Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by StopGAP (arts 133)

1. This submission is written by Vicki Balaam Artistic Director of StopGAP Dance Company representing the company’s views.

2. My summary of my thoughts below are as follows:

a. Funding cuts would impact not only StopGAP’s funding, but our ability to earn income both from working and touring within the UK and internationally

b. Cuts to the arts sector would have an impact in other industries and sectors of society as by nature performing arts tends to tour

c. Most small arts organisations already practice "economies of scale" because it’s the only way to survive already – there are no more savings in that area for us

d. There is only a limited number of costs we can reduce as we still need cash to pay wages

e. Core costs are very difficult to find funding for, and these are the costs that need to be covered by government subsidy

f. Without core costs being funded the balance becomes disproportionately skewed towards earning money rather than improving and developing artistic practice. This may be bearable in the short term, but in the long term will be detrimental to the UK’s position of being leaders world wide

g. A cut across the whole arts sector would impact performing arts companies more than once. They would have to endure the cuts they are due to receive, but there would be the unquantifiable repercussions of venues and development agencies reducing their bookings and what work can be secured would be for substantially reduced fees

h. I am happy with the structure of having the Arts Council to manage government funding as I would prefer there to be an organisation between the government and the artists

i. Businesses and philanthropists should play a more active role in funding the arts, but should not be a replacement for government funding

j. A culture of increased funding from businesses and philanthropists will take years to embed in society, will need better incentives from the Government, and should become part of the current Corporate Social Responsibility and charitable trusts systems. Any other way would seriously disadvantage smaller organisations

k. Let us not look to America for inspiration for re-modeling the UK arts industry

l. If cuts have to happen, as much time as possible is needed in order to be able to prepare. As the arts sector works so much in advance a minimum of 1 year’s preparation is need for substantial changes.

m. The arts, especially integrated arts, is more valuable than saving budget lines. As well as creating great art, it can inspire communities, and show how a truly integrated society can be.

Context

3. StopGAP is contemporary dance company consisting of dancers with and without disabilities. A Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO) of Arts Council England and based at Farnham Maltings in Surrey, StopGAP is one of the UK’s top integrated dance companies. The company is a world leader in the quality of it’s performances and workshops, working nationally and representing the UK internationally, leaving a legacy of training and inspiring the next generation of integrated dancers throughout East and West Europe, from Cornwall to Cambodia, Surrey to Japan.

4. StopGAP is unique as within the cast there is a dancer with Downs Syndrome and a dancer who uses a wheelchair, and is a very rare company as all the performers are on full time, long term, PAYE contracts. Retention of staff – both within the office and on the stage – is crucial to StopGAP’s development to enable the company to truly push the boundaries of what is possible because of the depth of knowledge and trust that long term working relationships enable us to achieve. The result is empowered individuals who are strong, mesmerising, charismatic performers that you care about when you watch them, and demonstrate the strength that a truly integrated society can achieve. StopGAP is integration with integrity, dancers performing with humanity and relishing their very tangible connection with each other and their audience.

5. As a company we are very proud to be based in the South East, to be part of the arts sector in the UK and to represent the UK internationally.

What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level

6. Whilst understanding that cuts in all areas need to be made due to the current economic climate, I am concerned that deep cuts would jeopardise:

a. our ability to operate, survive and thrive

b. the intricately linked network that links all areas of the arts

c. our ability to secure work from international bookings, that already has been used historically to subsidise our work in the UK.

7. We rely on our RFO to support our core costs. With 3 full time and 3 part time members of office staff supporting the workload of 6 artistic team and 2 apprentice artists, we are already operating with an infrastructure that is too small for the workload and ambitions we have.

8. Our options of reducing our costs are very limited as we are already operating on a shoe string. We can’t reduce office staff as this level of operating is our absolute minimum to manage the workload to keep the dancers in full time employment. If we were to reduce the numbers of dancers in the company, we would invalidate the £50,000 investment we have made in creating our new repertoire that is due to be performed for the next 2 – 3 years. If we were to back out on our commitment to our apprentice dancers, that wouldn’t enable us to make savings as they will be part funded by trusts and foundations for two years and part funded by the income generation from delivering workshops and performances to our local community. This would damage the ability for us to replace dancers in the future when members of our current cast decide to retire or move to another company, and it would mean we would not be able to deliver arts activity in our local community, and so lose our value to our host venue.

