Raised by feral wolves in the foothills of the Himalayas he came, back in the day, to these shores intent on wreaking havoc and spreading despair, then he found the dance world and came to the conclusion that mocking people was more fun! It is rumoured, though none will say it, that even the Batman fears him!
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Last week saw the return of the much maligned 'State of the Arts' conference rebranded as 'No Boundaries'. The website and the logo might look bit cooler but it's really just another conference.
For 2014 the talking shop to end all talking shops took place in two separate cities in England; Bristol and York, connected by the magic of the internet.
The conference blurb gives you some idea of what to expect if you paid your fees and showed up in person;
"No Boundaries will explore the role of arts and culture in contemporary society. It will be a conference about doing not funding. Our aim is stimulate the imagination and look to the future."
What actually followed was a seemingly never-ending procession of people talking in catchphrases like "talking to people who we don't already talk to and to dare ourselves to do things we don't know how to do."
Most of the speeches reminded us, here in TheLab™, of the old Casey Kasem line "keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars". It was all just as trite and just as meaningless.
One particularly hilarious moment occurred when Brian Gambles, the director of the Library of Birmingham, took on his own Power Point™ presentation in a battle of wits and lost mightily. It also didn't help that he appeared to be completely disinterested in what he was saying when he actually managed to speak.
Abigail Posner from Google talks about goats and maps and emotions or something
When Abigail Posner from Google took the stage it all got very creepy indeed when she blatantly used video of her own children to shill for Google and their products.
Ms Posner tried to spin the well worn line that technology elevates the human race and we should all take pictures of goats and put them on maps while licking our phone screens or, you know, whatever!
The world and their collective cat couldn't make any sense of what Ms Posner was talking about. It was a theme that recurred throughout the two day event.
'No Boundaries' was somewhat unusual in that it was a funded commission. Arts Council England and The British Council actively sought out people to run this gathering and paid handsomely for it. £160,000 in total with £110,000 of that money coming from ACE themselves.
ACE were very specific about what was to be discussed at the event, "ideas and thinking" in case you are interested, and where the event was to take place.
The reasons for choosing Bristol specifically in the application guidelines is not made clear but the choice was almost certainly to make ACE look "regional".
ACE also wanted to ensure that the participants at the event were "high quality international speakers." A memo that Mr Gamble from Birmingham Library apparently didn't get.
The Big Bad and their partners in crime at The British Council also excercised an alarming amount of control over press releases and all media communications;
"You will devise a media plan for the event with all press releases approved in advance in writing by Arts Council England and the British Council."
When things are being broadcast live you have to make sure the party line is adhered to and deviation would not, evidently, be tolerated.
It is no coincidence that the main theme of this talking shop was "about doing not funding" because the last thing ACE wants to talk about right now is funding and the attendees were only too happy to oblige.
The funding monolith has already thrown in the towel and swallowed the current government spin about money whole, aided and abetted, in no small part, by the current chairman Peter Balzagette, a Conservative Party shill if ever there was one.
ACE CEO Alan Davey said at the conference (quoted via a Tweet from the ACE Twitter account) that "we're in a time of change, paternal funding has passed, sector gets bigger, £ smaller: dilemmas. Let's adapt".
You probably had no idea that all this time ACE was your dad and NPOs and independent artists were mere children, given pocket money to play at doing culture.
Never before has the CEO of a funding body come across as such a massively patronising, condescending git! Let's be clear, culture in this country is an essential public service, a public service that needs to be paid for irrespective of the idealistic views of the current government.
It's all very well talking about ideas but executing those ideas costs money. If ACE wants to accept something then it should be this, trying to replace all the public money lost over the last few years with private sponsorship is a delusion on a grand scale.
Generously funding projects like 'No Boundaries' and deliberately steering the discussion away from the issues surrounding funding of the arts in this country is as feckless as it is stupid and all those involved deserve to be hauled across the coals.
As we often do here at Article19 we "live tweeted" this particular event providing coverage, of sorts, for the folks who either couldn't be there or, more likely, couldn't be bothered being there.
lady from Google presenting like a satirical bit from a Robocop movie #NB2014— Article19 (@Article19) February 26, 2014
Some folks don't take too kindly to these high jinxs one of them being Marcus Romer, the director of Pilot Theatre in York. That particular theatre company was one of the organisations that received the funding to stage this event.
Dude! @Article19 if I am gutless -and you tweet anonymously behind an organisation Then reveal your name on here? Ps we know who you are! :)— Marcus Romer (@MarcusRomer) February 26, 2014
These folks love to talk about the internet unless the internet is being used to mercilessly debunk their pretentious yammering.
