On occasion, we must turn to the fictional world to form the introduction to a written piece, so with that in mind; During an episode of the long running TV series 'The West Wing', a show concerned with the political intrigue of the office of the President of the United States, the character Danny Concannon, a journalist, is asked by fictional White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg what he is doing and he responds, simply, that he is "just minding the people's business".
For the most part that's what many journalists do, they mind the people's business. Whether it be politicians, the civil service, a public organisation, the local council, an arts funding body or the people who receive money from that arts funding body it is, fundamentally, the people's business. Article19, along with some others, pay attention to that business on the people's behalf. Nobody asks you to do it, you just do it...... so, you're welcome.
On that note we turn to June 28th at 8:45am, the day after Arts Council England (ACE) announced their 2018 National Portfolio decisions to the wider world. Within a series of tweets, a thread if you will, we said the following;
"4/ pouring money in RE:Bourne and stomping out GDA, MDI and DIGM is antithetical to everything dance is supposed to be about #npo"
This was a reference to those three organisations having their funding completely removed while ACE pours £1.2Million per year into Re:Bourne (stop laughing at the back) an organisation that does.... Something!
A Tweet has a shelf life of about 10 minutes, if you're lucky, before it vanishes into the oblivion of your Twitter timeline. We, here in TheLab™ had written our piece, published and moved on. But on July 8th at 10:38pm something strange happened. Somebody must have pointed out to the supreme leader of Re:Bourne, one Mathew Bourne, that the tweet existed and this prompted a response;
"Just out of interest.. what IS dance supposed to be about?"
"Well your lordship, it's about the people, a simple visceral connection between the work and the folks, artist and muggle, the simple things"
We responded, somewhat whimsically and with a hint of sarcasm.
"I agree completely .... and I'm not a Lord by the way!"
He replied, somewhat missing the point of both our whimsy and sarcasm
"Well, maybe one day..."
We mused, again with just a hint of sarcasm.
He responded, before wandering off to find his sarcasm detector.
And that was that. We sent along a helpful link to a documentary we had made about dance students working in Tanzania and mentioned how one of those students had secured a place at a UK dance school and maybe Re:Bourne could help. Mr Bourne offered to contribute to a fundraising effort should one arise and that was that, or so we thought.
The following day, July 9th at 12:46pm Mr Bourne followed up, unprompted, with this comment;
"We have though employed literally 100's of young dancers over the years. Many of them graduates who other choreographers will not touch"
It was a weird thing to write and we told him so;
"That's a very odd thing to say.. Who wouldn't hire them and why and what were they employed to do? Main company, education?"
Mr Bourne did not answer the questions put to him, we can only guess that he may have been referring to the comments made by Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter and Lloyd Newson in 2015 about dance students, but we are only guessing. It was a busy day and we were enjoying our afternoon tea in the conservatory, all was calm in the world.
"You implied that we should be helping young dancers? Most established choreographers want experience and will not look at graduates?"
Mr Bourne responded inaccurately.
At no point had Article19 suggested, or implied, that Re:Bourne should be "helping" young dancers. We pointed out a unique case where his organisation may want to lend a hand, and we were basically throwing a hail-mary pass on that, at best.
This particular conversation was happening at a snail's pace, at least for Twitter, so it wasn't until the following day that we followed up;
"ok, creating jobs, props for that, but you haven't said what these jobs are, also, a dance company is supposed to hire dancers.. so you don't get props for that, you're not doing them a favour, you're paying them a wage for their skills...."
We said, not being very helpful to Mr Bourne and the vague point he was attempting to make.
"Dear @Article19 I don't need to explain myself or what my company does to you any further. Ok, you don't like us.. fine, Conversation over!"
He responded, as if he was writing a letter at the tail end of the 18th Century and this was the first time we had communicated. The woodland creatures retreated to the cover of the enchanted forest, there was a storm coming.
If we were prone to speculation we would suggest that the prefixing of "Dear" before our Twitter handle was to get the message out to his own followers that he was cross with us and we would soon feel their wrath in tandem with his own. That's not how Twitter works though because most of the time very few people actually read most of the tweets composed by the users they follow. There was silence.
It is often said that a man will reveal his true self in a single moment even when you have known him for years. If you are wondering who it was that said that, well, it was us, in the previous sentence because we are just that deep. Engaging in a conversation with someone of your own volition and providing statements that need to be backed up by actual evidence and then throwing a massive hissy fit when you are asked for said evidence is behaviour that some would describe as.... a bit odd!
We contacted Mr Bourne's company with a few questions regarding their employment of "hundreds" of young graduates but there was no response. Perhaps Mr Bourne was too busy hiring dancers and doing them all a "favour" in the process? We also asked ACE to respond to the claim, made by Mr Bourne, that he does not have to answer questions about what he does with his company despite being in receipt of huge amounts of public money. The funding monolith, forever in search of a backbone, said;
"The Arts Council doesn't dictate social media policy to arts organisations but of course would advise organisations in receipt of public money to be as open as possible in relation to answering questions from the public about their funding and artistic programmes."
Of course, we didn't ask ACE if they dictated social media policy but the sentence above is exactly what we would expect from them. Meaningless "jibber jabber".
Given ACE's lack of ethical fortitude allow us to step in and do it for them. If you are an arts organisation and you receive public money then you are a public service arts organisation. You create and perform "art" for the greater good of the people, so to speak. If we, or anybody else, have some questions about the claims made in publicity material, on social media or anywhere else about what you do or the work you make then you have an ethical responsibility to answer because it is very much "the people's business". If you take their money then you answer their questions and whether or not you like the tone of those questions is irrelevant.
We pointed this out to Mr Bourne and suggested that if he didn't want to be subjected to public scrutiny then he could give all of the money he has received back to ACE (since becoming an NPO that would be £3.6Million minimum) and turn the company into a wholly commercial and private affair. He did not respond. That money could have funded dozens of smaller dance companies and dance organisations for years. Mr Bourne also did not address the issues raised regarding the loss of funds to GDA, MDI and Dance Manchester.
Here at Article19 we stand by our position that Mr Bourne's company and ENB, BRB and RB (and many others outside of dance) are just re-heating old ideas and getting huge amounts of public money to do it. It has been that way with ACE funding for decades, it's not really a stunning revelation. Mr Bourne however seems unable or unwilling to stand by his own, un-prompted, statements about basic hiring practices without getting into a tantrum and that, ironically, speaks volumes.
That is the context of our conversation with Mr Bourne.