Showing posts with label Arts Funding Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arts Funding Ireland. Show all posts

Friday, May 9, 2014

You Can't Fund Art and You Can't Fund Artists

OK. Lets consider the idea of the subsidised arts for a moment, and lets consider the implications of the use of the words "art" and "artist".

Funding Art - that is committing money up front in the belief that the eventual product will be Art is perhaps the highest risk use of public money you can think of. Why? Because there is no guarantee that what will be created with that public money will be Art. Further, before a piece of work can be designated Art , a whole bunch of people have to agree that it is Art - and they can't agree if it doesn't already exist.  You can't decide on Art in advance. So really, you can't actually fund art, because art only - hopefully - exists at the end of a process. Yes, you can invest in art (ask Saatchi), but again the art has to exist before you can do that. 

The same logic applies to artists. For a person to be designated an artist they must have a body of work behind them,  and a whole bunch of people have to agree that that persons work contains sufficient Art for them to be considered an Artist.

So you see the problem? If you talk about Arts and Artists as the object of funding, then logic immediately dictates that you allocate the lions share of your resources to established work and individuals with an existing reputation. Development, the life blood of any organisation or industry, becomes less important because new work and new people - by definition - cannot be considered art or artists and are therefore not suitable objects for arts funding.  

Yes, you can argue that the "arts" is different to "Art" and an "artist" is different to an "Artist" but the words are the same, and confusion will, and does, ensue.  Of course the other real problem is that the status of art and artist are both entirely matters of opinion.  One person, or activity or organisation gets funded because another person or group of people like it - or worse, thinks that they should like it. 

I would suggest that we need to move out of this logical and semantical dilemma by admitting to ourselves that art is not a process its a product and we don't start as artists we become artists (perhaps more accurate to say that we move in and out of an Artistic state), and that Art is never, ever a guaranteed outcome. 

So, what is it that we want as a result of this funding? And if we can't fund art, what is it that we want to fund?  Creativity? But creativity in what and for who? 

Maybe, if we stop using the words art and artist when we talk about funding we might discover a better way of using that funding. A way to support a sustainable environment that can devlop creativity and maybe produce some new art along the way.

So, what do we all think?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

So where is the money?

I was really pleased by the reaction to my last post, so thank you to everybody who commented on it on Facebook. Only one person has left a comment on the blog so far, so please feel free to leave comments here this time. There were negative comments but I had to search for them and I wish they'd been left on the blog. An interesting conversation could have ensued. One prevailing complaint was that I was just stating the obvious: that we had to look for money somewhere else, but I wasn't saying where we should go to look for that money. I'll try to answer this.

So, now that the Arts Council has fulfilled the logic of numbers set out by John O'Kane in Wexford in 2008 and admitted that it will fund only five clients where does that leave everybody else? (Incidentally at least three of those clients had better start thinking about a succession policy or they too could suffer the cut).

Anyway, on to the business of this blog: where is the money. The simplest model is the commercial one. Calculate your potential box office income. Set your budget at no greater than 50% of that figure. Raise that amount in advance. Raise it from family, friends or friends of family. At 50% of potential income there's a good chance they'll make all or most of their money back. If your box office exceeds 50% of potential income they'll make a profit. You will need to prepare an investment prospectus for them, so check out this link. Remember that these people are investing, not donating. They are underwriting the cost of your production and they expect to be paid back so they have first call on the box office income. However, If you're playing a 100 seat theatre for 2 weeks you can't raise a lot of money (probably about €9,000). Spend it wisely and have a smart marketing plan in place. Remember your choice of show and cast is part of that marketing plan (At the very least make sure you read the Arts Attendance in Ireland report).

However, if you are a charity, you can't look for investment. You can look for donations. Under Irish tax regulations at present if a PAYE worker gives you a donation they get...nothing. You can apply to the revenue and they will top up the donation based on the donors higher rate of tax. A self employed person can apply for a rebate based on their higher rate of tax. Compare this to the US where every donor can reduce their taxable income by the amount donated, or the UK where a theatre investor can write off the gains on one show against the losses on another. Also in Ireland an individual can invest in a start up business and claim 41% back and if the company fails to show a profit after 3 years they can sell their shares back to the company at a discount and claim a capital gains loss. It seems to be that the tax regulations are heavily weighted against charitable donors. Lobbying for change on this would benefit us greatly.

It's also worth thinking about how much you want to raise from donations and how much work you can put into it and - most importantly - who you can ask. Lets say you want to raise €20,000 in donations. You set a target of 40 people at €500 a head. Consider this: a PAYE worker on €100,000 is taking home, after taxes and charges, just over a €1000 per week. Factor in living expenses commensurate with their income (and a little bit of negative equity)  and that person does not have €500 to give to you (They might have it there was some real tax benefit to them). So you could reduce the amount you ask for and increase the number of people you ask but this increases the time and the cost of the fundraising. You could target people  in the €200,000 per anum bracket but do you have ready access to them? Bear this in mind as well: according to The Arts Attendance in Ireland report mentioned above there are only 484,000 arts attendees in Dublin. Your question now is how many of these are sympathetic to theatre and how many are in a relevant income bracket. You'll probably find that the people who could donate to you have already been recruited by the major institutions. Again the market is small and the numbers stacked against us. Without meaningful tax incentives the donation windfall will remain elusive.