Mr Romer declined to be interviewed on camera by Article19 about 'No Boundaries' stating, to paraphrase, that everybody knows what he has to say.
Much like ACE themselves Mr Romer and his ilk will skulk out of the room when they know the party line will not hold up under close scrutiny.
It should be noted that conference attendees could not ask questions of those giving the speeches because, despite all of the technological boasting going on, they didn't have microphones for the audience to use.
With this type of feckless leadership pouring yet more money down the drain and too many people only too happy to help spend the money these really are dark times for the arts.
NB: One note of encouragement to be gleaned from the attendee list showed just one person from the wide world of dance showed up. Something to be thankful for!
For reasons past understanding the Guardian newspaper decided to give Arts Council England Chairman Peter Balzagette a nice long promo for a book he has written called "Is The BBC In Crisis?".
The quick answer to that particular question is YES! One of the reasons being that the best the BBC can come up with in terms of original programming is 'Sherlock' and 'Doctor Who' but on that subject we shall say no more.
For the most part the piece concerns itself with partnerships and why they are a good idea and one of the biggest partnerships that ACE struck up with the BBC was The Space. Right about now we imagine you are rolling your eyes and screaming "not again". Bear with us though.
Mr Balzagette says this;
"This is the idea behind the pop-up arts portal, the Space, established as a joint venture between the BBC and Arts Council England. It operated in "beta" form during the Cultural Olympiad in 2012 and will be relaunched this spring as a fuller service. What it does is fund artists to create content, help train them in production skills and provide a branded outlet for the programming."
Within that one paragraph Mr Balzagette lays bare the lie that was The Space and the fundamental problem that ACE, as an organisation, just cannot tell the truth.
If we look at the dance output on The Space we see the following. DanceXchange's film of 'Spill' was nothing more than a commission from a production company. They paid somebody else to make a bad film of a dance piece despite the fact they already had a perfectly good film of it already. Lessons learned; how to use a phone, how to create redundant content, how to waste money.
DanceEast, under the leadership of the now departed Assis Carriero, created 'Come Dance With Me', a dire series of films about dance presented by the
chuckle brothers New Art Club. The production skills they were taught apparently did not involve how to use a USB thumb drive or create backups because Dance East have no idea where these very expensive films are. Lessons learned; how to waste money, how to use a phone to get somebody to come and make really bad films for you, how not to keep reliable backups of digital data.
The Breakin' Convention produced a seven hour long telethon of their show at Sadler's Wells in London. Unfortunately for them nobody watched it. Lessons learned; How to commission a production company that would rather take your money than tell you that a live broadcast is both really hard and really unnecessary, how to let ego get in the way of common sense so you run a seven hour long, live dance show.
We could go on and on about Rambert Dance Company and their complete inability to film a live dance performance properly or Russell Maliphant's perfume commercial 'Eberus' but we won't because we've all suffered enough from this nonsense.
Lies On Top Of Lies
We asked you to bear with us and since you have we shall now furnish you with the point of this particular piece.
Mr Balzagette's writing in the Guardian sums up not only the man himself but also the organisation he represents. They simply do not tell the truth about their schemes and their scheming.
The Space did not teach people who work in the arts "production skills" or anything else for that matter. Also, it wasn't a "beta". We don't think Mr Balzagette knows what that word means.
ACE and its Chairman adopted the principle long ago that if you just string enough words together in the right order then it will sound like you're saying something when in fact you're not saying anything at all.
Their mantra is "say something often enough then people will usually start to believe it". We imagine said mantra will be translated to Latin and etched in stone over the entrance of the funding monoliths new HQ in London.
This is what happens when you run an organisation via press releases and staged "debates" like the up and coming 'No Boundaries' events that are nothing more than 'State of the Arts' with better branding.
Here in TheLab™ we implore you to examine as closely as humanly possible what the folks in charge are saying and ask yourself why are they saying it.
Is their agenda to help the arts or to help themselves and their friends in high places keep a hold of their salaries and their pensions?
Are they working for you or just trying to keep you quiet so you will run along and play like good little citizens? Big changes come not from being polite but from, literally in some cases, getting in somebody's face.
It's time to stop pretending you can be everybody's friend.
Last week the Royal Ballet announced that they were cancelling a performance of 'Tetractys - The Art of Fugue' (seriously? Ed!) crafted by Wayne McGregor because one of the dancers, Natalia Osipova, had received a concussion during a matinee show and another dancer, Thiago Soares, had become ill.
