Hiding Under The Stairs

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Article19

In the old country we often describe trying to get someone to talk to you who is being particularly intractable as being an experience akin to "pulling teeth". It's messy, painful and getting people to sit down and take that pain is getting harder and harder even though it might actually be good for them.

Over the last several weeks Article19 has been trying to get various people to talk about various things with little or no success. They either outright refuse to do it or fall back to their default position of suggesting we ask them the questions via email.

Start Pulling

Take Arts Council England (ACE) for example. The London based funding monolith has announced its plans to boost philanthropy in the arts not once but twice, the latest announcement coming a little under two weeks ago. The first announcement was in December last year.

While the practical plans for the project, called 'Catalyst Arts', seem straight forward enough the actual thinking behind how it works appears to be completely non-existent. The second press release from June 29 says this about the £30Million section of the scheme;

"It is anticipated that the £30 million fund will enable arts organisations to generate around £25 million of new money from private giving by 2015."

Throughout the rest of the release there are words like "develop", "ideas", "capability", etc, etc. No actual details on how ACE came up with the numbers, how the £40Million in total funding was split into three sections and how or why anybody should believe that any of this is actually going to work.

From the press release the whole thing looks like a gold mine for consultants and advisors. Another pot of money that has nothing to do with creating jobs for artists and has a lot to do with creating another layer of bureaucracy.

And by the way, if you're spending £30Million, essentially on administration, and only getting £25Million back by 2015 that seems like a bad investment. Why not just use the £30Million and invest it in actual arts projects?

So we asked ACE for an interview with the person in charge of 'Catalyst Arts' because it might be good for ACE to talk about this and explain the missing details.

A spokesperson at ACE said this in response to our interview request;

"As outlined in the release, the fund is still in development and last week's announcement was an update on our current thinking.  More information and details of criteria and how to apply will be available in the autumn.  In light of this there is not much more detail we can give at this point."

Apparently in the last 6 or 7 months the only things ACE have come up with is how to distribute the money and some numbers evidently pulled from thin air.

Tapped Ideas

When the website IdeasTap, kind of like LinkdIN for young arty people, announced they were associating themselves with the Sky Arts Ignition Fund we, here in TheLab™ , naturally enough, and any intrepid journalist worth their salt is going to pursue such an announcement with questions about associating yourself with Newscorp.

Of course Newscorp is owned by Rupert Murdoch who also owns News International that owned the now defunct News of the World along with a lot of other charming news outlets like The Sun, Fox News, the London Times and of course Sky Television.

No dice there either unfortunately because their editor James Hopkirk, who used to work for The Sunday Times coincidentally, and is also a journalist wouldn't be interviewed on the phone, only via email.

We don't do email interviews for the fairly obvious reason that there is no way we can verify if the person writing the answers is the person we're asking the questions of, it's too difficult to do follow ups and it actually takes a lot longer than spending 10 minutes on the phone. And, yes, it's far easier to squeeze people when you're talking to them.

The list goes on and on.

NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) either wouldn't talk about or seemed completely incapable of discussing their "£1/2 Million research fund to stimulate digital innovation in the arts and culture" which they are launching alongside ACE and the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council).

In fact they initially asked if they could see what we were going to write before it was published so they could edit their responses. (say what? Ed!) We of course refused that request.

ACE, again, wouldn't allow any journalists into their Building Digital Capacity for the Arts seminars lest we ask some awkward questions of the protagonists that might just expose these things as nothing more than a talking shop (they told us there wasn't enough room in the venue).

ACE also declined to provide interviews with senior staff about the funding cuts and what their level of responsibility/involvement was in that process. The funding monolith is particularly adept at not giving on the record interview about its programs.

The Green Room in Manchester, which recently closed down after losing its ACE funding from next year, declined to be interviewed about why they were shutting the venue down so quickly (they were funded for the rest of the the current financial year). From the outside it looks like they just locked the door and left town.

Over at the BBC they refused to put Jan Younghusband (commissioning editor) up for interview to discuss their train wreck of a documentary about contemporary dance or in-fact the entire train wreck of a contemporary dance season on BBC4 that featured very little actual contemporary dance.

Dance UK, the advocacy organisation for dance, wouldn't answer questions about funding cuts even after they themselves were cut completely. Such is their displeasure with Article19 they point blank refuse to link to anything we publish because pretending we don't exist is far easier than having to deal with our impertinent questions. So much for providing information to dancers.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Perhaps the most puzzling or disturbing realisation to come from this culture of silence and obfuscation is that many of these people, and dozens more like them, are the ones responsible for pushing and promoting dance and culture in general to government, policy makers and, ultimately, the general public.

It should be alarming to all that when asked questions about the reasoning, operation and viability of a particular project those responsible stutter and stammer and stick their fingers in their ears and shout "la la la la la I am not listening to you".

The recent debacle with Opera North canceling a community performance, making a spectacular mess of explaining why and then humiliatingly re-instating the performance is perhaps the most graphic illustration that the management/administrative side of the arts are just holding on way too tight.

If you don't talk it looks like you're afraid, that you have no confidence in your project or the capability of that project to deliver its goals. If you only communicate via email then all that illustrates is that you lack confidence and are petrified of making mistakes. If we we're being more blunt we could call you a coward.

We've said this before and we're going to have to say it again. Just because you don't want to talk about the potential shortcoming of your work doesn't mean those shortcomings will magically go away.

Many working in the arts are beginning to resemble failed US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Ms Palin doesn't give interviews (unless they are on, of course, Fox News, the cable news network that pays her to appear).

Ms Palin feels, even though she seeks high public office, that she should not be accountable nor pressed on important issues because, in her eyes, the media will distort what she says. All the media will actually do however is report what she says, her own words and ideas are the things that constantly bring her down.

Making mistakes is not the end of the world so we strongly urge you all to own what you do and own what you say and take some responsibility. Being compared to Sarah Palin is not something you really want to be stuck with.

  • Matthew

    Maybe this says more about your style of reporting than the attitudes of some of these arts organisations. Just an observation. This site is in the majority negative, and I wouldnt be surprised if organisations (The Place for example) feel like they can do nothing right

  • As we have said before, Article19 is not a cheerleader for the dance profession. If, to use your example, ThePlace is so comfortable with staging the ThePlace Prize and is so confident in the positive outcomes for dance then they should be more than comfortable being interviewed about the project.

    More often than not it is an organisations own words that will ultimately sink them (see Opera North) and not the reporting of those words. If ACE is planning to spend £40Million ostensibly to increase philanthropic giving to the arts then explaining how it's going to work should be easy.

    The arts in general and the dance profession have problems because they have problems , they don't have problems because of the perception of "negative" reporting by Article19. Addressing and trying to fix those problems is probably the most positive thing we can do. 

    Pretending otherwise will solve nothing.

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