iF not now, when? - Part 1

After the huge success of Brighton Fringe and iF not now, when? Callum reflects over the proccess of creating and the final product in this first part of 3.

Prelude
It feels like the first day of summer. Brighton Fringe is underway with its heady mix of installations, comedy, workshops and obscure performances in even more obscurer venues. The cultural footpath for all walks of life is in Brighton, the fairy-tale city of England.

Our home for the day is the Sallis Benney theatre under the auspices of the University of Brighton. Standing in the hazy warmth I have to respect the devoted arts professionals prepared to forgo a day of sunshine and performance, to sit in a dark room, talking shop with like minded individuals.

A few hours later, the conference has started and it is apparent that forgoing the lure of the fringe is a small price to pay to witness the quality of debate and dedication to creating a better future shown by both panellists and audience in the room.

What is iF?
Continuing on from the iF platform in Edinburgh 2015 iF not now, when? was an opportunity for artists, producers, funders and venues to network, perform and discuss how we should shape a diverse future for disabled creatives. Four panels covered the topics Producing, funding, the creative journey and leading change, and featured a variety of industry professionals, hosted by Owen Calvert-Lyons (formally Artistic Director of The Point and now Head of Theatre and Artists Development at Ovalhouse).

What happened?
It was a rich day with lots of useful insight. Here are a few of my Highlights from each section.

Funding
The funding panel consisted of Trish Wheatley (DAO), Alice Regent (Arts Fund), Jenny Williams (Take the Space) and Lily Davies (Wellcome Trust).

Jenny Williams had an interesting perspective about wide reaching diversity, discussing the intangible barriers of quality and cultural assets and sustainable change.  She talked to us about the idea of an unjust landscape which means that there is less finance available to support the making of quality work. This also means marginalised companies generally have less assets, such as rehearsal space, access to which would help level the playing field.

Another important nugget mentioned was by Lily Davies from the Wellcome trust. She highlighted that much of their arts specific funding schemes are closed for a re-think. It will be interesting to see what the offer looks like when it resurfaces in November this year.

Trish Wheatley explained the need to diversify funding streams. She also highlighted the good work that DAO are doing and gave an update on ‘View finder’, an online opportunity to showcase work made by disabled performers.

Alice Regent from Art Fund talked about the need to deliver passion in your funding application. Funders will see merit in what you want to do if you are enthusiastic about it. It is also important to recognise that funders are people too, treat them as such, rather than a faceless organisation. If you can concisely explain why you require the money, how much money you need, and what the ripple effect is of the project then you have a better chance of getting it. 

Producing
The producing panel consisted of Elizabeth Mischler (South East Dance), Clara Giraud (Unlimited) and Sarah Perryman (Brighton Fringe).

Clara Giraud from Artsadmin posed the questions: are we working in an over produced sector? Is there too much paperwork? She suggested we should encourage artists to produce themselves so they don’t completely rely on someone else when delivering their creative vision. Clara also questioned whether it is different producing a disabled artist in comparison with a non-disabled artist. The resounding answer was no, each artist comes with their own story, fears and anxieties regardless of whether disabled or non-disabled.

Elizabeth Mischler
Elizabeth Mischlers answered the question what is the role of the producer? Every producer is different; every partnership is unique. Her definition of a producer is someone who facilitates the environment needed by the artist for there work; for a specific project or ideally their career. Producers ask important questions and deliver important answers. Who is the work for? Who is the funder? How do we make it happen? Some will offer creative input in the studio, some barely step inside the creative sphere. It is important for the artist and producer to establish how they work together. Elizabeth also stated that early career artists are generally producing themselves, and highlighted her work with The Red Line, an online opportunity for artists to share their creation process.

Sarah Perryman from Brighton Fringe provocatively asserted that no artist needs a producer and offered advice for performers who take this path.

She suggests performers should ask themselves: What’s the point of your project? What it is you are doing and why?

The average budget for a Brighton fringe project is £500. What is doable within this?

She also gave advice on these points:

  • Start small. You don’t need to go for the big venue at the start. You might not fill it. Better to fill a small venue then step up.
  • Time. Double the time you think you will invest.
  • Budget. Companies often spend money on stuff they shouldn’t. Fringe have online resources such as templates. Link here: https://www.brightonfringe.org/take-part/participants/a-z/budgeting
  • If you ask, you get. We work in an industry where people will often give advice and support. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • Don’t get caught up in the things like company name, logo, register with company house. Don’t talk, get on and do it!
  • Marketing. If you build it, they will come doesn’t apply. Know who your target audiences is. Your show isn’t suitable for everyone, regardless if you think it is. Arts Marketing association ‘This way up’.
  • Importance of evaluation regardless of the size of the project.

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