Friday, September 26, 2008

Funders and Communities

Penny, Roe and I went to the Arts Council last week. A very positive meeting about the Trilogy, with Nick Williams offering his knowledge and advice helpfully. As for Origins, he's passed me on to the Combined Arts department, which is a new venture for me. I'm preparing an "outline" for them, prior to a "surgery". I get the sense of the formality of a new contact, after having been used to friendly informality at the Theatre Department, where we are known.

Penny asks the crucial ongoing question about RFO status. For years, we've been trying to make some headway here - 13 years is a long time to keep going on a wing, a prayer and the odd project grant! ACE has just re-worked its RFO file, with the new clients being largely in the areas of street theatre and community art. I suspect this may be to do with the Olympic 2012 agenda. Nick says that I should make sure I respond to their "Theatre Assessment" - much of which is again community focused.

In many ways, this community agenda sits very well with what we do - cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue being at the heart of our work. What troubles me is how we can make an overt integration of the community-based practice which current policy seems to demand and the professionalism of our work. Sometimes it's really worked - the workshops which led to Orientations, for example - and I suppose we have to continue to build in these sorts of initiatives on a project basis, without making them mere add-ons for the sake of funder PR. Community involvement only works if it's fully integrated into the project.

I'm thinking about this when I meet up with Rosanna Raymond. Rosanna is a Samoan artist, who was on the Origins advisory board last year, and has been very helpful in my contacts with New Zealand. We talk about the Festival as a chance for the diasporic communities of Maori, Polynesians and Native Americans in London (yes, there really are Native Americans in this crucible of a city) to re-connect with their country of origin, welcoming the artists, hosting them, and entering into dialogue with them in the workshops and so on. This is a really integrated approach - and one which also yields tangible benefits to the organisation. We need to take it further!

I also talk to Jatinder Verma from Tara Arts about the Trilogy. They did a trilogy - Journey to the West - a few years back, and I'm curious as to how they managed to sell it to the venues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jatinder says that their community work was key: they sent their own education people ahead of the tour to do education and outreach workshops, and even created short plays which were performed before the main show, like a short film before the main feature. This was called "Stage Share". All worth thinking about!

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