Trust the Process: New Approaches to Artistic Development

The Long Read

I’ve been interested in the question of the commissioning process since my early-career days at the Manchester Jazz Festival, where I developed, with my good friend Steve Mead, a framework for selection and production, mjf originals, which is still going strong and has produced outstanding works. They’ve now gone one step further by creating a new artistic development scheme, hothouse, “that gets rid of the traditional written application forms and long-winded grant funding processes that artists frequently endure”. Artists are selected on the basis of a short video and get mentoring, guidance, paid rehearsal time and a paid work-in-progress showcase. I’m looking forward to discover the exciting new music that will come out of this, and in the meantime, I’ve rounded up a few other commissioning / development schemes that I like the sound of, beyond music (admittedly with a view to borrow and steal ideas for future projects). 

Citizen-led: Les Nouveaux commanditaires

Nouveaux-Commanditaires-coverLes Nouveaux commanditaires (The New Patrons) is a public art “protocol” developed in 1991 by visual artist François Hers, with the support of the Fondation de France, in response to what he perceived as the disconnection of art and life: the culmination of a triple logic of the artist as genius, the art object as a market commodity and the public as passive and unconcerned.

This Protocol is about injecting and redefining value at all levels of the creation and reception / interaction process. Crucially, it’s the public – playing their full role as citizens – who take responsibility to commission an artwork from an artist.

As Patron (commissioner), they therefore have to understand and express the reasons why an artwork should exist and be invested in.

The artist’s role is to invent new forms that respond (or reflect, subvert, question…) to the evolving needs and realities of contemporary society. Within the Protocol, the responsibility for artistic creation is a shared, collective one, not just a private initiative.

The third key piece of this creative equation is the mediator, an experienced arts professional, part facilitator, part producer, part fundraiser, selected by peers to act as an go-between, stewarding the process, navigating all interests and accompanying the commissioning individual or group until and beyond the realisation of the work.

Philanthropists, political representatives and academics are also actors in the Protocol, each bringing their influence, expertise and self-interest to the process, making the resulting work more grounded in society, but also more tricky to produce – hence the importance of the sustained, long-term mediator’s work, “organising the cooperation” of all parties.

Extract from the Protocol (in the current English translation provided on the New Patrons website – it needs a rework!):

In committing to an equal sharing of responsibilities, all players agree to manage through negotiation the tensions and conflicts inherent in public life within a democracy.

The work of art, having become an actor of public life, thus ceases to be merely the emblematic expression of someone’s individuality to become the expression of autonomous persons who have decided to form a community in order to invent new ways of relating to the world and to give a shared meaning to contemporary creative activity.

Financed by private and public subventions, the artwork becomes the property of a collectivity and its value is no longer a market value, but the value of the usage this collectivity makes of it and the symbolic importance conferred upon it.

The “mediator” role is of course what makes me really tick in this process, as I’ve been exploring how to be a better Creative Producer for a while. In his 2016 short book Letter to a Friend about the New Patrons, François Hers expands on his motivations and journey to create the Protocol, and reflects on the rise of this go between figure, which has since flourished in all sectors and situations, especially under the title of facilitator.

Two mediators discuss here how the phrase (and concept) Les Nouveaux commanditaires has been translated outside France 

There were 334 works listed on the website as of December 2017, which is a lot of citizen-led public art, so I could only pick a tiny sample below to illustrate the wide range of impulses and intentions behind these works:  

  • A New Product: A consulting firm specialised in office organisation commissioned an artist to accompany and make sense of their own relocation process. A New Product Harun Farocki
  • Qu’est ce qui nous rassemble ? (What Brings us Together?): An ad-hoc group of citizens (ccc) in the South West of France interested in the history and identity of their city engaged an artist to find the most relevant way to represent, in the public space, a contemporary vision of their city.

