Mira Kaushik records the changes that her dance company has made in response to sudden cuts in government funding.
The creative industries in the UK are used to change yet the government’s rationalisation of programmes has created many challenges for my company, Akademi. Back in 2011 around 20% of our funding came from government contracts alongside grants and earned income. We were a provider of engagement programmes for NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training), with a 90% success rate in reengaging this group through dance, music and theatre. The news then came that the government was seeking to work with providers with an income of over £1 million, resulting in fewer contracts. This coincided with a cut in education funding and loss of local authority funding with the devolvement of school budgets.
The loss of government contracts was a wake-up call, which, while unpleasant, has brought rewards in the longer term
We were fortunate to work with artists with many strings to their bows, and have staff who were able to react promptly and focus on family learning and older adults, areas that we had long been developing but now had a chance to specialise in. We continued to develop our long-standing relationship with the voluntary and health sectors, by working with people with dementia and collaborating with hospital trusts on a range of therapeutic dance and yoga activities. Fast forward to 2014 and we run dementia tea dances and workshops, have trained our artists in health practices and are building relationships with hospitals for joint fundraising bids.
Our education work is an example of how we are successfully adapting to the changing world. The loss of government contracts was a wake-up call, which, while unpleasant, has brought rewards in the longer term. Our response was to investigate a trading arm, build our fundraising capability, and focus on our mission and what we really want to achieve. It enabled us to build partnerships across a number of sectors and work with hospitals, universities and schools, as well as festivals, councils and venues. In turn, these partnerships have brought our work to a wider audience. Our collaboration with the Mayor of London for Diwali in the Square celebrations this year, has enabled us to reach out to some of the two million Indian population now resident in London. While they are not our mainstream audience, they represent a sizable proportion of London’s tax-paying population.
Part of our audience comes from our education work. Working with older adults, especially in Camden, brings us into contact with a range of people such as Bangladeshi women whose English is limited and whose families have lived in the borough for generations. For younger residents, the accessibility of Bollywood means that our workshops are just as likely to be frequented by young, middle-class girls as they are by first-generation immigrants. All this supports a wider funding base, where sports funding can provide workshops in schools and care budgets from councils can fund dance in the community. We also continue to approach the Big Lottery, trusts and foundations, which lessens our reliance on Arts Council England.
The changing face of London communities means that many corporations in the capital are just as likely to have a Diwali dance celebration as a Christmas lunch. This is where our trading arm comes in. We are currently building a group of clients to launch our trading arm, which has been boosted by the government’s theatre tax relief. This commercial activity provides employment for our dancers and contributes to our core costs, which then supports further artist development and productions. This sits alongside our more traditional philanthropic fundraising and is a useful option for those organisations not able to afford a donation but whose budget allows the booking of a dance performance.
As we approach 2015 we look confidently towards broadening our individual-giving schemes and holding our first fundraising gala in February. We are well on our way to having a wider funding base that goes hand in hand with reaching a mainstream audience so that everyone in the UK can access our work. Our aim is to create meaningful and joyful experiences for those who participate in our work and to bring a treasure trove of South Asian dance productions to the masses.
Mira Kaushik is Artistic Director of Akademi.