Paul Harman, Chair of TYA-UK, hits back at ACE’s claims that it prioritises young people, but endorses the idea that regularly funded organisations should take more responsibility locally and regionally for building audiences, touring circuits and promotional activity
If excellent arts experiences for children and young people were an absolute priority as Arts Council England (ACE) spokespeople have said in the wake of the recent cuts, then it would have spent more of its artform budgets on art for children. Direct funding for Theatre for Young Audiences, for example, has been only 6% of the theatre budget – far less than is proportionately just.
Two things are clear. First, most theatre seen by children in the UK has no public money invested in it at all and is utterly untouched by arts councils and their perspectives, aims and priorities. It is delivered by groups and companies, some employing teams of actors for commercial gain, or by private partnerships or sole traders earning enough to make a living, but with primarily artistic aims. Second, the heavily funded Creativity Culture and Education (CCE)/Creative Partnerships programme and much of the ‘outreach’ work by larger regional theatres is not primarily artistic, but educational, social or promotional in purpose. After the cuts, CCE will still get three times more to spend supporting a creative curriculum in schools than the regularly funded organisations (RFOs) which deliver arts experiences to children.
It is welcome, therefore, that Liz Forgan has taken a scythe to a range of ACE funded activity which ought really to be funded by the Department for Education or, in the case of Arts & Business, is the responsibility of the private sector. If philanthropy is a viable way forward, let’s see those whose great wealth was amassed in recent years at the expense of wages and further enhanced by low taxation pay some of it back.
I am a believer in development. I think the aim of public arts funding is not only to nurture great talent but to match that talent to audiences and enable a rich cultural life to flourish for the whole nation. So the ACE proposal that RFOs take more responsibility for development of their sectors, for creating and supporting audiences, touring circuits and promotional activity on a regional and localised basis is the right way forward.
As an example of those already working in this way, one can point to theatre for young audiences. Twenty-three years ago, the national branch of the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ UK) started ‘Take-off’, a showcase festival to celebrate and raise the quality of our work. Since 1994, an RFO has taken the lead in delivering that event. Others working for young audiences, such as Marcus Romer, David Harradine and John Retallack, have gone far beyond simply putting on their own shows, to create outward-looking projects of benefit to the whole sector.
The Theatre for Young Audiences UK Centre of ASSITEJ is now a federal body, respecting the fact that in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland different funding regimes and political arrangements require specific frameworks for successful development. One size does not fit all.
The role of arts councils is now much clearer. It is to support professionals in the development of their own practice and delivery. For one thing, ACE will not have enough staff with professional experience to lead development and may need to rely more on artists ‘seconded’ to it from the real world. This was the practice in the days of the Arts Council of Great Britain, when many theatre artistic directors took time out to broaden their understanding of the national scene by taking posts in the Drama Department. Peer review was built into the system too. ACE should be strategic. Leave tactics to the artists.
Paul Harman is Chair of TYA-UK.
Take-off 2010 is at Darlington Arts Centre 11-12 November.