Posted by: stelladuffy | July 1, 2014

the Arts Council, the NPOs, and all those empty spaces …

I know many arts companies who are relieved today. I know some who are full of fire and determined anyway. I know some who are sad and/or angry (and determined anyway). I know some who weren’t in it, didn’t want to be in it, and don’t care personally, but do feel both happiness and sorrow for their friends and colleagues. And I know people at ACE, and in the NHS, and in Education, who are working bloody hard to make it work from a Treasury that doesn’t want to make it work. A Treasury that has bought into, and wants us to buy into, a belief in lack, in austerity, in not-enough-to-go-around.

Personally, I’m all for old-school redistribution of wealth and a bottom-up not top-down organisation of the sharing of that wealth. However, until the revolution that is truly of the people occurs (the one that never happened yet, anywhere), there are some things we can do. Some things we can do to support each other. One of those things is about our assets. And for many companies, their biggest asset is land and space.

I know loads of people have shared this piece – and oh how I wish there was a name attributed to it, how I wish we knew the writer and that they felt able to put their name to their beliefs, but I’m sharing it here again anyway, on ACE’s NPO Day because points 1, 2 and 3 are SO Fun Palaces that I’m keen to share it here, especially because I know everyone reading this blog isn’t an artist or consumer of arts.

I especially care about Number 1. Stop spending a fortune on buildings.
We have LOADS of buildings, let’s use them better, share them better. Whenever I have budgeted to make a show, the cost of rehearsal/making space has been one of the biggest costs we need to find. For many new/emerging artists it’s one of the most prohibitive. Free or cheaper rehearsal/making space for companies & individual artists who don’t have funding/regular support would make such a difference. Free or cheaper performance/gallery space would be astonishing.
And there are so many hours that so many buildings are empty!

Public buildings like schools, hospitals, GP surgeries, galleries (oh those empty under-used gallery spaces!), ACE offices … the amount of evening rehearsals we could hold in the breast (cancer) clinic I attend that only opens daytimes, the meetings/work we could do out of office hours in every ACE office (and pretty much every government building) in the country, the spacious room that is my GP’s surgery waiting area that could be put to good use out of surgery hours, the school rooms and school halls empty in the weekends, the churches and synagogues and mosques and temples, the publishers board rooms!! SO MUCH SPACE!

I don’t know any artist who works 9-5 or 10-6 and Monday-Friday. I know loads of offices and office workers who do, schools that are 8am-5/6pm, places of worship that have wide empty spaces half of the week.
I know we have said it time and again and I know it always seems to fall on deaf ears, but we DO have space. Tons of it.
The theatres with empty rooms need to be giving them for free to artists who need them, for sure.
The theatre spaces that aren’t open at the weekend, them too. (Purni Morell, when she was at the National Theatre Studio, was astonishing in giving us two Saturdays, free, at the NTS, to begin the 30+ people, aged 17-69, co-creation of Chaosbaby. It was a new idea for them to open on a Saturday and, as we were a bunch of artists interested in co-creating, it cost them nothing but the time of the brilliant Slav on the desk. Nb – Slav is a photographer, you know almost everyone with a day job does something as well as their day job, right? Not always something arty, often something sporty, something community. The Voluntary Arts Network know all about that. MakeBelieve Arts were also utterly instrumental in creating the Chaosbaby work.)
The companies with offices need to let others know that their office can be used in the evening. Need to BELIEVE that their office can be used in the evening, the weekend, the empty-rehearsal-room-because-it’s-get-in-week time, that bit between Christmas and New Year … the time when many other artists are also, still, working.

But it’s not just down to theatres, is it? (Although, because we are often vocal and because some of our rank have a public face, it sometimes feels as if it is. The arts are so much wider than ‘just’ theatre.)

There are masses of unused, under-utilised spaces, all over the country, many many of them paid for from the public purse.
It would be really OK to, you know … share.
It would be really OK to FILL the space, any space, to cram it full of makers and artists and participants. It would be OK to turn a GP surgery into a workshop space in the empty afternoons and evenings (yes, of course we’d clean up!) and maybe it would even be OK to have those times cross over, for health to cross over with arts, for health to cross over with the ordinary people who make arts. And for education, and policy, and law to know we are not different, that we don’t consider ourselves apart and ‘special’. To remind them we are often them. For us, the artists, to invite them in, by working alongside them so they feel more welcome. More with us, more of us, less us (artists) and them (audiences) – isn’t that what we keep saying we want? (I know it’s what I want.)
IF we are all working for the same better society, then surely we can all share what we already have?

The brilliant Ruth Pennyman invited Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop into her gorgeous home of Ormesby Hall (now a National Trust property). Her husband was dead posh, she was the radical, he the establishment, but if they could have Joan’s Theatre Workshop living and working from their home for 18 months – in 1946 and ’47! – surely we, now, can be a little more inventive with our use of the spaces, the wide and varied, the precious and falling down, the multifarious spaces we ALREADY have?
Ormesby Hall are, of course, making a Fun Palace!

Surely we can do better by working with each other instead of competing against?

We’re beginning to see very clearly that this is one of the big things the Fun Palaces Campaign is hugely about – using what we already have. Using it better, using it more widely, using it more fully. It might mean giving up a bit of ownership of course, relinquishing a bit of ‘my’ building or ‘my’ company. And it might be very worth it.

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Responses

  1. A great article. Here at b-side festival on the small island of Portland, we commission tons of new work for non-arts spaces in the community: living rooms, prison, churches, footpaths, cafes, bus stops etc with artists working in sculpture, sound, live art, book art, all sorts.

  2. Reblogged this on Rogues & Vagabonds.

  3. Congratulations Sally. Disappointing it’s still innovative in the 21st century. Well done. Great to know.

  4. East Street Arts In Leeds working with Leeds City Council are making a lot of empty buildings available to artists at a very reasonable cost

  5. Great to know Anthony. Thanks for telling me. Also great that local council is engaged.

  6. You might like Pop Up People – which looked at people making use of interesting spaces across the country and had some sensible suggestions, (particularly around empty shops but that stuff’s transferable) http://emptyshops.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/popuppeoplereport.pdf

  7. East Street Arts, by the way, work across the UK – currently managing properties across the country, not just in Leeds (they’re just based there).

  8. Thank you. And I do like Pop-Up People (already, I mean). I also like Leeds …


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