B-arts - What's all this then?

Making it Work is all about making changes.  In autumn of 2012 Arts Council England offered arts companies who had previously received Grants for the Arts funding, to form consortia and bid for support from a fund called Catalyst Arts. The purpose of the fund is to increase the capacity of arts organisations to diversify their funding steams. Well that sound like a proper challenge in Stoke.

We all know how to tell the story of this area, of Stoke and North Staffordshire, and the people with whom we work: the lack of employment, low educational attainment, poor health and life expectancy. Not only are the statistics against us, but the city, Stoke, is a by-word for undesirability- the butt of comic routines, shorthand for where you don't want to find yourself on a Saturday night. The arts organisations have tended to talk about the arts in the area in the same way. We are trained to use the same language and same evidence: emphasising the challenges rather than the opportunities. So how do we shift this? I invited the arts organisations I knew about who I thought might be up for this,and who fitted the criteria, to form the Making it Work consortium to bid for this money....and we got it.

So now we have a job on. It's clear we all need to find new fund raising schemes, new ways of attracting support for our work. We want to challenge ourselves to not repeat the same cynical discussions about arts fundraising. But, this isn't London, it's certainly not Manchester, Leeds or even Sheffield. Really, how many high net value individuals are there in Stoke? How many corporations are headquartered here? Isn’t Stoke where companies come for cheap labour and land to site distribution warehouses and call centres, while their HQs and CSR money are elsewhere? We read the same arts industry articles as everyone else. Individual and corporate support are concentrated in London the SE, and goes to the usual suspects from the RSC to Tate. So we chase grants and short contract public sector work that encourages us to focus on what’s wrong with Stoke. The insecurity of this work leads all to spend as much time as we can chasing the next funding opportunity. A consistent approach to artistic development becomes hostage to wildly varying funding requirements. We work ever-harder to stand where we are.

This is the work cycle we all want to change. Developing a new fundraising model that prioritises individual giving is not only appropriate for us, its essential. This is an adventure we will be sharing, lessons learnt, blind alleys chased, wild geese followed, shining examples captured and brought back to inspire us all. Out of it all we want practical, real differences in how we make work, fund work and how people connect with us and our work.

Ken Campbell, the radical theatre maker, introduced me to the idea of "fields of potentiality". This best describes for me the spaces we will be both exploring and creating through this work. Making it Work isn't only about making sure we all get paid, that the organisations in the consortium survive (if we want to), it's also about making the arts in Stoke sustainable, ingrained, where they should be, at the front, facilitating and modelling a new way of being; making it work for everyone.  Watch out for more.

Meanwhile..........think big, think wide, and then just do something.

- Susan

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