Such was the shortage of time there was no way to prepare an alternate cast for the evening performance so the company duly offered either full or partial refunds to their audience, whatever they wanted.
How Ms Osipova came to be suffering from a concussion was not revealed.
If you take a look at the video we filmed of Motionhouse Dance Theatre and their performance of 'Broken' there is one thing that you will certainly not notice. All of the dancers, apart from one, were suffering from a particularly bad case of the flu on the day of the show.
Even the company director, Kevin Finnan, was afflicted and if you listen to the full audio of the interview you can clearly hear that the man is not at all well.
Yet, there they all were, doing the show because the show needed to be done and nobody else was going to do it for them.
For a company like Motionhouse there is no alternate cast. They don't even have an understudy dancer just incase something goes wrong and just one company member cannot perform, never mind 90% of them.
In-fact, Motionhouse usually have seven dancers in the company but their numbers have been cropped thanks to the nonsensical funding cuts that have been plaguing (pun intended) the arts for years now.
The story is the same for any mid-scale or small-scale touring company across the country. Dancers have to perform while ill or suffering from injuries not because of brutal directors cracking the whip but because the repercussions of cancelling a show can push you so far over the red line financially the company probably won't recover.
When dancers literally cannot go on stage pieces are hastily reworked, rehearsal's rushed through, usually on the day of the show. It's not ideal, but what else can they do?
Continuing to work while you are ill extends the amount of time it takes for you to recover so you suffer longer. Bad enough if you work in an office environment, worse still if you're putting your body and your mind through a live theatrical performance night after night.
We have all heard the stories of dancers performing while injured thereby exacerbating those injuries and causing new injuries in the process. A never-ending cycle of injury, partial recovery and then more injury.
The reason we have all heard those stories before is because this problem has existed for decades even though the fix is very simple.
Increased funding, not decreased, means more dancers, more jobs, more injury cover, less extended injury and illness for individual dancers, more productivity, more output, better dance culture, etc, etc, etc.
We've spoken before on Article19 about the very obvious class system that affects dance in this country. The haves can cover injuries, most of the time, with a new cast along with paid sick leave for the injured dancers.
The have-nots have to perform while they are ill or injured, cut the number of dancers they employ and they, almost always, have no sick leave pay at all.
2014 and the dance profession is still living in the dark ages. An age where even the most basic of safety provisions are unavailable to many dance companies for the lack of the money that is currently paid to the upper echelons of the Royal Opera House management.
Maybe the great and the good should have discussed that at British Dance Edition this year.
Last Friday Arts Professional magazine released a brief story reporting that the, so-called, "strategic funding" budget used by Arts Council England had risen by 67% from the previous financial year.
What's unusual about this particular fund is the fact that neither arts organisations nor individuals can apply for this money;
"'Strategic funding' grants being paid out of ACE's Grant in Aid (GiA) from Government are budgeted to reach £10.3m this year - a 67% increase on the £6.2m reported for 2012/13. The budget represents the remainder of ACE's Grant-in-Aid allocation after allowing for its own administration costs and core funding grants to National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs), Museums and Libraries. ACE has confirmed that it does not invite applications for this money, nor does it insist that any opportunities funded from this budget are put out to tender."
Essentially, Arts Council England can give this money to whomever they want for any reason they see fit. When Arts Professional asked to see a list of organisations that had received money from this fund they were rebuffed;
"No list is available to reveal who has received the money or how much they have been paid, and the data made public as part of ACE's commitment to transparency fails to specify which organisations have been made awards from this fund."
Arts Council England even went so far as to pre-emptively decline a Freedom of Information request for the data claiming it would cost the funding monolith a fortune to retrieve the information from its cavernous innards.
Article19 asked ACE what computer software was being used to store the information about the grants from this particular fund that made it so difficult for them to retrieve specific data.
The fact that advanced indexing and tagging systems available on even the most inexpensive laptop computers makes finding data a simple and fast process, not to mention a smartphone's ability to recover vast amounts of information quickly from the internet, make it hard to believe that a custom, paid for product would make such a recovery task so arduous and expensive to implement.
ACE told us that they use a system called AIMS (Award Information Management System) from a company called Quest Computing based in the Republic of Ireland. The company's own website, ironically enough, uses Arts Council England as a case study for just how good their grant management system is. They also feature a diagram that explains how their software works that was evidently created by a nine year old.
Calls to Quest's London office went unanswered.