So what about sponsorship? The brand managers talk a lot about shared values. This is important. How does your event, your brand support theirs. Remember that what you are selling to the sponsor is your audience. Not your event, your audience. So you need to know your audience and how you intend to reach them. The more focused your demographic and sales channels are the better chance you have.

I've spent a lot of time looking for sponsorship over the years and the big question is how much can i ask for? Usually we ask for too much and that's the end of the conversation. It used to be the case in the US that it was calculated on an 8/10 ratio. That was $8 for every 10 audience members. That works out at about €6.40. So if you're playing a 100 seat theatre for two weeks that gives you an ask of about €760. Which, in my experience is about right. Bear in mind that this is not worth your while or theirs. Also bear in mind that a Dublin festival with a large title sponsor only gets €10,000 in cash so you can see the figures are not far off. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.  Remember as well that the real value of a sponsor is the marketing support they bring to the sponsorship which will boost your box office making the project more attractive to investors.

There is of course corporate philanthropy which is different from sponsorship (I think a lot of people in Ireland confuse these two).  Corporate philanthropy is a long game built on smart networking and personal relationships.

So, where is the money? What lessons can we learn? On the commercial model we need to ensure that audience capacity is high (about 400 seats minimum), the run is about four weeks and the recurring costs are kept low ( i.e. small cast and crew). Always, always pay back the investor. It doesn't matter if the show is a box office flop and you made no money; if you paid back the investors then you can can ask them to invest again.

On sponsorship, size is also important and we need to remember that what we are selling is our audience so we need as much accurate information on that audience as we can get. Also the real value of sponsorship is the marketing support provided.

On donations we need to remember that the numbers are working against us. Without a change in the tax regulations there is no incentive for small, significant donations. We have to target high net worth individuals and for most of us that's a long game and a lot of networking. How many of us know fifty people willing to give us a grand each?

A final word on crowd funding. It takes a lot of careful planning. To my knowledge the biggest amount for theatre raised on FundIt was €15,000 for Misterman. And that had Cillian Murphy in it. A brilliant marketing decision.

So that's my experience. Think big. Think of the audience. Plan your networking and then work that network. Prepare for a long game. Work out the mix. Demand a change in the tax regime. Always pay back your investors.

What do you think?

There is another aspect to this question of where the money is. Ireland has a population about the same as greater Birmingham. Just over half of the population are  "regular" (not less than once a year) arts attenders; 1.3million people claim to have attended a play not less than once a year, and Dublin has a total of 484,000 regular arts attenders. Its a tiny, tiny market. Whether we're looking to sell tickets, convince a sponsor, or raise donations the numbers are not stacked in our favour.  There needs to be a lot of very creative thinking to make the numbers work. Perhaps that's the real challenge.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Business Plan for the Arts? Should we even Bother

"The Avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote" - Babylon 5

I was looking at the job description for Director of Theatre Forum recently and I began to think about the purpose of these organisations. This, combined with this article from the Irish examiner, prompted this post.

OK, so here are some of the questions: what is the future of the theatre sector in Ireland in a political culture committed to a strategy of continual cuts? What is its future in a society in which rising unemployment and declining wage levels have consumed the greater part of all disposable income? What is its future in a country where an arts based education has never been on the table for serious discussion?

In short what is its future when the traditional sources of income (funding and box office) are both being squeezed and its support base is being reduced by short-sighted educational and arts policies?

The size of the theatre industry - and with it the range and type of imaginations available - is being reduced. It will shrink around the five major clients and it is possible that those clients will be seriously affected in a couple of years.

During the years of growth in Arts Funding the support organisations were mandated to provide information and resources that would professionalise the industry and give it a "voice". During the first years of the cuts the the purpose of the support organisations began to change, to refocus on lobbying, on making the case for the arts. The Campaign for the Arts ran a strong campaign: the arguments were sound, the lobbying was intensive, the cuts continued.

The NCFA argument was based on the "multiplier effect". The straightforward, essentially Keynesian, argument that investment (state spending) on the arts created wealth, provided employment, consumed resources, pushed demand. This is a "demand side" argument: investment stimulates demand, pushes growth. Its a good argument. Unfortunately it never had a snowball's chance in hell.

We live in an economic culture dominated by "supply side" economics - a school of thought beloved of Reagan, Thatcher, the Republican party and others. You get the picture. Trying to win a demand side argument in a supply side culture is a sectarian struggle. I'm reminded of a line from the Rat in The Skull that went something like " ...two fellas in a ditch clubbing each other till one of them gave up and died". 

The funding argument as it is currently formulated cannot be won because of fundamental differences between the suppliers and the consumers of funding. Cutting state support is an article of faith.

So what is the role of the support organisations?  What use is their advice and drive for professionalism when we can no longer afford to be "professional" and when they themselves will be in line for cuts sooner or later?

