We Will Never Know

by Neil Nisbet

Like many individuals and a lot of established groups working in the arts today Article19 has to do as much as possible with the limited resources at our disposal.

You can’t always do everything you want to do and you can’t always do everything as well as you want to do it. Compromise is what we all have to live with on a daily basis and, like so many others, we could all do so much more, if only….

Over the last year, and for a long time before that, Article19 has reported on a seemingly never-ending stream of issues in the wide world of the arts, almost all of them involving wasted resources and wasted opportunities.

Some criticise Article19 for “complaining” too much, sometimes repeatedly, about the same issues. Criticism that I, as the editor, completely reject because pointing out what’s broken is how you get things fixed.

If you have a leaking pipe in your home do you think happy thoughts for a few weeks and hope that it stops or do you complain about it to the landlord to get it sorted out?

It should come as no surprise to learn that the arts has a lot of leaking pipes.

Of particular interest this year has been The Space, a joint venture between Arts Council England and the BBC. The idea behind The Space was to get the arts to more people “for free” using the internet.

The dance content, such as it was, cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to produce and was available online for just a few months. If the level of interest in the live broadcast of the Breakin’ Convention was anything to go by then the raison d’être of The Space was not fulfilled.

Such a large sum of money would have been far better spent on the touring costs of dance companies in the real world at a time when touring is being relentlessly squeezed.

The Music Director of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Poppano, was paid over £740,000 in 2011. If you want to get more people into the shows you are touring with the money saved from not doing The Space then consider this.

Mr Poppano’s salary could have been used to reduce a £15 ticket for a live performance to £10 for 148,000 people. A £5 drop in the price of a ticket could mean the difference between 148,000 more people coming to a live performance or keeping 148,000 coming to see live performances.

This is especially true at a time when the public are being financially squeezed almost as much as the arts organisations trying to provide them art.

Need I remind you once again about the £400,000 per year being spent on the National Youth Dance Company?

Opportunities missed, resources squandered, it is the story of the arts in the 21st century.

Over the coming year there will be, inevitably, a lot more opportunities missed and a lot more resource squandered on projects trying to meet unquantifiable goals.

Article19, and maybe some others, will write about these issues, bring you the facts and, with fingers crossed, hope for change.

My optimism about that change however diminishes more and more with each passing year because the desire to actually do something about the massive problems facing the arts in the UK simply does not exist.

Given that the applications for National Portfolio Status will be going in to Arts Council England very soon I can only imagine that dance organisations will hunker down and be even more unwilling to rock the boat.

Whatever the outcome of that application process, no matter the casualties in terms of companies being obliterated by an arbitrary decision making process, few, if any, will speak out.

As long as those in the culture world continue to accept the misleading narrative that we are all living in “difficult times” as huge sums of money continue to be demonstrably squandered then nothing will change.

When I see an organisation (DanceEast) spending over £80,000 making some dire videos about dance and they are so indifferent to that material they can’t even be bothered to keep a copy it pisses me off.

Why doesn’t it piss you off and why don’t you do something about it?

As an individual or an organisation what could you have done with that money? How many workshops, how many touring shows, how many new works could have been created?

If you just sit back and do nothing then we will never know.

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