When we asked the funding monolith why the information was not kept in a simple to reference format they responded;
"Arts Council data is stored appropriately within our systems and can be referenced as required. We have a standard Grants management system based on AIMs software as mentioned above. All requests take time especially ones which involve large amounts of data and it is standard practice for organisations to cross check any information to ensure accuracy."
The responses given to both Article19 and Arts Professional are curious because ACE already provides simple and easy to use lists of grants for their NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) funding programme and their RFO (Regularly Funded Organisations) funding programme before that. These funding portfolios are both far more complex and a lot larger than this "strategic funding" programme covering, as they do, hundreds of different recipients.
When Article19 asked for a simple breakdown of funded projects for The Space website last year ACE provided that list as a spreadsheet within a few days of the request being made.
Grants to arts organisations and individuals from the vast Grants For The Arts (GFA) system that encompasses tens of thousands of recipients can be searched online via a government operated website.
The main difference between the NPO, The Space and GFA funds and this "strategic fund" pot of money however is that all of those are handled using an open application process.
We also asked ACE about providing detailed information to their auditors (who are supposed to make sure ACE is spending money on what they say they are spending money on). If they could provide that information to their auditors then why not to journalists, and anybody else, making formal requests for information.
"An auditor would not ask for information on this scale. Generally speaking auditors would request specific information on a limited number of different, individual projects and would then study the process in which each grant was made."
Apparently the auditing process for ACE involves looking at a "limited number" of projects and coming to the ridiculous assumption that if those ones are ok then everything else must be fine. The 2008 financial crisis appears to have taught the powers that be nothing at all.
No Way To Win
For Arts Council England this is, yet again, a no-win situation entirely of their own making. It's bad enough that they have a £10Million slush fund that they can give to anybody they want. It gets worse when requests for information about who receives that money are ignored because ACE claims their information storage systems are so hopeless it would "involve a time consuming data check" on their part to figure out where the money went, not that it matters because the auditors don't care anyway.
ACE is complaining they can't retrieve information about a funding system they created from a computer system they themselves implemented and paid for.
Things become more depressing when you realise that the people at ACE think they are being transparent because, hey, at least they tell people that these funds exist so what does it matter who actually gets the money?
On transparency ACE told us this;
"They are funds that we use when we have identified new opportunities or platforms that we feel would benefit from funding. It is part of the Arts Council's role to identify these opportunities and to be flexible enough to develop new partnerships as and when the opportunity arises."
Nobody would argue that the funding monolith having a little flexibility with a certain amount of funds is a good idea. What's not a good idea is having an organisation where nobody has the foresight, or apparently the intelligence, to fire up a spreadsheet programme, open a company wide DropBox account and keep a simple reference file of who gets the money.
Everybody knows ACE spends money. But we also want to know, and need to know, who gets it and what for. That's what keeps everybody honest.
Admitting that you implemented a complex and unworkable system that you're either too stupid or too lazy to fix means that Arts Council England still doesn't understand that the fall really is going to kill them.
If this was an American TV show then we could write about how the "Feds" were coming for ACE replete with pictures of burly folk in blue wind-breakers hauling in suspicious looking employees for "questioning".
Sadly, for us at least, that is not what's going on here. Instead we have the Select Committee of the Department for Culture Media and Sport launching a, somewhat phoney, investigation into the funding monolith's activities.
"The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has decided to conduct a general investigation into the work of Arts Council England, including its scope, scale and remit. We wish to examine the economic and artistic criteria that underpin funding decisions. Furthermore, we seek views on whether the geographical distribution of funding is fair and the justification for the current weighting of this towards London."
This type of thing happens every so often and the most that ever comes of it is nothing at all. Nobody gets fired, no substantive changes in policy, nothing of any interest. All we really get is the chance to watch ACE CEO Alan Davey go all red in the face as the committee members repeatedly point out he's not very good at his job.
On this occasion ACE Chairman Peter Balzagette will probably show up, call everybody by their first name and string a bunch of words together without saying anything substantive at all.
Disappointments aside there is one small thing that you, our dear readers, can do to turn the tide and instigate some change.
Although you can't give evidence to the committee unless they haul you in, you can submit written evidence via the Parliament website and you have until February 24th to do it.
As the paragraph above, culled from the committee website, says they are looking into the "economic and artistic criteria that underpin funding decisions". Well, here in TheLab™, we have plenty of evidence of ACE's lack of ability to do that.
