Working Together – The Key to Resilience.

One of the key phrases that any arts manager has to deal with on an almost daily basis is resilience and sustainability.  It is enshrined within Goal 3 of Arts Council’s manifesto Great Art and Culture For Everyone. It is key to strategy development for the sector –  arts organisations developing alternative financial models, philanthropy programmes and partnerships as public funding comes under ever more pressure.

Like many others the arts sector awaits the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review next month with baited breath, fingers crossed that further cuts to public investment in arts and culture is minimal and that the value that we’re consistently asked to demonstrate is understood by those holding larger purse strings. And it should be seen as an investment not subsidy. The evidence is there about the positive impacts that arts and culture has on individuals, communities and places – I have no doubt our city would be poorer without it.

The challenge laid down to the arts sector in the last five years has been to embrace change and to do things differently – not to rely on public funding, but to attract philanthropic giving.  And one thing that the arts sector always does well is to adapt creatively and brilliantly to these challenges.  However, the pace of change, the development of significant philanthropic income, the creation of new business partnerships is a long game – and for many – especially those operating in smaller, rural areas this is not developing at a pace matching the level of cuts they face to public investment. And that certainly isn’t through lack of effort or interest from the arts organisations themselves.

In Lincoln, we’re examining closely the role of Arts and Culture in shaping the city that we want people to live in, visit and work.  There is a collective responsibility on all sides to ensure that this happens.  The arts community has a responsibility to clearly articulate what it offers to those living in and around their base.  We hope that the business community recognises that for their workforce to develop there is a clear benefit to be derived from investing in arts and culture.  The communication of that offer is also an area that needs to be constantly reviewed and improved.

The Lincoln Cultural and Arts Partnership recently held a networking meeting to bring together artists, arts organisations and businesses to discuss ideas around how these partnerships could be developed. The clear thing for me that emerged is that the dialogue and rhetoric needed to change.  Sponsorship in the traditional sense of the word is no longer to my mind the right way to do things.  At Lincoln Drill Hall our partnerships with business are based around a mutual understanding of need – Our need to develop new long term audiences for our work, to attract investment enabling us to continue presenting that work, matched to the needs of the business, whether that be around access to our work for their staff, opportunities to reach new customers or markets or simply to invest in a facility that will help them to attract new staff with the knowledge that there are things for them to do in the city at night other than nightclubs.

At this meeting I stated that my belief was that none of my organisation’s current business partnerships came about initially because of a particular piece of art.  It was the institutional benefits of having an organisation like ours that warranted investment. Certainly, the offer of a logo in our brochure, although a nice added extra is not going to get the business community jumping over themselves to invest in us on its own.

For other cohorts different approaches need to be taken.  For individuals we’ll be rolling out a new friends scheme shortly – one that is different to many others as it is about individuals supporting us because we’ve won over their hearts and minds, not simply because we give them lots of benefits. The Chair of our trustees wrote an article this week about the charitable side of our business – something that many still find puzzling about the arts sector.  As he pointed out though, the aim of any charity is to make things a little better and we’re no different.  I firmly believe that the city is a better place because of Lincoln Drill Hall.  But again, whilst we have developed some clarity around how we can go about this using the arts, we recognise that those messages need to constantly evolve.

Practically, the resilience of our organisation is at the forefront of my work. We’re exploring Arts Council funds set up specifically to address some of the sustainability needs of the organisations it funds.  We’re developing new ways to support the creation of new artistic work in the city through partnerships with emerging artists that could see new exciting work developed right in the heart of Lincoln. We’re half way through a leadership mentoring programme run by The De Vos Institute for Arts Management in the USA – a programme that has challenged us to think afresh about our artistic policies, our fundraising approach and the way we market and communicate our value to our audiences and stakeholders.

I can’t see the climate shifting away from this course anytime soon.  Sustainability and resilience will be two words that will continue to be central to the development of the arts in this country.  I firmly believe that for organisations to be truly sustainable they need to have that mixed funding model that sees earned income, public investment and charitable giving all combining to make a thriving organisation that feeds a burgeoning artistic pulse that provides the heartbeat for the city. A city with culture driving business growth, the visitor economy and most importantly making things a little bit better for those that choose to make Lincoln their home.

