by CEO & Artistic Director Gavin Barlow
Independent artists often talk publicly about the inequities of touring in the UK, the unfair pay, the reluctance of venues to take risks, the lack of communication. It seems that venues rarely respond or contribute to the debate. Where they do make statements, artists often detect ‘a disparity between what is said and what is done’, as artist Scottee comments in a recent blog.
Venues and artists should be on the same side on this one but it obviously doesn’t feel that way. I’m tempted to point out the system is broken and venues (some of us at least) are trying to make the best of it. I wanted to explain what we do at the Albany to try and make it work. I probably will another time, but it just feels like self-justification right now.
Instead, I’ve tried to think about what we might do better as a venue. Even if the difference it makes is marginal, it feels better to take practical steps than issue another ‘manifesto’ of broad aims. So here goes, five new commitments we can make:
1. Transparency – we’ve recently published a new Artistic Policy at the Albany which aims to explain where we’re coming from and to make it easier for artists to connect with us. We’re inviting comments and we will respond, changing and adapting it as we go along. However, it often comes down to money and the decisions you choose to take, so perhaps we could go further? Funded venues, as charities, are required to publish their annual accounts, but they don’t usually publish an explanation of the spending decisions they make. We’ll give that a go and blog about how our business model works and the how and why of making decisions about where the money goes (though give me a few weeks on this one).
2. Dialogue – most programmers I’m sure feel overwhelmed by the volume of requests they get, and struggle to reply. As Scottee says: ‘a usual response from a venue you are trying to work with is… nothing’. We can surely aim to do better and reply to every direct enquiry we receive, providing clarity at least?*
3. Do less, pay more – like most funded organisations, we feel the pressure to continually do more for less. Artist fees inevitably get squeezed. It seems like ‘standard’ fees haven’t changed much since I was last regularly touring work back in the early 2000s. We can make a conscious decision to reverse this, focus on working with artists more closely and paying them more realistically. Of course, this means accepting that we will probably have to work with fewer artists overall, but that feels like a risk worth taking?
4. Always pay fees – or at least always offer a guaranteed amount if there’s a split of box office receipts. This might not sound so radical but I suspect most venues, certainly in London, don’t actually do this. Of course, the amounts we can offer will probably still require artists to get additional funding in many cases. But we can take account of the circumstances of each artist and the funding they can access, or help them get some. It’s a small step but acknowledges that when we’re ‘sharing the risk’ with an artist, venues are in a better position to withstand any losses.
5. Share the power – now this is a big one. We’ve tried in many ways, but it feels increasingly like it’s time to make a big shift in how we programme, ensuring artists have a much greater voice in the decisions that are made. We’ll commit to making a change. We don’t know quite what but we’ve got some ideas, and we’d like to make that decision collaboratively. So this is an open invitation for any artists who have worked with us to join us for a conversation**.
I hope artists will tell us what they think of our efforts, but it would be good to also stimulate debate within venues. What else should we be doing? How can we work together? To quote Scottee again (from another time), all of us… ‘Must. Try. Harder’.
* You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and check the programming section of the website. If you’ve contacted us recently and haven’t had a reply – sorry, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
**We’ll be setting up some dates soon. If you’re interested, please contact email@example.com