What we can't do is just send them our written work and use that as evidence (you're not allowed to do that) but you can. At least, you can quote our information in evidence you submit to the enquiry and you can, of course, use any other information you happen to have to argue your case for or against the Big Bad.
The chances of anything meaningful being done about the worlds most opaque, unaccountable, completely idiotic (at times) funding body are small to none but you don't get if you don't ask.
Submitting information is easy, they may even use it and there is a lottery-like chance that you may be called to give evidence in person.
Getting things changed involves standing up to be counted and it's time to stand up.
Yesterday, here in TheLab™, we published our 200th video feature on Article19, a comprehensive look at the Cloud Dance Festival in London and some of the dance makers involved.
The oldest video feature on Article19 has been online for over 11 years and this particular website (in all of its various forms) has not been offline for more than an hour since 1999.
All of this accomplished with very little money and very little external support.
We mention this because last month (October) the ACE/BBC website The Space was deleted from the internet along with all of its content. After spending millions of pounds the wretched digital experiment was put out of its misery after just over a year online.
In the spirit of mischief making we decided to follow up with the organisations that created the initial four pieces of dance content. DanceXchange with 'Spill', Dance East with 'Come Dance With Me', The Breakin' Convention with their "live" broadcast and Russell Maliphant with the slow motion soft porn movie that we can't remember the name of.
When we first wrote about The Space last year DanceEast explained that their six episode long series of videos that would "demystify" dance (created at a cost of over £80,000) would have a long lasting legacy. When The Space shut down the videos would still be available for all to see they told us.
Fast forward to late 2013 and Dance East (one of the UK's National Dance Agencies) has run into a bit of a snag on the legacy front. They can't find the videos.
It would be appear that nobody at Dance East thought to make a copy of the files. The whole series could have been copied to a 64GB thumb drive at a cost of about £50. That might have pushed the already ridiculous budget over the edge though.
The production company that created 'Come Dance With Me', Tiger Lily Films in London, did not answer the phone number listed on their website on multiple occasions and did not respond to tweets directed at their Twitter account.
After two weeks of trying Dance East had been unable to determine if the production company still exists although Tiger Lily's Twitter account was updated as recently as November 21st.
The AD of Dance East at the time, Assis Carriero, is now ensconced in Belgium pretending to be the artistic director of a dance company. She could not immediately be reached for comment.
To put this matter into perspective it's like purchasing a brand new Mercedes 'S' Class with all the trimmings and then forgetting where you parked the thing. Careless!
Spilling Your Guts
DanceXchange, another of the UK's National Dance Agencies, were given over £75,000 to produce a filmed version of a children's dance piece called 'Spill', performed in playgrounds across the land.
DanceXchange told us;
"Most of the Spill films are not available online currently, due to our original agreement with Shaun Parker (the choreographer of Spill) that the films could only be presented on The Space for a limited period of time which has now elapsed."
The perils of "licensing" writ large for all to see. It's a curious answer though given that a video of 'Spill' is available in its entirety on DanceXchange's YouTube account (you can see it below).
That version is filmed far more effectively than the horrible creation done for The Space (the production company on The Space version was Maverick Films) which was dull and grainy and unnecessarily split into ten parts.
It's also not entirely clear why so much money was spent creating a new film of a work when one, evidently, already existed.
The Breakin' Convention did not respond to questions put to them via the contact form on their website. There are several videos on that website that look like they could have come from the "live" web broadcast of their 2012 show (at a cost of over £50,000) but sans confirmation we can't be sure.
Russell Maliphant's contact information from his own website doesn't work. A message sent to Sadler's Wells (where he is an associate artists) garnered no response from the dance maker about where his film is or where people might be able to see it. There is no mention of the film on the company website.
So there you have it dear readers. Hundreds of thousands of pounds spent and there is literally nothing to show for it. It is the final humiliation for an online resource that existed for no other reason than to generate some press releases about "digital arts".
Given the complete lack of legacy and the absence of anything approaching professionalism in the choice and delivery of the content it should come as no surprise to learn that The Space will try to make a comeback next year. More evidence, as if any were needed, that the arts in UK on so many levels have completely lost their way.
Update December 13th : The Russell Maliphant film 'Eberus' is available in full on the film makers website : [ Eberus ]
The mighty guardians of the arts in the United Kingdom - Arts Council England - have been, of late, making a big push into what they would probably describe as the digital realm. For ACE it's all digital all the time. It's like the internet has just been invented.
Step forward the funding monolith's new chairman Peter Bazalgette with an op-ed piece in the London Evening Standard on November 4th extolling the virtues of said digital technology and how it's going to save the world, or something.