    Touches-y si tu l'oses, Delphine Balley 2013

    Touches-y si tu l’oses, Delphine Balley, 2013 (part of a photography exhibition)

  • The Ever Blossoming Garden: Parents and friends of a young woman murdered in 2007, after 5 years of organising silent marches in her memory, worked with an artist to create a peace sanctuary where violence could also be questioned.

    mario-airo-the-ever-blossoming-garden-diest-september-2016-©-drawing-mario-airo

    The Ever Blossoming Garden, Mario Airó, 2016 (drawing)

  • Et pluie le soleil: the staff of a children’s home wanted to bring beauty, colour and harmony inside the institution, but also change its perception and reputation in the village. The artist worked with the children in care to transform their place of residence and created a children’s book in place of a catalogue. Et pluie le soleil Cécile Bart - 3
  • Sharawaggi: A group of students commissioned a set of new bell sounds for their school. 

Itinerant: TRIDANSE

I came across Tridanse when researching examples of art and mental health institutions, which led me straight to the extraordinary 3bisf, a contemporary art centre located within the 19th century wing of a psychiatric hospital in Aix-en-Provence. Until 1982, it was a closed environment, a “pavillon de force” for women only. Since 1983, it’s a centre that both presents performances and exhibitions and hosts visual and performing arts residencies. Artists can develop not only new works but also new processes to involve and meet audiences.

3bisf

le 3bisf à Aix-en-Provence, lieu d’arts contemporains

Tridanse is a networked residency created in 2005 specifically for dance artists, who get access to 4 different arts centres in the course of their selection timeframe as well as a €18,000 fee. As the name suggests, the programme started with 3 venues, all dotted around the South East of France, and a 4th one was added on the way:

  • Le 3bisf, contemporary arts centre, Aix-en-Provence
  • Le Vélo Théâtre, “Maison d’artistes pour le théâtre d’objet, le compagnonnage et le croisement des arts” (I love this description, which I’d very roughly translate by “Artists’ Home for Object Theatre, Companionship (traditional network of knowledge transmission) and Hybridization of Arts), Apt
  • Le Citron Jaune, National Centre for Public Space Arts, Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (also home to the fantastic water-based arts company Ilotopie), Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (in the beautiful Camargue)  
  • Le Théâtre Durance, theatre, Château Arnoux

Quoting from the Call for Proposals 2019, Tridanse has three joint objectives:

  • To support the emergence of new forms of choreographic creation that weave danse into other artistic practices: visual arts, circus, theatre, philosophy, architecture, cinema, landscape…
  • To enable reflection, action and experimentation on new relationships between artists, audiences and venue staff
  • To outline new modes of supporting artistic projects

The process is also firmly based on sharing the different steps of the creative process with the team, audiences and other people involved in each venue (for example, the patients and hospital staff at the 3 bis f).

In 2018, the selected artist was Marta Izquierdo Muñoz, a choreographer from Catalonia based in Perpignan, who explored the figure of the majorette in her new piece Imago-Go during 4 residencies taking place between March and September, each lasting about a week and comprising a public showcase and/or workshop.  

Marta Izquierdo Muñoz, Imago Go, photo © Nicolas Cadet

Imago Go, Marta Izquierdo Muñoz, photo © Nicolas Cadet

In 2017, Gaëtan Bulourde explored the notion of landscape through a performative installation bringing together video, movement and sound, also offering workshops and participatory events at each stage of the creative process.

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Gaëtan Bulourde, Dans la profondeur du champ, atelier de création au 3bisf, Tridanse 2017

In 2016, le collectif Etat d’urgence created Dites à ma mère que je suis là, now touring, based on ethnographic research in Calais and exploring the notions of borders, exclusion and policy.

Incubator: Battersea Arts Centre

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Battersea Arts Centre is an arts centre housed in an old town hall in South West London. It’s a well-loved, well-used community resource, producing, presenting and touring innovative theatre as well as providing a welcoming environment for local residents of all ages for a variety of programmes and workshops.

In 2015, a fire destroyed the Great Hall, BAC’s main performing space, and the immediate and incredibly positive community response is a testament to how valued they are, both by theatre-goers and locals.

Since 2000, BAC’s philosophy has been based on Scratch, a creative principle that puts forward sharing, continuous learning and giving and receiving feedback.   

 

Scratch is about sharing an idea with the public at an early stage of its development. When you Scratch an idea, you can ask people questions and consider their feedback. This helps you work out how to take your idea on to the next stage. It’s an iterative process that can be used again and again. Over time, ideas become stronger because they are informed by a wide-range of responses.