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Lincoln – Cultural Centre not Cultural Outpost

Lincoln – Cultural Centre not Cultural Outpost.

And so in the blink of an eye the summer has gone and we’re already well into our autumn season of work at Lincoln Drill Hall. It seems like mere minutes since my family and I were enjoying the delights of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

As I find myself wondering how it is that I’m already fishing out my winter coat, we now have our eyes firmly on the three major moments of our autumn programme. Frequency 2015, the much anticipated return of Ockham’s Razor and yes, we have to say it our fabulous Pantomime are all to come, but already in the last seven weeks Lincoln audiences have had access to a wonderful array of arts and culture across our City.

Steam Punk ignited the August Bank Holiday weekend in a myriad of spectacle and costume. We were incredibly proud at The Drill Hall to play a part in Festival800, a contemporary week-long festival of performance that drew on Magna Carta for its inspiration. At our venue alone David Starkey, Billy Bragg and Levellers all performed to sell out crowds.  I’m not sure how regularly those three will be found on the same bill across consecutive nights. It is testament to the Festival organisers and their vision that they were and they ignited the imagination of audiences. It was amazing to be a part of.

In September our friends over at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre invested in bringing the Paines Plough Roundabout theatre to the city. This pop up venue, which I saw a number of shows in when it was situated at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Festival brought with it three shows of incredible quality to Lincoln to play in rep. A unique theatre in the round, the festival was supplemented by a number of University produced pieces of work to create an inspirational week of theatre. Personally, Lungs by Duncan MacMillan was my favourite, an absolute powerhouse of a play – raw, emotional, searingly funny and brilliantly performed by just two actors. One of those occasions where I really believe that if you missed it, you missed out.

And just last week, the latest Lincoln Comedy Festival took place, bringing an amazing collection of comedians, from unknown names to the biggest acts on the circuit to the city. It is brilliant for, but also because of the profile of the Drill Hall that acts such as Rob Beckett, Patrick Kielty and a return for Jason Byrne appeared on our stage.

When I first moved to Lincoln eleven years ago I sensed that the city and indeed the county was perceived as a cultural backwater, where there was low cultural aspiration amongst audiences and practitioners. Whether that was the reality or not, and most of us striving to create and present art would argue not, it is absolutely not the case anymore. Culture thrives, the risks that we’ll take to bring the highest quality in to Lincolnshire, our increasing support for and commitment to work being made in the county is absolute.

And so to the rest of the autumn. Frequency 2015, Lincoln’s Festival of Digital Culture is nearly upon us and our programme is really exciting. International work from Italy, Compagnia TPO bring their show Bleu to us on the 24 November. This is brilliant family theatre allowing children to become immersed in a digital underwater world. I’m really pleased that we’ve got sound artists Earfilms bringing To Sleep To Dream to us on the 28 and 29 October. This sound film – Audience members are blindfolded and experience the film via a 3D soundscape provided by over 20 speakers to experience an event like no other – comes straight from the Edinburgh Festival and having sold out around the world. it’s a great opportunity for Lincoln audiences to try something really different.

Lincoln company Zest Theatre bring their latest interactive show for young people to the venue on the 10 November. Following their incredible 2013-2014 production of Gatecrash Lincolnshire One Venues has supported the development of Thrive, which undertakes a short tour this year. You can also catch the show in other Lincolnshire One Venues in Stamford and Grantham.

Ockham’s Razor has delighted Lincoln audiences with their work over the last few years and in November they’re back with their brand new show and we’re delighted to be a part of helping make this happen. Tipping Point combines incredible aerial and physical theatre to offer a wonderful spectacle for our audiences.

And of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without our wonderful Pantomime, produced in Association with Jamie Marcus Productions. A traditional family event, the panto will wow young and old alike across the Christmas period. This year its Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Brilliant fun for all the family.

And all this before we even think about 2016. The cultural pulse of our city is really strong and Lincoln Drill Hall is right at the heart of it. Come and see us trust us to offer you performances of the highest quality and range and play a part in ensuring Lincoln’s future as a cultural centre rather than cultural outpost.