Facts have never been ACE's strong point and this trend continues in this particular piece under the watchful eye of their faux commander in chief.
"Last year our National Theatre screened its superb live stage productions in 360 UK cinemas and 350 other venues around the world, with NT Live reaching an additional two million people."
Now, that sounds very impressive. Two Million people is, after all, a lot of people. The only problem is it's not really true. The National Theatre told us that the number is derived from ticket sales in cinemas for their relay shows but the "two million" figure was achieved over a period of the last four years, not last year alone as Mr Bazalgette implies.
He goes on;
"The Tate connected with two million people via social media and had the most popular website of any gallery or museum in Britain."
It would appear that a figure of "two million" is pretty much standard practice in the arts. The Tate does have over 970,000 followers on Twitter and over 620,000 on Facebook but those numbers don't really tell you much of anything.
The Tate is one of the most well known galleries in the country and is very well funded by public money so a lot of social media interest is to be expected. The level of interaction with their followers however is nothing spectacular.
Many Tweets receive, relatively speaking, only a few re-tweets (a reasonably good measure of how many people are listening to you) and the Facebook posts similarly receive relatively small amounts of interaction.
This is a problem experienced by everybody who uses social media. Getting people to follow you is one thing, getting them to pay attention is something else altogether. So, taking raw follower numbers at face value isn't really proof of anything.
The Tate was unable to provide Article19 with substantive evidence of how they arrived at the conclusion that their website was more popular than any other art gallery website in the UK.
A Long Con
If we look at the National Theatre and their live relay shenanigans Mr Bazalgette also leaves out a very key piece of information.
It's all very well for theatres with huge amounts of funding to beam their shows all over the country, and the world for that matter, for the masses to see but it doesn't really help anybody else. Such technology doesn't help anybody else because they can't afford to use it.
There is also a very real concern that showing hugely expensive productions in the regions, sans those companies having to get off their backsides and tour, could have a damaging impact on local theatre companies trying to get people to come to their "live" shows.
Why pay £20 to go and see a local company in the scruffy "regional" venue when you can pay £10 and watch the well-heeled companies do their thing in the far more comfortable multiplex?
The National Theatre probably spends more money relaying its work all over the country than most companies have to spend on their entire productions.
Never Ending Story
The points made above have always been the big problem for Arts Council England. It's all just so many words without ever addressing the reality on the ground for those whose level of funding does not extend into seven or eight figures on a yearly basis.
The funding monolith tackles every problem it encounters in only the most fundamental of ways without giving any thought to the bigger picture.
If the National Theatre can broadcast their shows into cinemas then technology must work for the benefit of the arts, right? If The Tate can get a lot of followers on Twitter and Facebook then social media is good for the arts, right? If Arts Council England can just put enough words in the right order then they must know what they are doing, right?
Unfortunately for ACE that's not how it works. Anybody paying even the slightest amount of attention to their day to day nonsensical yapping can pull them apart in very short order.
Not much of what ACE has done in the past can sustain any serious stress testing and Mr Balzagette's latest "media strategy 101" exercise is no different.
If you don't believe us, ask the people who work at The Point in the West Midlands. Well, they don't work there anymore because the £70Million art gallery has been shut down, again, this time for good. It's probably because they didn't have enough followers on Twitter, right?
Long time followers of Article19 will know that one of the things that makes us unique are the video features we run as often as possible. Here in TheLab™ we don't just use promo videos from dance companies and re-publish them. We go out and film the work ourselves, do the interviews, do the editing and then publish.
It is, as far as Article19 is concerned, vitally important that there is impartial, comprehensive coverage of publicly funded dance works, free from the constraints of company marketing departments.
In many ways Article19 acts as a public record, albeit of the works we have the resources to cover, that anybody can access at any time. Our archive is not subject to the whims of changing leadership at dance companies or the arbitrary imposition of restrictions that some dance makers wish to impose on the work they create.
Also, once we publish something it stays published.
If you take a look around the websites of many dance companies the visual, online record of their works, available to the public, free of charge, makes for a grim browsing experience.
Apart from a few promotional videos (our disdain for most of those is well known) there is not a great deal to see. A small minority of companies do better than others and some have far more resources than others but, whatever way you look at it, the ability of the general public to see what dance companies are doing and what they have done in the past is severely constrained.
The situation is made all the more strange because this is, after all, the performing arts. Work is made with the specific intention of showing it to other people, it's kinda the whole point.