The feedback is an important part of the process but Scratch is not about doing everything that people’s feedback suggests; it is about using the responses to help you understand how people currently receive it and to help you shape your idea. The feedback doesn’t have to be a Q&A, you can simply share your idea ‘live’ and, by doing this, you can often tell what works and what doesn’t. Scratch recognizes that when an idea does not fully succeed, or even when it crashes and burns, that there is great learning to be gathered.

For the full lowdown, this 2015 story on the Google Arts & Culture platform retraces the 15 years of Scratch (officially launched in 2000). The Scratch legacy is huge: more than a more theatre, BAC now acts as an incubator of people and projects, using the creative principles of Scratch to work with artists, teachers, young entrepreneurs, spaces, museums

scratch-landscape

There’s lots going on at Battersea Arts Centre, so I’ll just list here a few initiatives that use the Scratch principles in various contexts:

  • Create Course, a weekly meet-up, where participants (16+) can explore new ways to be creative in their own life, coming together around good food, guest leaders, a lively discussion and creative tasks. Session guest leaders have included poet Deanna Rodger, garden designer Nina Leatherdale, chef Veronica Lopes da Sliva, producer Roisin Feeny, artist Conrad Murray, broadcaster Byron Vincent and spoken-word artist Polarbear… and BAC provides free creche on request.
  • Collaborative Touring Network: a collaboration between BAC and 8 other producing partners in the UK formed in 2013 to produce, present and promote diverse events “to feed an appetite for culture in communities across the country” and realise the vision of “a nation where everyone has inspiring art and culture on their doorstep”. To date, the network has presented work in over 170 different spaces including parks, community centres, boxing gyms and nightclubs, imagining “new contexts for performances that inspire audiences and artists alike”.
  • Agents of Creative Change, a free annual professional development programme for artists, public and third sector professionals who have a challenge to tackle in their professional environment, in their community, or both. The programme pairs practitioners with artists and offers a series of workshops to share practice, ideas and trial solutions to the presented challenges. In between meet-ups, participants realise test projects within the community. Previous participants have included those working in the police, local government, health services, employment and offender management. Artists have come from a wide variety of backgrounds including music & beatbox, design, writing, photography, performance work, digital and community theatre.
  • Scratch Hub, opening in Autumn 2018, will be a creative co-working space based on the Scratch principles, offering members quite a few perks on top of a deskspace, from a time-banking scheme to exchange expertise and skills to talks and scratch nights  “to foster collaborations, co-learning and creative conversations”, “opportunities for member-led programming and event hosting” and discounts on shows and food & drink (in the aptly named lovely Scratch Bar).
  • BAC is also in the process of launching Co-Creating Change, an international network “to explore the role which producers, cultural organisations and artists can play to co-create change with community partners”, starting with the question: How can cultural centres also be community centres?

Take the Money and Run?

The Long Read

I discovered Platform’s work a few months ago at an early morning What Next? meeting, where Jane Trowell came to talk about the ethical fundraising policies they develop with arts organisations. So when I found out about the day-long event they were organising with Artsadmin – in partnership with Live Arts Development Agency and Home Live Arts, as part of a joint Catalyst project (Arts Council England’s programme for increasing fundraising capacity) I signed up straight away.

The room was packed with artists, arts professionals and activists eager to find answers to pressing questions: if we take ‘dirty’ money, stained with environmental or human rights abuse, are we complicit? Can you – should you – bite the hand that feeds you? Do you best change a system you disagree with from within, or by refusing to participate and using boycott tactics? What can be done, collectively, to secure the future of the arts?

By a nice stroke of calendar luck, the event was taking place only a few days after the long-awaited announcement of BP’s actual amount of cash sponsorship to the Tate – somewhere between £150,000 and £330,000 a year, which represents 0.5 to 1% of the gallery group’s total operating budget, and makes the heavy-handed use of BP’s logo and naming rights (“BP Walk Through British Art”…) seem grossly disproportionate. The revelation is timely, as BP’s current multi-year commitment to four large institutions (Tate, National Gallery, Royal Opera House and British Museum) is coming to an end in 2016, when it will be reconsidered. Without the facts, these institutions’ stakeholders – audience members, artists, staff, suppliers… – can’t weigh in to influence the negotiations. With these figures in hand, it becomes possible to have a debate about notions of public good, artistic integrity and corporate image.