9. We are already entrepreneurial in our approach to securing income, constantly trying to reduce our reliance on Arts Council funding, but the magic answer proves illusive! Despite the fact we are a popular company that’s in demand, the fees we can secure from venues do not match what it costs us to send our dancers to perform – and that’s not taking into account all the costs that are involved to get the company ready to tour. Our current tour has needed additional subsidy from Arts Council England, and for us to use our international fees to further subsidise our tour costs.

10. My concern is that as cuts happen across the arts industry throughout the country, venues will struggle. As their subsidy reduces, there will be less touring dates available and what dates are available will be for less money. This scenario will be catastrophic as the impact will be unquantifiable for us. It is one thing preparing for a specific figure, but it deeply concerns me that we can’t quantify the further ripples that will happen.

11. Our international work is crucial to our schedule, not only for the artistic, profile and personnel development that we find invaluable, but it does financially subsidise the running of the company and UK touring. If we were faced with substantial cuts we would have to increase our international work, which I would hate as we clearly see ourselves as a UK company proud to be based in the South East. My other concern is that building increased international touring to what we have planned takes at least 2 years, so if the cuts happen hard and fast we are unlikely to survive for long enough to be able to build a sustainable international workload at the level we would need.

12. Any cuts would mean a reduction in work and employment. If our workload reduces because we have to reduce our capacity, the following would be reduced: audience figures; numbers of workshop participants; training and development of practice in the education, social services and arts sectors; artist employment within the company; employment of people with disabilities; artistic employment outside the company (usually to create new work and develop our practice); additional income into our local area as people come and watch our work and study our practice; money we spend in the local economy when we tour; international income we bring into the UK both fees we earn and visiting artists expenditure.

What arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale

13. As far as we are concerned we can’t do any more than we are doing already. Being based at Farnham Maltings, we are lucky enough to have free office space and subsidised rehearsals space, access to arts professionals we can go to for advice or to chew over an idea with – this is an invaluable investment.

14. In return we create our work there bringing a range of artists and people through their doors and into their café; we are a resource they can call on; we give advice to them and their associates specifically about disability, access and dance; we are committed to making a difference to our local community so our dance development initiatives implicitly and explicitly benefit them; they receive a regular revenue from our rehearsal space bookings; and can borrow any of our technical equipment that we have access to, especially the more specialist things like simultaneous translation and audio description equipment.

15. Our presence benefits the Farnham Maltings through profile and reputation in addition to the financial benefit, as does their patronage of our work. We both become ambassadors for each other unlocking bigger projects that we would not have secured on our own.

16. Being based at the arts centre means we have a greater range of contacts, and so we are able to also share human resources. Excellent examples of this working successfully are our book keeper and our marketing assistant. Both only do a few hours at a time for us but are invaluable to us. If we were to recruit and employ them on our own the recruitment would be costly and we wouldn’t be able to give them enough hours to make it worth their while. As it is, because they were based at the Farnham Maltings, they understood the industry and needed no training, we knew we were getting the right person as we already knew them, they already knew us, and they travel to the same place of work so can be wonderfully flexible in the hours that they work, which means we have the luxury of only needing to book them for the hours we absolutely need them for. The additional unquantifiable benefit is that with that fluidity of personnel comes a flow of information that is invaluable, and again projects grow and develop rather than only happening because the right people meet at the right time. We have gained some significant projects because we have been sharing the office with the right person who can let us know of interesting projects we can pitch for.

17. We extend this way of working to many partner organisations. For instance a theatre that can’t afford our fee will give us extra tech time, a venue that can’t afford to commission us will give us a production week (that is invaluable to us), a residency will be traded for a resident film crew, a workshop for rehearsal space. We do as much bartering as we possibly can and have reduced as many costs as possible, but the bottom line is that we need a certain amount of money coming into the company to pay salaries and things we can’t barter for, so there is only so many of our services we can give away.

18. After a lot of thought, I really think we are working as closely as possible and there are no more economies of scale that we can make.

What level of public subsidy for the arts and heritage is necessary and sustainable

19. StopGAP has existed without subsidy for a long time and with subsidy. The time that we were able to flourish was when our subsidy was 40% of our turn over. There does need to be enough of a subsidy for it to make a difference and to support organisations core costs. Project to project, it is reasonably easy to secure funding for good ideas that are needed, but most of these tend to be participatory.