The Public Access Argument
We keep mentioning "the public" because, apart from the United States, most of the contemporary dance work created on planet earth is almost entirely funded by public money. Remember, governments don't have any money, it's the public's money, governments are just the ones who spend it.
So what does this have to do with anything?
It has to do with the fact that we are encountering too many choreographers and dance companies trying to keep their work off the internet and they are doing so without any explanation or coherent rationale.
Take a look at the websites of Random, Akram Khan, Rambert, DV8 and others and see just how much of the work they have produced, paid for with millions of pounds of public money, that you can see. You will be lucky if you can find even the shortest of badly filmed clips.
We are aware that Rambert does have some work on TheSpace website but those pieces are so badly filmed it's actually worse than not having them there at all. There is also no telling how much money has changed hands to actually put them there.
30 years from now, when most of these companies will be little more than a memory, what will exist for future generations should they wish to study the history of dance from this particular era? If things continue as they are then, for many companies and choreographers, there will be nothing to see.
Even if the videos exist we have little doubt that some administrative body or other will relish the task of keeping access to them as limited as possible.
From Article19's perspective the majority of dance makers and choreographers are happy to be filmed and let us put out reasonable amounts of video of their work.
We like to think of them as the open-source dance makers! Article19 can only hope that the balance does not shift towards the "you shall not" group who are more akin to Apple and their over zealous walled garden approach.
Getting video of dance "out there" can only help the ongoing struggle to get this art form noticed a little more. One thing we know for sure, it's not going to hurt the profession to get more work online.
It shouldn't need to be stated that contemporary dance is not the most popular art form in the world and a self-serving, irrational, protectionist attitude towards dance works isn't going to help change that.
What we would like to see is new rules for ACE funding (and public funding for dance across Europe) that requires dance works to be published, online, in full no more than 5 years after they have been made if they are no longer touring. 10 years if they are still touring.
This would also require that dance companies properly document their works so future generations are not left with little more than some shaky rehearsal footage or the terrors of the "promo" as illustrated by the video embedded below for Hofesh Shechter [Company]'s new work 'Sun'.
Allow us to reiterate. These works belong to the general public (and no, we are not talking about copyright here) because they foot the bill for them to be made. Allowing general access to substantive clips is the very least that the dance profession can do to show their appreciation for that financial largesse.
If Article19 covers the work then, say it slowly and deliberately, it doesn't even cost the companies any money.
Allowing unfettered access to "dead" works is simply the right thing to do for the sake of the historical record of dance and to shore up the arguments for continued public financial support of the profession to keep on making new works.
Dance can ill-afford the selfish preening of the few, especially in these difficult financial times and the seemingly never ending times of relative obscurity for dance.
Verve13 from Northern School of Contemporary Dance
A few weeks ago we wrote about the comically misguided and completely unjustifiable situation Arts Council England had gotten itself into with the £400,000* annual funding for
(Sadler's Wells Theatre) the National Youth Dance Company.
Ostensibly, the purpose of NYDC is to provide a pathway into professional training for teenagers interested in dance whilst completely ignoring the lack of jobs for graduates after that three to four year professional training is over.
This got us thinking, here in TheLab™, that if ACE, along with their partners in crime in central government, are so concerned about the future of dance and the profession's most important resource then perhaps they should consider another idea.
Several companies and independent dance makers take on apprentices, some of them even get paid for the privilege, so they can learn the ropes and make the transition from student to fully fledged professional dancer. More often than not these apprentices are recent graduates from the UK and other schools around the world.
Post graduate positions within companies are, for many dancers, an important first step in their dance careers. Post graduate companies like Verve and Edge play a vital role but places are limited and the dancers don't get paid. In fact, post graduate positions have to be paid for by the dancers as the role is effectively an additional year of training.
To expand the opportunities for post-graduate we would like to welcome you, our dear readers, to what we are calling The National Graduate Dancer Programme, funded to the tune of £400,000 a year (or as much money as it takes, whichever is larger) by ACE and the Education Department because they care so much about the dance profession (allegedly).
In not keeping with Arts Council England general policy this scheme would be very simple. All of the National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) dance companies would be required (as part of their funding agreement) to take on at least one post graduate dancer per year. Alongside that programme experienced dance makers, (4 years or more creating and touring in the field), funded through Grants for the Arts (GFA) would also be required to take on one post-graduate apprentice.
The beauty of it all is that the apprentice is already paid for, automagically, through ACE. Dance makers just fill out their GFA application, match the experience criteria and a preset amount is added to their successful funding application to cover the pay and other costs associated with the dancer (travel expenses, etc).