Tate-BP-sponsorship-comparison

BP’s sponsorship in comparison to Tate’s other sources of revenue (source: Platform)

Platform and other activist groups such as “creative disobedience network” Liberate Tate have been campaigning for the past 3 years for this disclosure: a protracted process of filing Freedom of Information requests and battling on legal ground.

As a result, the Tate was forced to un-redact the minutes of its Ethic Committee that they had up to then chosen to black out. These show that the Committee expressed doubt regarding the balance between the money received and the potential damage to the Tate’s image, as well as its social and environmental responsibility as a public institution – and even if their final ‘executive’ decision was that this reputational risk was not yet outweighing the economic benefit, the doubt is still there.

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Extract from minutes of Tate’s Ethics Committee which scrutinised BP’s sponsorship in 2010 (source: Platform)

It’s thus with a positive spirit of achievement through collective action that the conference opened. Hosted in Toynbee Studios’ Art Deco theatre, it was a long but well structured series of short presentations by artists, producers, activists and academics, followed by panel discussions that cleverly included the audience as valued commenters themselves instead of requiring them to ask questions to the ‘experts’ on stage. The event was filmed, so I won’t attempt to give a linear narrative of the proceedings, but rather share a few of the great resources and ideas that I gained from that day.

Take the Money and Run: the Study Guide

As mentioned in a previous postTake the Money and Run? is a study guide based on 9 key texts that aims at providing readers with a set of critical tools, case studies and references to help arts organisations and artists take an informed position on their financial model. Texts include (hyperlinks are to publisher’s website or to PDF/online version whenever available):

1. Art for All: Their Policies and Our Culture (eds Mary Warnock and Marck Wallinger, 2000)
2. The Arm’s Length Principle and the Arts: An International Perspective – Past, Present and Future (Harry Hillman-Chartrand and Claire McCaughey, 1989) (online)
3. Using Art to Render Authenticity in Business (an Arts & Business publication, 2009) (pdf)
4. Free Exchange (Hans Haacke and Pierre Bourdieu, 1995) (pdf)
5. Privatisating Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1990s (Chin-Tao Wu, 2003)
6. Changing the Performance: A Companion Guide to Arts, Business and Civic Engagement (Julia Rowntree, 2006)
7. Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil (Platform, Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil, 2011) (online / pdf)
8. When Attitudes Become Form, Philipp Morris Becomes Sponsor: Arts Sponsorship in Europe against the background of development in America (Hubertus Butin, 2000) (online article)
9. Culture Incorporated: Museums, Artists and Corporate Sponsorships (Mark Rectanus, 2002)

 

Further Reading

Here are a few links to some of the books, reports and articles that got mentioned throughout the day to dig deeper into the thorny issue of art & money.

 

Picture This – A Portrait of 25 years of BP sponsorship (Platform, June 2014)

A report by Platform outlining 25 of BP’s “major environmental catastrophes, human rights violations, and backroom deals” – one for every year of the BP-National Portrait Gallery sponsorship deal – and featuring “an analysis on the role of art in society in relation to ethics and sponsorship.”

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Who funds the arts and why we should care (Rachel Spence, September 2014)

Rachel Spence – the Financial Times’ art critic – argued in a recent article that the lack of transparency in funding sources for large museums and biennials compromises the curatorial integrity and the credibility of public institutions. This article inspired an upcoming debate (closed to the public) organised by the Biennial Foundation – the worldwide network of art biennials – exploring “what effects financial resources have on supposedly independent curatorial and artistic narratives of major cultural events”.

A protest over Sydney Biennale’s sponsorship by Transfield, which runs immigration detention camps - (c) Amy Scaife/Van Thanh Rudd

A protest over Sydney Biennale’s sponsorship by Transfield, which runs immigration detention camps – (c) Amy Scaife/Van Thanh Rudd

Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts (Mel Evans, available April 2015)

Here’s a cheery introduction to Artwash by Mel Evans herself:

And the blurb from the publisher’s website:

As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of big oil companies such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.