20. My concern is how to give artists and companies the security to be able to dedicate time to developing their practice rather than turn commercial and constantly turn out work subject to a formula that seems to work. By giving time and security I don’t mean let artists wallow in a darkened room contemplating navels. We find that it is already hard to balance our focus between ensuring we continually challenge the quality and expertise of our integration, with our need to make money. We had a situation recently that meant that our balance wasn’t good and the priority to make money resulted in us working the dancers too hard. The workload became inhumane for them, giving them greater risk of injury and long term damage to their physical ability to do their job. We had to ask them to sacrifice any sense of proportion with their work/life balance, resulting in them working away from home far too much, something that was particularly hard for our dancer with Downs Syndrome who became incredibly home sick. Placing the dancers in this situation was something we resolved as soon as we could and will endeavor never to let happen again. This compromised situation is not conducive for us to continue our ability to retain staff that we pride ourselves on so much, and need to have so desperately for the business of our art to continue to flourish and surprise. I am concerned that we have been placed in this position already so what will happen if the funding becomes worse?

21. If I was an outsider to this industry, I would expect that the solution would be simple: that as the subsidy to the companies reduces then they "just" have to negotiate their fees better. My deepest concern is that if the subsidy to the sector is reduced across the board then the companies will suffer from all sides, losing the level of subsidy that they are used to AND losing the level of fees they currently can reasonably expect.

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one

22. I can only talk about my experience of working with Arts Council South East. I value the relationship that StopGAP has had with them since our first performances. It hasn’t always been the most comfortable of relationships, but I have valued that honest, outside eye that truly has been a critical friend whilst having the sector’s best interests at heart. They are challenging in what they are expecting from their RFO’s but I feel comfortable having an organisation that exists between my company and the government: an organisation that ensures we spend our money correctly and are accountable for our funding, and yet one that I am confident that it will lobby government for the good of my sector. I am proud to be based in the South East, and part of that is because I am happy, and actually impressed with the way Arts Council South East has been dealing with the uncertainty of the current climate.

23. I think the structure of having relationship managers is invaluable. I would be very uncomfortable if the organisation distributing arts funding wasn’t a separate "arms length" organisation from government.

Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level and if there needs to be more Government incentives

24. In an ideal world, of course it would be ideal for businesses and philanthropists to play a role in funding but not to replace subsidy. If they were to become the sole funders then we would be heading towards an arts scene like America, and I, along with many other companies and artists, would not be interested in staying in the UK. There are so many reasons why this would be wrong, most of all because then everyone would be tempted to follow the fashions and trends of what was getting funding rather than focus on creating the best art they could and trusting their quality and innovation would secure funding.

25. Since StopGAP began, I have been chasing business sponsorship and trying to secure that illusive philanthropist that would enable StopGAP to be independent of any subsidy. I have come to the conclusion that this is not possible for StopGAP. Despite the fact we would appear to be a sexy option for either, we do not have the resources or time to invest in wooing the right people, we don’t move in the right circles to make the right connections, and when weighing the balance between spending time filling out a grant application with a formal process to go through for a trust, or spending time chasing sponsorship leads, we know we have a better chance of getting a return from the application form than we have anything else. We have tried!

26. Businesses and individuals do need to get involved in supporting the arts, but arts organisations, especially those that are small and not national institutes will suffer disproportionately if this becomes the only way to fund the arts. Better incentives need to be put in place, particularly tax incentives. I feel that it would be better for the current system to be better used. I would prefer individuals and businesses to develop a culture of giving through trusts and foundations. It has to be a way that would be more transparent and fair than the current pursuit of sponsorship. A greater reliance on personal giving and business support would also involve a fundamental cultural change and this would take time to really take place rather than be a token quick fix. Please let us not follow the American model!

Personal thoughts

27. It is the last minute nature of the cuts announcements that I feel would cause the most devastation. It prevents the whole industry being able to confirm agreements which is putting a stranglehold on all plans, possibility of collaborations, and setting up inventive solutions to get us through this period. We just don’t know what we are dealing with and that means we don’t know what decisions we need to be making – and we need to be making those now.

28. With the significant development that has been happening in the integrated dance sector and the disability dance sector, I think the time is now for an amazing transformation to happen within the arts sector that will be led by organisations that show diversity on stage. In this current climate, I feel society needs integrated dance, not only to experience great art, but to inspire people. There is a dangerous level of fragmentation in our communities, but seeing such powerful diversity can inspire change. I have met many people who have disabilities that don’t see any active role models they can relate to, but are inspired by the work of StopGAP – our ethos and quality of work. With the momentum that is building with the Olympics and the Paralympics, and increased profile of people with disabilities within sport and popular culture, it would be a devastation if the arts, after all these years of waiting, can’t make the most of this time and contribute and lead.

September 2010