2015 – A Pivotal Year?

And so we reach the end of January already. 2015 is very definitely in full swing and at Lincoln Drill Hall our new season really started to kick in last weekend. We start this year full of optimism. Our annual pantomime Aladdin was our most successful yet. 12,500 people saw the show, up 1,000 on 2013-14 and income was up by 15%. Our social media outlets were alive with enthusiasm for the show, which I believe was the strongest production yet, both in terms of performance levels and production values.

Our attention now needs to turn to how we use this success as a springboard for the coming year. 2015 is a pivotal one for the evolution of the venue.

In April we start a new three year agreement for funding from Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation. This supports us and other venues to continue pushing the boundaries of our programming, seeking the most exciting, innovative, inspiring and sometimes risky work to offer our audiences. It challenges us to work collaboratively to deliver a real choice to audiences across the city. Our plan of activity is really exciting for the next three years. The autumn briefings Arts Council gave around the country in the autumn may not have painted the rosiest of pictures for the future, but opportunities to develop some really inspiring work do remain.

We are also delighted that in April we start an extension of our Service Level Agreement with the City Of Lincoln Council. In a continued climate of austerity and cuts we recognise the massive support our Local Authority gives us. It is a vote of confidence in what we programme and the breadth of what we offer our communities, but also a recognition that investment in arts and culture has a central and tangible benefit to the whole community, as well as the burgeoning tourist economy and businesses looking to set up in the city. The future is not without challenges and no-one knows what the long term future holds, but the support remains substantial and our partnership continues to grow.

Talking of the climate of austerity, 2015 is also pivotal because as we can’t fail to notice, there is the small matter of a General Election in May. Perhaps more than at any other time it is virtually impossible to call with confidence what the outcome is going to be. One thing is clear is that none of the main parties are offering cultural investment returning to any levels seen in the early 2000’s, but it will be important to watch closely the rhetoric employed by the parties about their approach to public investment generally and specifically in culture in the future. We have made positive inroads into building our fundraising and philanthropic support in recent years, responding to the coalition call to replace reduced public funds with individual giving. We still have work to do as the pace of change is being far outstripped by the level of cuts. Even our arts minister Ed Vaisey couldn’t state that across the country the policy was working when I asked him. We have a number of young members of staff for whom this will be their first opportunity to vote and I am urging them to exercise that right. The decisions in the spring will affect us all.

Locally, Lincoln Drill Hall is part of Leadership For The Future, a 2 year programme of development for senior executive and governance figures in the organisation. Alongside 20 East Midlands Arts Organisations we are delighted to benefit from this programme run by the De Vos Institute of Arts Management in Maryland. Already we are looking at revising our mission and developing a longer term artistic policy to take us forward.

And at the centre of all of this development is the art. What we put on our main stage and in our studio. And by Art I mean all of it. Not just the experimental circus theatre, or the classical music, but the stand up comedy, the tribute bands and the Pantomime. It is all artistic provision and it is what we do. Already since Pantomime we have hosted a sell-out concert from the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra, excellent music nights and a two week residency by a theatre company reworking one of their productions for schools touring. Most excitingly we hosted BBC Question Time, a fantastic way to launch the year in which we celebrate democracy, freedom of speech and free political debate with the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

Later this year we are really looking forward to the latest Frequency digital arts festival in October and the much anticipated return of Ockham’s Razor with their new show in November. We’re also looking to develop our association with outdoor theatre at Lincoln Castle in the summer. We continue to provide a varied and packed packed programme.

So yes, 2015 is a key year for us. It’s time to help our organisation to really fly.