I can almost hear you say it, writes Jim Robertson. ?Oh no, here it comes again? - that tired old mantra we have been hearing for almost 10 years now in the arts. ?CHANGE. CHANGE?.
The changes required of us have generally been brought about by external factors, such as the arrival of Lottery funding in its many guises, the stagnation of revenue funding, increased expectations and demands of the never-ending measurement of performance or service level agreements, and even more seriously, the dwindling pool of sufficiently skilled staff prepared to work in our industry. The Haymarket Theatre in Leicester is facing this challenging set of circumstances just like everyone else.
But wait: something rather different is about to happen in this interesting city in the East Midlands, and I don?t mean a season in Division 1. Leicester City Council has developed plans for a Cultural Quarter in the city, in conjunction with other funding bodies including the Arts Council of England. The first part of this development is the creation of a new producing theatre or ?Centre for Performing Arts? as it is becoming known. The new management team at the Haymarket has been given an opportunity to design an organisation and a way of working that will be fit for purpose for this new Centre. The aim is to create a role model for theatre in the 21st Century - an organisation that will be vision-led and not ?more of the same? or ?looking back to look forward?. So our change is not being driven by deficits, poor performance indicators, ineffective organisational performance, lack of expertise or the changing requirements of funding bodies. We are being allowed to dream. Again I can hear you? poor deluded souls.
Dream or Vision
The Haymarket has adopted a policy of Integrated Theatre whereby all strands of its work will be threaded together through the joint artistic direction of Paul Kerryson and Kully Thiarai. The company is currently the only UK building-based producing theatre to be led by Directors from both Western and Eastern cultures. Working together they bring a new way of making and sharing theatre to Leicester and beyond. Our dream is simply to turn the theatre inside out; to offer a total resource for professional artists and members of the local community to make and share theatre. To that end we have started the process by undertaking six commitments.
? Work with our partners to build a new home of world class importance.
? Re-invent the very notion of what theatre is by extending its brief across artforms, disciplines, spaces and cultures.
? Extend the experience of theatre beyond the stage, auditorium and foyer by an all encompassing programme of work that, while rooted in the place of its genesis, extends its vision nationally and internationally.
? Attract and develop practitioners of world class importance across an extended range of skills, crafts and intellectual disciplines.
? Be an open and learning organisation that is prepared to take risks and grapple with fundamental issues in pursuit of excellence.
? Become a benchmark of good practice and inventiveness through a radical new management approach reflecting the creative process.
The principle and practice of access and inclusion will permeate every area of activity and impact on all operating functions and relationships with people. They will not be bolted on or tangential, but will be pervasive and integral to the purpose, function and business of the new Centre. The whole concept of education and lifelong learning will be at the heart of the new Centre through partnerships with the education sector. It must become more than a place that is visited, and be open to all as a centre for participation, training and sharing, to attract and retain practitioners to work and live in the region.
From vision to reality
The first paper that was produced on this vision was entitled ?Towards the Emerald City? and somehow that is managing to stay with us. But dreaming is the easy bit. The Change Process is the greater challenge. This traditionally falls into three main parts: analyse the ?gap?, plan the route, and manage the journey.
? define your present activity and analyse the context
? focus on the future, pinpoint needs and opportunities
? design for the future, decide on opportunities and shape activities to fit them.
We have spent the last six months concentrating on the first of these - talking to staff, funders, partners, audiences, non-attenders, local community groups, universities, colleges, schools etc. Looking at the current skills levels and training needs of the staff, we are asking ourselves the basic question of "Do WE need to change". The answer is obviously yes. We will need to change the organisational structure, working practices, processes, systems and most of all, that elusive organisational culture.
We were fairly comfortable with this, with a timescale of three to four years before completion. But suddenly one day the City Council unveiled the architect for the project: Rafael Vinoly is a South American visionary, who has created exciting performing arts spaces in the United States and in Asia. So suddenly we are going to have to do some very serious thinking on the future design of the organisation to inform the architectural process - and quickly. At the moment the mood swings between the excited and the terrified with not much in between.
Jim Robertson is Head of Learning and Development at the Haymarket Theatre e: email@example.com