Reflecting on the role and function of art galleries, Artwash considers how the association with oil money might impede these institutions in their cultural endeavors. Outside the gallery space, Mel Evans examines how corporate sponsorship of the arts can obscure the strategies of corporate executives to maintain brand identity and promote their public image through cultural philanthropy. Ultimately, Evans sounds a note of hope, presenting ways artists themselves have challenged the ethics of contemporary art galleries and examining how cultural institutions might change.

artwash big oil

Changing the Performance: A Companion Guide to Arts, Business and Civic Engagement (Julia Rowntree, 2006)

Julia Rowntree, former Development Director at LIFT, retraces20-odd years of action-research into the relationship between art, industry and society based on her fundraising experience at LIFT.

From the introduction:

“… the arts fundraising process is not just about raising money but also plays a vital role in social adaptation and resilience. This is because it can open up channels of communication, human connection, reflection and critique across conventional boundaries of power, expertise, culture and generation… The aim is to deepen self-understanding in the world of the arts as well as in comerce and communities. It seeks a three-way flow of inspiration, learning and public collaboration.”

changing the performance

Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (Jen Harvie, 2013)

A book by Jen Harvie (professor at Queen Mary University of London) exploring the “quality of participation in contemporary art and performance”.

From the publisher’s website:

What is the quality of participation in contemporary art and performance? Is it damaged by cultural policies introduced since the 1997 election of New Labour – and especially since the 2008 recession – which have ‘entrepreneurialized’ artists, cut arts funding and cultivated corporate philanthropy and the ‘creative industries’? Might it contribute to urban gentrification, particularly in London? Has its democratic potential been at all fortified by artists’ innovations in crowdfunding, pop-ups, networking, installation art and immersive theatre; their engagements with ideas of home and folk culture; and their practices of labour and craftsmanship? How can it enhance understanding of relationships between the individual and the group? How can it improve social welfare and nurture social life?

fair play

The First White Paper for Culture (1965)

The very first White Paper for Culture, written by then-Minister of State for the Arts Jennie Lee, was published half a century ago this year. There seems to be no online version of this document, so I’ve copied extracts featured in Art for All? Their Policy and our Culture (a collection of over 60 texts and artworks ranging from political, philosophical and analytical texts, fiction, verse and images, edited by Mark Wallinger & Mary Warnock, featured on the Take the Money and Run? reading list).

Unsurprisingly but rather depressingly, all the issues we discuss today – State censorship, geographical balance of funding, arts education and democratisation of access, artists’ fair remuneration… – were already identified 50 years ago.

  • §1 The relationship between artist and State in a modern democratic community is not easily defined. No-one would wish State patronage to dictate taste or in any way restrict the liberty of even the most unorthodox and experimental of artists.
  • §2 But if a high level of artistic achievement is to be sustained and the best in the arts made more widely available, more generous and discriminating help is urgently needed, locally, regionally and nationally.
  • §10 If a sane balance of population between north and south, east and west, is to be achieved, this kind of development (regional and local facilities) is just as essential as any movement of industry or provision of public utility service. If the eager and gifted, to whom we must look for leadership in every field, are to feel as much at home in the north and west as in and near London, each region will require high points of artistic excellence.
  • §13 The financial difficulties that so many of today’s artists have to contend with must also be realistically examined.
  • §14 In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life. The promotion and appreciation of high standards in architecture, in industrial design, in town planning and the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, are all part of it. Beginning in the schools, and reaching out into every corner of the nation’s life, in city and village, at home, at work, at play, there is an immense amount that could be done to improve the quality of contemporary life.
  • §15 There is no short-term solution for what by its very nature is a long-term problem. This is a field in which, even in the most favourable circumstances, it will never be possible to do as much as we want to do as quickly as we want to do it. But that is no excuse for not doing as much as we can and more than has hitherto been attempted.

 

Participants

Here are a few links to and videos from some of Take the Money and Run? participants.

Liberate Tate

A collective dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding, founded during a Tate workshop in January 2010 on art and activism where Tate curators preventively tried to censor the workshop participants from making interventions against Tate sponsors.