Costs will of course vary from company to company and dancer to dancer so any money not used for the apprentice is returned to ACE but £10,000 should just about cover it.
Remember, GFA supported companies don't run 52 weeks of the year so you don't need to fund an annual salary, mores the pity, but we can't have everything all at once.
NPO companies might need a bit more funding as they tend to operate for longer throughout the year, hardly any of them employ their dancers on full time, 12 month contracts though.
Several companies already do take on apprentices and we feel sure they would welcome the additional funding so they can re-direct existing funds to other parts of their operation or take on a further apprentice with the additional money.
What About That Money
Where is the money going to come from to pay for this? Well, that's easy because ACE's dirty little secret is that they are completely loaded with cash. They must be, how else could they fork out £40Million for the "Exceptional Projects" programme, Rambert's new fridge shaped building in London and whatever the Royal Opera House is getting more money for this week.
The funding monolith has lots of money, they're just not very good at using it in productive ways.
As for the post-graduates who might benefit from his programme? Well, they get the most valuable experience possible, working in the field they have been training for over several years.
Interacting with and working alongside experienced professionals and, perhaps, touring and performing professional work will give each of those dancers valuable practical experience as well as a massive psychological boost to take the edge off the mind-numbing fear that grips many a graduate when they walk out of the front door of their dance school for the very last time.
Generating support for such a wide reaching programme would require the NPO's to get onboard. If they can all stop tweeting about how exited they are about something or other and do a bit of lobbying then a national apprentice programme for post-graduates could actually happen.
It's asking a lot, but if you don't ask you don't get and half the fun of this art form is making the powers that be sweat through their expensive cotton shirts.
*50% of the money comes from the Education Department.
Anybody who has received funding from Arts Council England, or any other type of funding for that matter, will know that numbers are everything. Especially when it comes to audience numbers for the performing arts.
Numbers can make or break your company because if they aren't high enough, or the right kind of numbers, then future funding could be at risk and with that the future of an entire company.
If we did a survey of the toughest challenges when it comes to running a dance company we're not sure if creating the work or getting people to come and see it would rank higher.
Getting people in off the street and into a venue is akin to getting oil out of water or individual sugar granules out of a bag of salt. Most marketing folk have to practice this darkest of arts with little, if any, resources.
Last week, while browsing The Guardian website, we stumbled across an advertisement for 'Political Mother' from Hofesh Shechter [Company] that will bow on July 3 at Sadler's wells in London.
This promotion though was far from being just a regular banner ad. The theatre had payed for a gutter ad (meaning the ad runs in the gutter of the page on the left and right outside the bounds of the actual page), a regular banner at the top, a side bar graphic and, as if that wasn't enough, a footer ad near the bottom of the page.
Apart from the fact that such advertising is completely over the top and more than a little garish the idea is that you, as the reader, don't miss the advertisement.
The format is nothing new, it's being going on for years with ad companies using the technique to hawk everything from cell phones to computer software. One thing is certain though, such advertising is not cheap and therefore not available to everybody.
Those working in the small and mid-scale touring environment know only to well that booking a tour is just half the battle. Getting the venues to actively promote a performance, even if they have the resources to do it, is another struggle in and of itself.
For the small-scale this problem is often more pronounced. We, here in TheLab™, regularly hear stories of dance companies arriving at venues only to find absolutely no promotion for their show on display at all.
Not only that but the venue have, often times, been less than active in promoting the company's education projects, one of the key elements in developing an audience and generating revenue for a small dance company.
Sometimes this is down to resources and sometimes its simply because the venues staff don't care. If the latter is true then said staff need to immediately replaced with people who actually want to do the job.
Have and Have Not
What we have in this country is nothing short of a class system for dance companies. The "haves" can run ads in national newspapers (funded by the venue) and are afforded every opportunity to build audiences and continue with their work. The "have nots" are down in the trenches fighting with sticks and slingshots trying to get the metaphorical oil out of the metaphorical water.
The metaphors are mixed, but you get the point.
We have mentioned before in these pages about the lack of willingness demonstrated by large-scale organisations, the ones with all the money, to help the small and mid-scale companies, the ones without all the money.
Piecemeal measures have been put in place, associate companies at The Royal Opera House for one, but there is very little practical progress being made and with further funding cuts due in a couple of years things are probably not going to get much better.
You get the feeling that the strong will just get stronger and everybody else is collateral damage waiting to happen.