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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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Motionhouse dance theatre broken, the new piece from the wrwick based company

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Play Fair

published on Tuesday, 15 April, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

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Picking dancers out of a crowd is kind of your job, so cut audition applicants some slack. JV2 'Tomorrow' from Article19

Professional dancers taking part in the audition process over the last few years will be very aware of the increasing demands from companies and choreographers to provide video material of their abilities in advance of being selected for attendance.

Some notices go so far as to request solo material or material that clearly shows the dancer during a live performance absent any other dancers so the choreographer/company can get a good look at you.

It sounds like a reasonable enough request in this age of the internet video. How hard can it be for a professional dancer to get good material of them performing uploaded to YouTube?

Even though dance companies in general have taken big strides towards improving the quality of their online video material we, here in TheLab™, would still rate the dance profession's collective effort at a lowly 2/10.

Take a trip to the website of any big company and, more often than not, there will not be a great deal of video material for you to watch. Even if there is, good look finding it.

Dancers, even the ones with history of working with big companies, struggle to get their hands on good video material. In fact, the bigger the company, the harder it is for them to get access to anything at all to use in their own portfolio.

Even if the dancer did get access to footage it's a big leap of faith to imagine they have the technical skills to take some raw, ProRes 422 footage and edit and title that material and compress it into the correct format to go online.

Not every professional dancer has a video editor they can call on for help.

What about recent graduates? If experienced professionals struggle to get good footage than recent graduates can find it almost completely impossible. Yes, they can get into a studio with their cell phone and record a solo. However, is that going to be the same as a fully rehearsal directed and professionally choreographed, 3rd year graduate performance with a full company of dancers? Of course not!

If anything, the "selfie solo" could actually hurt the applicant because they are not performing at their best, absent the adrenaline rush of a dance performance replete with lights, music and a live audience.

We would strongly recommend that video material should always be an optional extra and the absence of that video material should not determine an applicant's suitability to attend the audition.

The Open Audition

In some ways the open audition might seem like a fairer way to do things. Just publicise a date and then let the dancers rock up with their CV and take their chances.

The open audition only works for both dancer and dance company though if you can be sure a reasonable amount of people will show up across multiple audition dates across a particular country or region.

If the audition is flooded with hundreds of dancers (not as rare as you might think) then just how much of a chance do you think the dancers will have to shine? Conversely, how much of a chance will the choreographer/director have to spot the dancers they really want to work with?

An open audition is really more of a lottery and getting a job in a dance company should be about personality and skill and that's not really going to come through with hundreds of dancers squeezed into a dance studio.

We have also seen open audition notices that stipulate dancers may not be auditioned at all if too many people show up. That is simply unacceptable when dancers may have to pay a lot of money to travel there in the first place.

Looking through hundreds of CVs and application emails might be a drag, but that's what you signed up for when you started a dance company.

We recommend nixing the open audition.

The Application Form

We have written before on Article19 about the growing trend of dance companies using application forms in their audition process.

It's worth re-iterating here that dancers are nomadic folk. They move around a lot and not everybody has access to a laptop with the ability to edit a Word document or a PDF properly and send it back to you.

Application forms do little more than introduce an added layer of complexity for the dancer. There is nothing that can be written in an application form that cannot be written in an email or one page CV.

We would also suggest that you set up a dedicated account (using Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Outlook) to receive audition applications. That way your normal email address will not be overwhelmed and crash. You can also setup a simple auto-responder so the applicants know that their email has been received.

A special place in hell is reserved for those companies that require dancers to apply for auditions using postal mail.

Again, if you don't want to receive lots of applications to audition from professional dancers then you might want to get out of the dance company game.

Play fair......

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The Lost Arts

published on Thursday, 10 April, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

The Guardian newspaper published a by the numbers puff-piece last week based on a press release from the BBC proclaiming that the publicly funded broadcaster was going to champion the arts or, you know, whatever.

Said press release, loosely translated by John Plunkett (totally made up name or what? Ed!), proclaimed that;

"Nearly £3m extra will be spent on arts programmes across TV, radio and online in the coming year, with BBC director general Tony Hall, the former chief executive of the Royal Opera House, promising "more arts on the BBC than ever before"."

