Defining Risk

It’s a word that we hear often throughout the arts and cultural sectors. Taking a risk, presenting risky and challenging work for our audiences.  We think about it whenever we programme an event.  At Lincoln Drill Hall we are incredibly lucky to be in receipt of funding from Arts Council Englaand that allows us to take more artistic risk perhaps than others, ostensibly using that funding to underwrite the impact of lower ticket sales for shows that have a smaller or niche audience. Our programme is then supplemented by other supposedly more commercial work that offsets the risky stuff.

However, as all of us working in the arts know, whether we’re producers or programmers defining risk is in no way an exact science.  What risk are we talking about?  Financially as a presenting venue we are always taking risks every time we agree to pay a guarantee for a show.  This season we have been delighted to present The Complete Deaths by Spymonkey. Reviews have been fantastic, our marketing campaign has been fervent, but to secure work of this scale for our venue we have had to take the single biggest financial risk to secure the work and even great audiences might not recoup the investment. However the flip side is that the financial risk is worth it to bring work of this quality to our audiences. 

Then there is artistic risk. In order to present a real breadth of work to our audiences we are risking a lot on new work or pieces with controversial subject matter. Sometimes this really pays off.  Our relationship with Ockham’s Razor has developed over the years to the extent that I no longer consider it artistically risky to programme their work.  We have worked hard to build audiences and I know that their return to our venue will generate strong audiences.  But we do have to weigh up the artistic side of things.

And we should never forget that even the most commercial of work carries its own risk. We recently had a show drop from our programme at short notice leaving an empty week in our schedule. We programmed a commercial music act into one of the empty slots to ensure some revenue from that week. However, even with the popular nature of the title and act we sold only half the number of tickets we’d hoped and although we just about covered our costs and a little bit more, it didn’t have the desired impact we had all thought it would.

And therein lies the point I suppose. Risk for an arts venue is pretty undefinable. Everything we programme carries with it some kind of risk regardless of whether we consider it commercial, high art, or from emerging talent, or new writing etc. In programming our venue we will continue to experiment, too looks for the widest range of work to offer, even when we know that there is a limited audience currently for that work, because we are in that fortunate position to be able to do so.