David Curtis reveals how the Orchestra of the Swan has secured funding from trusts based as far afield as New York.
Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) is an independent chamber orchestra based in Stratford-upon-Avon. Our home town informs our approach, and the fact that Stratford and Shakespeare are global brands creates additional opportunities, especially in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Each season we give around 50 performances throughout England, and in 2016 we have added Mexico and Turkey to our itinerary. The programme for our twenty-first anniversary season includes new concertante works, building on our tradition of encouraging new music (since 2005 we have commissioned more than 60 works). In addition, our extensive learning and participation programme includes projects for children with physical and learning difficulties and for people living with dementia. The latter is a growing need as Warwickshire has the oldest population of any English county and an increasing number of people with dementia.
I’m sure most of us have seen funding opportunities and thought “How can we get some of that?”
A diverse programme has been key to attracting funding from the broadest range of organisations. In our case, support comes from Arts Council England, Friends of the Orchestra, sponsors such as Pertemps and Turkish Airlines, individual donations and grants from a wide variety of trusts and foundations. A strong development strategy has fostered personal relationships and trust by being sincere. I’m sure most of us have seen funding opportunities and thought “How can we get some of that?”, rather than thinking that it matches our core vision and wondering how we can develop a clear proposition that benefits everyone. Perhaps we should even turn the question around and ask how we can help a trust or foundation meet its aims and objectives. The funds discussed here couldn’t be more different, but our core programme helps meet their aims and objectives.
The Sorel Organization in New York has the following mission statement: “Our mission is to keep musical excellence alive and expand the boundaries for women in music.” We commission and champion emerging talent, soloists and composers. Significant among them is Dobrinka Tabakova, a composer we’ve commissioned and premiered many times over the past ten years. She was awarded the Sorel Medallion prize and she suggested I meet Sorel’s CEO, Judy Cope, during a trip to New York. Over lunch it became clear that Sorel and OOTS could collaborate to mutual benefit and consequently it has very generously funded Dobrinka’s residency with us from 2014 to 2016. Building on this partnership, we programmed repertoire by other Sorel prize-winning composers and invited Anna Shelest, a New York pianist championed by Sorel, to give three concerts with Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra.
The key to a successful relationship is how you answer this question: “Do you have a mutual passion and can you exceed your partner’s expectations?” I believe that with Sorel we have a long-standing relationship that both participants enjoy.
Much closer to home is the Stratford Town Trust which “helps to support local community projects and initiatives that make Stratford-upon-Avon a better place to live, work and study”. We have had a strong and supportive relationship with the trust over many years, but as the economic downturn has taken hold locally, it needed to look at how it could support some of the most vulnerable members of our community through culture and the arts.
Our programme for people with dementia, their carers and families provided an ideal opportunity for us to support the aims of the trust. “Bringing light into the dark world of dementia” sees OOTS players receiving specialist training and support from the music therapy and training charity Mindsong, and since June our musicians have made more than 30 visits to care homes in Stratford. One bit of feedback we received was: “The residents absolutely loved every minute of it. Mood changed, happiness, dancing, joy, laughter and a great connection with the music.”
Although these two partners and projects appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, we believe that it’s all about developing personal relationships. The member of the audience in Town Hall Birmingham is on the same continuum as the person living with dementia. Music springs from the subconscious and reaches back deep into our memories and emotions, and if we remember the real power of music to transform lives and tell that story, this is probably the most powerful argument to potential supporters that we can make.