Alarm bells immediately start ringing because Tony Hall is a former over-paid bottle washer from the subsidised arts sector who is now an over-paid bottle washer at the BBC.

"The arts really matter. They are not for an elite or for a minority. They're for everybody," said Hall. "I worry the arts could become more marginalised unless we do more to reach out to children and young people. To inspire them."

It's always lovely when very wealthy people who can afford to do anything they want tell the rest of us that we can have everything they have and it's all thanks to them despite the fact that the "rest of us" are the ones who paid them all the money to become wealthy in the first place. But we digress.

Of course, when Mr Hall says "the arts" are for everyone he doesn't actually mean all of the arts. What he means are the kind he oversaw when he worked at the Royal Opera House. The really "big" arts with all the posh costumes, big orchestras and big venues. The kind of arts run by his well funded friends.

The advisory group being put together to inform this shake up of arts coverage includes Nicholas Serota from the Tate in London and Nicholas Hytner the soon to be ex-AD of the National Theatre , also in London. Outlined for coverage by the BBC will be a lot of Shakespeare, Glyndebourne Opera and stuff made by folks like Sam Mendes (director of the last James Bond film).

There is little or no room at all for any of the scruffy regional folk working in dance companies that receive less than £1Million per year in annual support. Just so you know, that's pretty much all of them. We feel sure that the usual suspects will appear somewhere at some point if they happen to do something for The Royal Ballet.

Also set to return is The Space, the ill-advised and massively expensive media channel for the arts run by the BBC with their partners in crime at Arts Council England. Given their track record of appalling dance coverage and profligate spending we see no reason to expect anything different when it re-emerges from the swamp once again to impress absolutely no-one.

If they're lucky some dance companies may get a few scraps from the table after all the "licensing" and admin money has been spent.

No Surprises

None of this should come as too much of a surprise to folks in the wide world of dance or the arts in general. Mr Hall was appointed to the top job at the BBC just because. There was no open application process or even an interview, he got the job because he used to work there before working at the Royal Opera House and his old friends gave him a new job with a bigger pay packet.

Once installed in his new position Mr Hall appointed at least two employees with no open application process or interview. Anne Bulford, who worked with Mr Hall at the Royal Opera House, was given a £395,000 per year job in finance. Former Culture Minister James Purnell secured a £295,000 role with a job title that sounded completely made up.

It is this mentality that pollutes the commissioning process for what will be featured in the new BBC push for greater arts coverage.

There will be no Motionhouse, Candoco, 2Faced, Scottish Dance Theatre, JV2, Verve or so many others because they don't have friends in the right places. They have no history with Mr Hall and his cronies and as such, they simply do not exist.

Of course the irony is that the companies that would benefit the most from some national exposure on a national broadcast television network are the ones least likely to get it.

Perhaps the "regional" arts folk can make do with the utterly incompetent and thoroughly patronising local news coverage that always makes everybody cringe when it goes to air. Scraps from table dear readers, scraps from the table.

This favouritism has always been the case and it won't change as long as the same people are given the same jobs because they do have friends in all the right places.

We have mentioned the rapid onset of a two-tier arts system in this country before and if this nonsense doesn't stop soon, aided and abetted by the faux arts media, then the poor will just keep getting poorer.

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Shell Game

published on Monday, 31 March, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

The budget delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is often a snooze for arts folk unless they are expecting arts cuts, the norm for the last few years.

However, this time out there was, allegedly, some good news for the creatives when George Osbourne announced some tax breaks for both touring and non-touring theatrical productions, subsidised by Arts Council England or not.

According to ACE the tax relief;

"... applies to both commercial and subsidised productions and will include theatre, ballet, dance and opera, musicals and other live performance. The Chancellor announced two rates of relief; 25% for touring productions and 20% for all other productions."

So, does this mean that making your show just got 20% cheaper? Not so fast there skippy because this is tax law and nothing is ever simple when it comes to tax law.

