale of Two Cities on the Company. This was an unprecedented risk artistically and financially which other companies weren’t prepared to take.

Northern Ballet is a much-loved company with loyal audiences stretching from one end of the country to the other. Our audiences tell us they enjoy the emotional engagement they get from our performances and the way in which they are made to feel part of the Northern Ballet family.

Northern Ballet was recognised for the work we have done to raise the profile of dance in the UK, through our national tour, when we were awarded the Patron’s Award at the National Dance Awards in 2009. The Company has carved a unique place in the UK’s cultural landscape and was voted Britain’s favourite dance company for three consecutive years at the National Dance Awards. This was the only award voted for by the public and is a reflection of the impact and popularity our national tour has on audiences around the UK and further afield.

It is widely accepted that Northern Ballet has always been an underfunded company so the threat to funding will hit the Company harder than many of the larger, well-supported ballet companies. The proposed funding cuts will have a catastrophic impact on us and our audiences. We will not be able to continue with the level of creativity for which we have become renowned.

Northern Ballet will be unable to commission the new productions for which it has an unrivalled reputation and we will have to rely on old existing repertoire. With this in mind, we would also have to cut the number of dancers in the Company which means that we won’t have enough dancers to perform the majority of productions in our repertoire. We would also have to cut the number of performances and the reach of our tour, which means that towns such as Hull would be starved of high quality, home grown, dance. The towns and cities to which we tour would not benefit from the economic impact our touring brings through, for example, parking and restaurant receipts.

2) A landmark new building for the North

The spectre of funding cuts comes at a significant moment for Northern Ballet. We will move to new purpose-built headquarters in central Leeds in October 2010. It is a landmark new building which has received funding from Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Forward, and Arts Council England, Yorkshire. It will be the largest purpose-built space for dance outside London featuring Europe’s largest dance studio at 15m x 30m. It will be unique in housing both a classical ballet company as well as a contemporary dance company (Phoenix Dance Theatre) and the Northern Ballet Academy. Leeds Metropolitan University’s Higher Education performing arts and dance courses will also take place in the building. Northern Ballet successfully raised more than £12 million and secured support from both the public and private sector for the new building. The campaign allowed us to forge new links with philanthropists in the region with whom we are building relationships for the future. These individuals though have made it clear to us, and in the press, that they will add to public funding but they are not prepared to replace it.

The new building is an opportunity for the Company to work in facilities that are fit for purpose, that allow us to work more creatively and will allow the public to have access to our work in ways they haven’t been able to before. Our provision for people of all ages will increase. This should be a time of celebration and growth for Northern Ballet. It will be an outstanding resource for the whole of the North of England.

The new building is an asset against which we hope we will be able to generate income through space hire for conferencing. However it will also cost us a considerable amount to run, an additional £200,000, which we will need to generate at a time when our funding is being cut. It is a distinct possibility that this glorious new centre for dance might, through necessity, become a glorified conference venue rather than a hub of creativity and education which it ought to be. It is a dilemma facing many arts organisations which have been fortunate to have had a capital project and although we are grateful for the support we have received, the challenges facing us cannot be underestimated. We want our new building to be a vibrant beacon of success, of how the public and private sectors can work and exist together to create a successful enterprise. We fear the funding cuts may not allow the project to prosper.

3) People dancing

The new building will also allow us to expand our successful Academy. The Northern Ballet Academy is the only Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) for classical dance in the UK providing young people from across the North with a pathway to a professional career in dance. We have young people who travel to Leeds from as far afield as Hull and Blackpool several times a week because provision does not exist in their home towns. Our teachers have all been professional dancers and the quality of teaching is unparalleled in the region. Our new building will be an inspiration to these young students and indeed to the wider community in Leeds who have themselves supported our new building.

Northern Ballet’s busy and ground-breaking education department works with schools and community groups throughout Leeds. It tours with the Company delivering talks and workshops for all people. We are particularly successful at delivering activity for Visually impaired people including touch tours and audio-described performances. The department also works internationally and has led projects working with young learning disabled people in China for three consecutive years.

We will be unable to deliver such outstanding educational activities for people to participate in. This will affect a few thousand people but multiply this by the other arts organisations who face similar cuts and the impact will be devastating on the people who enjoy these activities, whether for fun or for fitness. Our commitment to ensuring our activities are as accessible as possible will remain and our fear is that only those who can afford to attend our performances and participatory events will benefit from them. It would be a tragedy for all the schools and communities we visit to lose these activities.

4) A successful business

Founded in 1969, Northern Ballet has grown to become a successful business. We employ more than 80 people including 40 dancers and the threat to our funding will lead to cuts in salary to a workforce who are employed in a sector where salaries are not high, and it would ultimately lead to redundancies. We would therefore not be as productive as we could be; we would not be able to market ourselves as effectively which would lead to a drop in ticket sales, thereby affecting our earned income. Cuts would also affect the touring venues we perform in and again and the venues would recoup their loss in part by increasing the costs to touring companies.

Northern Ballet is respected internationally and we are proud to act as cultural ambassadors for our region and for our country. Most recently we have toured to Hong Kong, Macau, Miami, Barcelona and Milan. Performances in Bangkok and Beijing are planned for later this year. Our productions are also performed by other companies around the world; for example our production of Carmen was recently hired by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. As such we are a successful exporting business.

We work in partnership with arts organisations already and our shared premises with Phoenix Dance Theatre are testament to this. We have good partnerships in education and business but the private sector will be unable to support the arts on the scale required to fill the proposed funding gap.

I recognise that the arts have to take their share of cuts in public spending and we are prepared to do so. I support the call for any cuts to be back-loaded in order for us to try and find a resolution that would not spell the end of a Company which has spent 40 successful years building audiences for dance and building a successful business with a reputation for innovation. I urge the Government to consider the positive impact the arts have on peoples’ lives, the economic rewards it brings and the contribution it makes to the tourist and business offer for towns and cities throughout the country. Northern Ballet is a British success story. The proposed cuts to arts funding will severely impact the potential achievements of our remarkable company just as we embark on a bold new future.

September 2010