Keeping Those Plates Spinning

I’m writing this after spending an interesting day in London yesterday.  The reason for being in the capital was to attend a seminar and discussion day learning more about public sector commissioning opportunities for the arts and cultural sector.

Arts Council England are funding the Cultural Commissioning Programme, a support project that aims to give arts organisations the skills to bid for public sector contracts and to give commissioning bodies the skills to understand the value that the arts can bring to their service delivery.  For many this may seem like an incredibly dry subject, but it provides another new way for Local Authorities and the arts sector to work together.

The reason I mention it was firstly, because although no concrete answers emerged for me or the organisation I run in Lincoln, I was inspired to add more research into the area onto my to do list. Secondly and more importantly it is one of a number of plates spinning at the moment as we enter a new and exciting future at Lincoln Drill Hall.  As our new funding agreements with Arts Council England and the City of Lincoln Council are under way, I’ve recently spent time with our board of trustees and some senior staff re-examining our mission, artistic policy and business priorities for the next five years.

Our away day provided a setting for some fantastic and passionate discussion. Some very clear priorities emerged for us. A renewed focus on the artistic quality of our programme, embracing digital opportunities and developing the Drill Hall experience building on excellent customer care were just some of the themes that emerged.  The day has fuelled my passion for the years ahead, opportunities to really build the product we offer to the people of our city, developing the vibrancy and sense of surprise and excitement that we hope our audiences and customers expect from their local Arts Centre.  Part of that is how we respond to new opportunities like public sector commissioning when they arise.

However there’s a lot more. The Young People’s Project that we’re delivering with nine other venues as part of the Lincolnshire One Venues network is also just into a new three year cycle of activity. That’s three more years of innovative and exciting opportunities for 12-25 year olds across the county to engage with programming, performance and the arts in their local venue.

Our artistic commissioning work is another area we continue to build on. Bursaries for emerging performers, supporting Lincolnshire Companies to develop new touring product with interesting development projects and maybe even something with a chandelier are all ideas in the pipeline.  Commissioning is particularly exciting for us in Lincolnshire, giving us ways to do more than simply present work produced elsewhere.

Our continued work with The DeVos Institute for Arts Management in Maryland on the Leadership For The Future Programme – working alongside Cultivate and around 20 other East Midlands arts organisations – is challenging us to examine everything we do across our artistic, marketing and fundraising work.  I’m finding it a truly inspirational training opportunity.

I’ve become slightly obsessed with Periscope and the chance to live stream short films about the venue and our work. Anyone on Twitter can download this app and then follow us @lincdrillhall or me @ChrisK1906 and watch live films of what we’re getting up to in the organisation. A simple, effective digital tool that helps us to open up the venue doors and expose the mechanisms of our operation, a chance for our audiences to feel even more involved in what we do and how we do it.

And in amongst all this I’ve managed to see some fantastic work.  In the last couple of weeks, Lorraine and Alan – pick of the fringe – was inventive, playful with an amazing live soundtrack, Wanderlust by The Gramophones brought together a myriad of styles and forms to tell ordinary, but beautiful stories of people’s lives and we’ve had students from the University of Lincoln take over the building for an afternoon of site specific performances exploring the rich and varied history of the Drill Hall.

Must stop writing now. Got to keep all those plates spinning.

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