Reclaim Shakespeare Company

Like Liberate Tate, a member of the Art not Oil coalition, formed in response to BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Reclaim Shakespeare Company  – also known as BP or Not BP? – are staging guerilla intervention on BP-sponsored stages in Stratford-upon-Avon, the West End, and at the British Museum to turn oil sponsorship into a hot topic within the theatre world.

General Ethical Resources

Corporate Watch

A workers’ coop “investigat(ing) the social and environmental impacts of corporations and corporate power”. Corporate Watch provides profiles of large companies and sectors, publishes research on ethics and business and produces reports and investigations available online.

whats-wrong-with-supermarkets-frontpage

Ethical Consumer

“The hub of the ethical consumer movement” for the past 20 years, with a mission to “make global business more sustainable through consumer pressure”. Alongside the monthly print magazine, a online guide of 20,000 products powered by a sophisticated search engine assigning priorities based on 5 main criteria (below) that can be further broken down into sub-categories to draw the line even more precisely according to one’s principles (thus highlighting the difficulty of making a choice between all these principles):

  •  Animals
    • Animal Testing
    • Factory Farming
    • Animal Rights & Cruelty
  • Environment
    • Environmental Reporting
    • Nuclear Power
    • Climate Change
    • Pollution & Toxics
    • Habitats & Resources
  • People
    • Human Rights
    • Workers’ Rights
    • Supply Chain Management
    • Irresponsible Marketing
    • Arms & Military Supply
  •  Politics
    • Anti-Social Finance
    • Boycott Calls
    • Genetic Engineering
    • Political Activity
  • Sustainability
    • Company Ethos
    • Product Sustainability (organic, fairtrade, energy efficient, vegan & vegetarian products)

Ethical Consumer ratecard

 

The Relaxed Performance Project: theatre for all

Programming

In 2011, a “Wicked Discrimination” story was widely reported in the UK media: an autistic 12-year-old boy was accused of causing a “disturbance” during a performance of the musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria, a West End London theatre. The family were “offered the chance to watch the show from behind a glass partition or squatting on a flight of stairs and watching through the banisters.” Complaints were not coming from other audience members; instead, staff mentioned a “precious sound engineer”. The family finally left the theatre, cutting short an experience that their son had been “hugely enjoying”.

Following this incident, the ATG theatre group – the largest in the UK – reportedly reviewed its staff training with the help of user-led arts organisation Shape. Its access policy – rather detailed but unfortunately buried deep into the website, nowhere near the homepage – states that they have a dedicated “Access Champion” in all of the group’s 39 venues, who offer orientation visits and other bespoke services, such as seat service during the interval; and one of their London theatre also took part in the recent Relaxed Performance project.

What are “Relaxed Performances”?

Relaxed Performances are creative, safe and inspiring public theatre performances for children with special needs, including Autistic Spectrum Conditions and/or learning disabilities and, crucially, their families. Performances are specially designed to give those who otherwise might feel excluded the chance to experience live theatre.

Led by a partnership between The Prince’s Foundation for Children & the Arts, the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and Theatrical Management Association (now UK Theatre), the Relaxed Performance Project pilot scheme ran between November 2012 and June 2013 and presented 8 Relaxed Performances in theatres across the UK, with a conference held in September 2013 to share best practice with the theatre sector.

The full executive summary is available on the Include Arts website, alongside an evaluation report and case studies; here are the key points taken from the report.

Who took part?

• The pilot project engaged just short of 5,000 audience members (adults and children), with an average audience size of 622.

• Of these, 60% reported they had never been to the theatre before as a family, 30% had never been to the theatre at all, and 90% had never been to a Relaxed Performance.

How does it work?

• A visual guide was compiled and posted to each family prior to the performance.

Autism-specific training was delivered to 300 staff of all partner venues.

• Advice was given on how to engage with potential audience members or how audiences were found.

• A press consultant worked with theatres to promote the performances in local and national press.

• Every participating theatre adjusted light and sound levels during the performance to suit the needs of the audience.

Designated ‘chill-out’ areas were prepared for audience members to use should being in the auditorium become overwhelming. These lessen stress, subsequently promoting feelings of ‘relief’ and ‘acceptance’ amongst individual family members.

Most theatres also offered a reduced ticket price for these performances.

What happens next?