ACE's own description of how this works requires more tax law expertise then most mere mortals can muster;

"The calculation of this is as a percentage of eligible capitalised expenditure (broadly one takes the capitalisation of the project, and the eligible portion comprises most categories excluding marketing and advertising, running costs, contingencies and any finance costs). The tax relief is then applied to 80% of this eligible expenditure. The mechanism for claiming the relief will be covered in the forthcoming consultation."

Strictly speaking, if you have the administrative moxie to pull it off, then you could save some money on your new show. The problems begin because the relief is applied to corporation tax and almost every subsidised company in the UK is a registered charity, not a corporation, so they don't pay any corporation tax.

The funding monolith has a plan though saying, via their press release on this scheme, that;

"The majority of theatre companies that receive funding from Arts Council England are charities and are not usually liable for corporation tax. It is envisaged that in order to benefit from the tax relief a charity will create a trading subsidiary that is liable for corporation tax through which it will make the production and benefit from any relief."

Basically what you do, if you're a mid-scale dance company, is set-up up what amounts to a phoney corporation so you can then become liable for a tax you never had to pay in the first place so you can get relief from said tax.

Larger companies with sufficient expertise on hand and the money to pay for it may find setting up dummy corporations very easy but most people and most companies probably won't be so lucky.

Should this scheme actually bring in more money that it costs to set up then you are good to go but to us, here in TheLab™, it all sounds an awful lot like the kind of tax avoidance schemes being used by massive corporations like Apple, Google and Amazon.

Schemes which these companies have been hauled before government committees for using and schemes that are blamed, in part, for causing a lot of the massive budget cuts currently being endured across this country and beyond.

We suppose that the motto "if you can't beat them join them" was ringing in the ears of both ACE and the DCMS when they heard about these shell corporation shenanigans.

Sticky

There is also the rather sticky issue of the financial problems being faced by many arts organisation actually being caused by the very government that is pretending to hand them some tax relief.

The powers that be have taken what was a very simple system (sort of) by providing funding to ACE who then fund arts organisations and turned it into cutting direct funding to the bone and adding in a huge layer of bureaucratic paper shuffling to create corporate tax liable entities that may or may not save you less money than they took away in the first place.

It would almost certainly have been far simpler to allow registered charities working in the performing arts to simply claim an exemption from VAT, which in the UK is set at 20%.

It is still to be made clear what happens to charitable organisations working in the arts that set up these "trading subsidiaries" only to find some rule change or bureaucratic red tape means they are not eligible for the "tax relief".

When that happens would they then become liable for large amounts of corporation tax? We would ask ACE, the DCMS or The Treasury but we already know what they are going to say... "we don't know!"

Such tax relief schemes will, in all probability, only benefit the large scale. Small and mid-scale will probably look at this and figure it's not worth the effort and the expense of setting it up even if they could save a bit of money with it.

It is all the very weakest of sauce.

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Talk Is Not Cheap

published on Tuesday, 4 March, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

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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.

Origin Story

'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.

In Conclusion

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.

And Finally

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.

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.

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.

[ Watch Video from No Boundaries Here ]
[ More on Marcus Romer in 'Please!' ]

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!

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Night is Day

published on Tuesday, 25 February, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

[ Peter Balzagette in The Guardian ]

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Aches and Pains

published on Tuesday, 11 February, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

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Dark Money

published on Thursday, 30 January, 2014 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

Bad Data

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.

Audit Me!

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.

[ Arts Professional 'ACE budgets £10.3m for hidden projects' ]

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Giving Evidence

published on Thursday, 16 January, 2014 | Comment | Make A Comment

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.

[ Commons Select Committee Website ]

[ Direct Link To This Entry ]

Deleted Files

published on Tuesday, 3 December, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

Where's Waldo?

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.

Breakin Up

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.

Deleted Files

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 ]

[ Direct Link To This Entry ]

The Long Con

published on Tuesday, 19 November, 2013 | Comments | Make A Comment

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.

He writes;

"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?

[ Evening Standard Op-Ed ]

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