In terms of the theatre industry, Theatre Forum in collaboration with its members and the NCFA  needs to address and  answer these questions, needs to formulate strategies based on those answers, and needs to support the implementation of those strategies.

In short, I would argue that the industry as a whole needs a new business plan - and  Theatre Forum is ideally positioned to deliver that plan.

It is possible that when we look a the industry in its entirety, as if it was one large corporation, we may find that it just doesn't make financial sense and that all of these cuts are the only way forward. Or we may find that the industry - as a whole - is way more powerful and profitable than any arrangement of discrete, small, underfunded companies. That a large co-ordinated self managed industry is capable of creating not just a diversity of voice and expression but capable of generating properties with significant profit potential, reinvesting that profit and returning investment directly to the key investor - the tax payer.

If an industry is to survive we need to stop talking about art and artists and start building a context in which a artists can create and make a living. 

Over the years the industry paradigm was to make  funding strategies and decisions focused on the quality of the art and the artists (without ever providing a set of criteria against which the quality could be measured). Again, this is not a criticism - the "quality" of art is very hard to systematically describe and usually comes down to a personal opinion or preference. However, in favoring individual artists or specific endeavours they failed to build a sustainable industry, failed to even understand the nature of such an industry.

On the other side of the coin those of us working in the industry ( and I include myself in this) were very concerned with process - the right way of doing it. Whether it was the right way to rehearse or - when the emphasis moved on to administration - the right kind of company to have or the right way to put on a show. This concern with doing it the right way was reinforced by the funding strategies (if you were funded you were doing something right), but it meant that we too were not concerned with building an industry that could sustain us.

I would argue that we all became so concerned with creating the right kind of art that we failed to attend to the context in which that art was being made.

You can solve a problem by tinkering with the innards (creating new funding tools) or by examining the context - there may be nothing wrong with your car, its the potholes in the road causing the problem.

There will be less and less money available from the traditional sources over the coming years. That's a fact. No funding tool will create more money. So how do we create a sustainable industry when the traditional source of investment is drying up. That's the problem. That's the challenge. We have to solve it in the language and within the parameters of the dominant economic ideology.

I never made the application to Theatre Forum. I missed the deadline.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Who has to turn up for an event to be live?

I saw a play and there were no actors in the building. And you know what? It was great.

Internationally acclaimed Theatre Company Pan Pan presented their production of Samuel Beckett's ALL THAT FALL at Project Arts Centre, Dublin a couple of weeks ago. Beckett wrote the play for radio, so Pan Pan decided that rather than stage the play they would very simply record it (with a great cast) and play it back in a theatre. There was no stage, but there was a design that occupied the whole space. I went in, chose my rocking chair with black cushion adorned with white skull, sat back and listened to Beckett's radio play in the company of a packed house all sitting and rocking. Not an actor to be seen.

Pan Pan's production of All That Fall begs a really interesting question: who has to be present for live theatre to be live?

For years one of the key arguments for the continued significance of theatre was the very fact of its "liveness", of being in the presence of real people acting out a story in real time in the same space as you. Pan Pan's production has dealt that argument a devastating blow. The audience loved the production, making it a 98% sell out hit. Nobody minded that there were no actors actually present, nobody minded that the performance they were hearing was identical to every other performance in the course of the run, and nobody minded that there was nobody to applaud at the end. In fact nobody minded that the show lacked some of the key characteristics in the traditional argument for why live theatre is uniquely different from cinema.

It would seem that all that is required for Live Theatre to occur is for a bunch of people (the audience) to gather in the same place to witness a story: the medium of retelling (is the teller present or not) is irrelevant.

It would have been very possible for Pan Pan's production to have occurred in any number of venues simultaneously, greatly increasing the audience and significantly reducing the costs of touring.

A couple of months ago I attended a production of The Royal National Theatre's Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle. Except I wasn't in London - I was in Dublin, in a cinema. Frankenstein was part of the NT Live programme. The live theatre event was beautifully captured for the screen by multi camera director Tim Van Someren. Again, the absence of actors did not affect the quality of the experience. I saw an excellent piece of theatre - on a big screen.

Here in Ireland theatre has been bedeviled by a massive overdependence on inadequate state funding: unwilling to invest during the boom times and unable to invest now (but that's another story). Quite simply the cost of production and subsequent touring far outweighs the potential income from sales. That no longer has to be the case. The NT Frankenstein and Pan Pan's All That Fall have proven that it is the quality of the experience and not the "liveness" of the actor that is paramount. If we accept this and then understand that the technology for opening a show in many different venues simultaneously now exists (and is becoming cheaper all the time), allowing theatre to access a global maket, and continue to generate revenue long after the live show has ended, we realise that the economics of theatre production is undergoing a fundamental shift.

(Cinema folk refer to this screening of live theatre, opera, ballet etc as "Alternative Content". That's a little bit cheeky, when you consider that theatre, ballet etc has been playing to audiences in specially built venues for a lot longer than cinema has).

So what makes Live Theatre Live? It would seem that the audience does. But this in itself raises all manner of interesting questions.