One of the plays presented as a Relaxed Performance was The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, modified for people with autism, learning disabilities and sensory or communication needs.

Mark Haddon, who wrote the novel on which the play is based, said in the Guardian he was delighted by the special performances. “It is important to emphasise that this is about inclusivity, not targeting. These performances are for anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed performance environment, including people with an autistic spectrum condition, sensory or communication disorders, or a learning disability.”

In the same article, Jeremy Newton, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, said the plan was to make such performances part of the mainstream: “We’re hoping to start an attitudinal shift within theatres to a point in a year or two where the printed programme will say, ‘Tuesday night, signed performance for the hard of hearing; Wednesday night, relaxed performance for families with children on the autistic spectrum’.”

Finally, here are 10 Tips for putting on a Relaxed Performance:

1. Choice of Production:

Think about it! Is a pantomime the best choice? They can be considered to be challenging due to noise, lights and the uncertainty. Well-known shows might well sell better as they already have more profile.

2. Scheduling:

Work out with your local audience when the best time for them would be to come to a show.

3. Funding:

Can you fund the discounted tickets yourself? Will you have enough budget for marketing the show. On the day you will need extra people front of house.

4. Marketing & Press:

Building audiences for Relaxed Performances takes time. ‘Word of mouth’ and personal recommendation’ and building a personal relationship between a staff member and local groups proved a more effective means of marketing the programme than advertising. Several theatre staff reported that marketing through their ‘traditional routes’ was not effective in this instance. Press worked wonders.

5. Partnerships:

In order to build an audience for a Relaxed Performance it is imperative that you speak to community groups, schools and individuals and listen to their needs and work with them.

6. Advocacy:

Whilst this will take time, it will be worth it in the long run as it will build your community relationships and work as a good advocate for your theatre.

7. Preparation & Information:

Is absolutely key. If audiences know what to expect, there is less for them to worry about. It is difficult enough getting to the theatre so clear and comprehensive information is imperative – “The visual guide was  absolutely fantastic … the reassurance about the story line was really helpful in preparing us for the shock of it”.

8. Training & Understanding:

Take time to understand what a family might have to encounter day-to-day to understand how important this is and train your staff as it will pay dividends. “We trained the cast and front of house staff for today and with autism awareness training. They all felt incredibly honoured and really thrilled to be doing something special.”

9. Environment:

Make people feel comfortable and secure. “Having the relaxation room for the interval was really brilliant … he needed to blow out and I didn’t need to stress about him being too loud or being too fidgety in the show”.

10. Future:

“We would totally come again”. Build on your success. All theatre partners in the project have programmed a further relaxed performance.

Festival City 3: Avignon

Spotlight

France, 1947. The sound of the cicadas in the sun. A poet, Jean Villar. A vision: democratic art. An explosion: le Festival d’Avignon.

Fast forward to 2013: you get the largest theatre festival in the French-speaking world, rich with ground-breaking premières, artistic innovation, policy discussions and an ever-growing Fringe. It bears quite a few common points with the other big French festival, Cannes: it’s been running for over 60 years; it brings thousands of people (and euros) to a small city far from Paris, year after year; and it has a long and complex history, mixed in with politics and social issues.

Here are a few fun facts and key points about this very French cultural institution.

Birth of a Festival

The Festival starts in 1947 as a “Theatre Week” in this quaint southeastern French town (also known as the “City of Popes” and famous for its bridge and its Demoiselles). Jean Vilar, poet, theatre director and firm believer in an “elitist theatre for all”, is invited by fellow poet René Char and art critic Christian Zervos to present his version of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral – and ends up instead proposing Shakespeare’s Richard II, then little-known in France, and plays by French playwrights Maurice Clavel and Paul Claudel. The first edition is a success and the festival is reconvened for several years, enjoying critical and audience success and allowing Jean Vilar to consolidate his group of prefered actors and his artistic vision.

In 1951, Jean Vilar also takes the lead of the Theâtre National Populaire, an artist-led, audience-focused theatre on the outskirts of Paris. The Festival d’Avignon takes its cue from this “popular” mandate and becomes a place to discuss the future of theatre and its audiences, political and social issues, cultural policy and new artistic directions. Young people are especially welcome to participate; as early as 1959, and still to this day, special accommodation arrangements are offered to encourage French and international youths aged from 14 to 27 to attend the festival at a lesser cost. Under-25 and unemployed people can get tickets for as little as €14 (and the highest ticket price is, anyway, only €40).

