On the 7th March I attended an Arts Council England (South East) consultation event at Sheringham Little Theatre. Chaired by Hedley Swain, with Sir Peter Bazalgette, Amy Vaughan and Debs Butler from the Arts Council as well as many representatives from arts organisations, libraries, museums and local government, the discussion focussed on rural infrastructure and the distribution of great art, including the special part played by museums and libraries.
Here, in no particular order, are just some of the thoughts I noted down:
- We talked about the importance of local advocates when sharing work rurally; someone called these advocates 'local animateurs' which I liked, 'a person who enlivens or encourages something, especially a promoter of artistic projects'
- A case study project delivered in Suffolk libraries (Suffolk Libraries Presents) talked about their experience of people coming to see work they were sharing in their library even though there was a theatre across the road, because those people were more accustomed to regularly going to the library than going to the theatre. We talked about the challenge of changing people's behaviour, and whether it could be possible to change that behaviour over time, to encourage people to go out of their comfort zone.
- We talked about the enormous pressure that local authorities are under, the major funder of museums outside of London; artists/arts organisations will need to work in partnership with local authorities to move things forward and enable things to continue to happen in rural museums and libraries for example.
- Rural-working was described as 'essential artist practice' - this really resonated with me; it feels like it is a unique skill to create work for rural contexts that is somehow uncompromising and accessible i.e. it's the work the artist wants to make and that the audience wants to see. We discussed the need to invest in talent development in this field of work, particularly supporting local artists to create their own work.
- As well as supporting artists, we talked about the need to develop capacity within rural organisations to know how to develop their arts programme, particularly where it might be unprecedented to work with artists. I offered thoughts about artist consultants or artist-in-residence, and the impact it has had on my work with Dancing in Museums to collaborate with enthusiastic, knowledgable Front of House teams i.e. how valuable it is for the entire team at a partner museum to be aware of the project and advocating for that work with the general public.
- We talked about the size of rural venues, which can be very small. I have already thought about trying to work in partnership with smaller and larger museums and heritage sites so that the smaller, volunteer-run sites might have access to see and then try out a dance performance, supported by the larger team of a partner venue (although I know that all sites, no matter what their size, will already be working to their fullest capacity).
- What does partnership actually mean now? We discussed how shared resources can be just as valuable as cash partnership.
- In closing, we talked about the importance of sharing our findings about new ways of working as broadly as possible.
Read Sir Peter Bazalgette's speech on local authority support for arts and culture in England here.