Le “In” et le “Off”

In the beginning, there was only one festival, actually first called “Theatre Week”. In 1966, one production was offered to the public independently from the official festival; this growing trend towards an alternative scene got recognised by the official Festival when in 1968, year of widespread social unrest in France, Maurice Béjart  invited the cast and crew of a censored play (La Paillasse aux seins nus) to join him on the stage of the Cour d’honneur, the most prestigious festival space. From 1982, the “Off” (a reference to “off Broadway”) became a professional structure, and both festivals now run in parallel every summer.

“Le In” got its name fairly mysteriously (it probably sounded better that “Le On” to French ears) but is in essence the official Festival, established as a non-profit and publicly funded, whereas “le Off” is in fact a coordination and promotion service offered to participating companies: “Off” organisers put together a brochure, establish rules about street-level advertising and manage a discount scheme for audiences, but they don’t have a say in the selection, which happens organically and is left to negotiations between theatre companies and venues. Originally conceived as an alternative to the establishment that the official festival was thought to represent, it has evolved towards a commercial fair model and often comes under criticism for the high-cost venue rental market that it has created (and the resulting low or nonexistent artistic fees).

In

The 67th Festival d’Avignon runs from 5th to 26th July 2013.

According to its “festival in figures” page, it usually programmes 35 to 40 productions, with a total number of around 300 shows presented  in about 20 different spaces, often open air and historical. It also offers artists’ talks, professional forums, art exhibitions or installations (Sophie Calle in back again this year), and dance, music, fireworks and screenings.

Its budget – 55% public funding, 45% sponsorship and sales – amounts to €12 million, and its economic impact (for the official festival only) was estimated at €23 million in 2001.

Ticket sales vary between 120,000 and 150,000 a year, and 20,000 to 40,000 audience members take part in the free events. About 35% visitors are locals, while 20% come from Paris region, 35% from other French regions and 10% from abroad. Since 2008, the festival is consistently above 93% of its capacity.

Off

Le Festival OFF d’Avignon runs from 8th to 31 July 2013. In 2012, 104 venues and a total of 194 stages were used by 975 companies (including 143 coming from 27 different countries) performing 1161 shows.

Over 1,000 theatre companies and 1,300 shows and events are announced for this year.

For comparison, in 2012, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (arguably the largest arts festival in the world, also operating as an open-access theatre festival) counted 2695 different shows staging 42,096 performances in 279 venues by 22,457 performers.

“Le Off” is the wild and unpredictable side of Avignon, where self-funded productions compete on the street with their posters and flyers to grab the attention of the patrons and critics. The “employment” section of the Off website is actually full of job demands and offers for street promotion – but rather sadly, the only type of contract available seems to be unpaid internship. The Village is a gathering place to buy tickets and membership cards, listen to artists or critics,

As well as promoting the whole of the programme, the Off offers financial support to theatre companies who meet the required criteria, thanks to a €40,000 funding pot.

2003 Arts Workers strike

Another notable quirk of Le Festival d’Avignon is the memorable arts workers’ strike – and subsequent cancellation of the 2003 festival. In France, arts workers – artist, administrators and technicians – fall into a special employment category called “intermittents du spectacle”, because of the fluctuating nature of their work; instead of being freelance, as is more common in other countries, they tend to be contracted for a fixed length of time (“Contrat à Durée Déterminée”), and their status allows them to claim unemployment benefits if they have completed at least 507 hours over 10 months.

In 2003, following changes affecting the social protection of arts workers, negotiations between beneficiaries, unions and employers came to a headlock, and after 11 days and 11 nights of talks, the 57th Festival d’Avignon was cancelled for the very first time in its history. A few other festivals in France followed suit, including nearby Aix en Provence and the Francofolies de La Rochelle, but the Off went on with only 100 productions cancelled.

Here is an 8’ video about the strike created by Manu Larriaga for the SACD (Société d’Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques).