Tag Archives: arts council

Why We’re Proud to be the Home of Fun Palaces

Fun Palace medium, Emily Medley

Today we’re pleased to announce that we are the recipients of an Arts Council Exceptional Award, to bring to life the national Fun Palaces project, taking place across 80+ venues on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014 and beyond. Gavin Barlow, CEO of the Albany, explains how our relationship with Fun Palaces came about.

In 2013, Stella Duffy started something rather magical. At Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, she posed a simple question: Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in 2014, that isn’t another revival?

Joan was one of the Twentieth Century’s most significant theatre directors and cultural pioneers, and that question led to a discussion about bringing to life the vision Joan created with Cedric Price for the Fun Palace: one space linking arts and sciences, entertainment and education. Perhaps, the group thought, a Fun Palace could exist anywhere. They began to conceive a vision of Pop-Up Fun Palaces across the country, appearing for a glorious, weekend-long celebration of culture.

Stella teamed up with Co-Director Sarah-Jane Rawlings, the brilliant creative producer who helped to launch Meet Me at the Albany, the Albany’s artist led day club for the over 60s.

In many ways, Meet Me at the Albany has become the coalescence point for how we think about our work as an organisation. What we’re interested in is finding ways for communities – and often those who find it harder to access culture – to meet with artists and practitioners in a genuinely democratic, accessible space, for exchanges that are equally enriching for all parties. Meet Me at the Albany is, for us, the perfect example of that.

Five key principles underpin the Fun Palace:

• Fun Palaces are FREE
• Fun Palaces are LOCAL, with community involvement, engagement and participation at heart
• Fun Palaces are INNOVATIVE, finding new ways to bring the arts, culture and sciences together
• Fun Palaces are TRANSFORMATIVE, intending to transform the place/spaces they take place in: they transform the makers, and they transform the participants
• Fun Palaces are ENGAGING: Fun Palaces are about full participation. Sitting and listening is fine, as long as they also include opportunities to have a go

It was clear in discussions with Sarah-Jane that there were countless ways in which the thinking underpinning our work at the Albany married with (and is of course, directly or indirectly, inspired by) Joan and Cedric’s vision.

We host many free or extremely low cost events – it is possible to buy a ticket for £1 for any show in our season. We’re driven by our community: those £1 tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis to punters on Deptford Market, the beating heart of our local high street that adjoins our building and spills over into our café. And we present a diverse array of arts and cultural forms (you are often as likely to encounter a cooking demonstration, a gardening club, a creative writing workshop or a yoga session at the Albany as you are a theatre show).

But it is the idea of arts and culture as a level playing field, a space for free exchange between all participants, that resonates with us most. So it made perfect sense to us to work with Stella and Sarah-Jane – as well as a streamline but quite exceptional team – to bring Fun Palaces to life.

Now, a year and a bit on, over 80 partners have signed up to create their own version of a Fun Palace on Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 October 2014. Ultimately, everyone involved shares a belief that arts and culture transform lives. Joan believed that, too.

So in many ways, Fun Palaces is more than just a celebration of an extraordinary individual. It’s a national campaign that shouts, sings, shimmies, stomps from the rooftops: arts and culture are a crucial part of human life, and they are truly, truly glorious. Let’s make sure they belong to everyone.

 

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We’ll Show You Ours

Gavin Barlow, CEO of the Albany, in response to the I’ll Show You Mine debate prompted by Bryony Kimmings, outlines our financial deals with artists.

So much has been written the last couple of months about how much venues pay artists, and the dysfunctional touring market, that I really don’t want to add to the debate.  I was struck though that no venue has really responded to the entirely reasonable call for more transparency, made by Andy Field and others. This prompted me to look at the figures and I can’t think of a good reason why we shouldn’t share them, so here goes…

In the current financial year, we expect to take £129K in ticket sales, and we will pay artists £123K for those performances. So artists get about 95% of what the audience pays.

We do every possible type of deal with artists and companies, and we do negotiate and we drive a hard bargain when we need to: we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t. But we take into account the artist’s situation, most obviously if they have funding in place and if they need to travel to perform.  The worse deal we offer an artist is 60% of ticket sales, and usually that’s when we have supported the production of the show as well.

Of course, we also pay for the technical and front of house costs to support those performances, and we work hard to make sure there are people there to see them – we’ve increased audience numbers by over 50% in the last two years.

For full context, we also pay artists for commissions, to perform in (mostly) free festivals, to deliver workshops, take part in participatory programmes, and we provide free space and support to develop new work. The Albany receives funding from the Arts Council of £175K a year.

None of this is simple. Keeping a building open and trying to deliver to audiences in different ways every day takes resources and costs money. Like many others we survive partly by working every angle and having a dynamic business model, not relying just on funding. I’m not sure what we will or should change at the moment, but we will keep thinking about it and keep evolving. For now though, it helps to get a few facts out there.

Gavin Barlow, CEO, The Albany

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Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number?

Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes at the Albany, on why teenagers and retirees hold a special place in the Albany’s artistic vision. Find out more about Meet Me At The Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s, and UNCOVER, our creative programme for 13 – 19 year olds. 

Age ain’t nothing but a number… So sang 90s R&B songstress Aaliyah (R.I.P). As much as I’ve always loved Aaliyah, my recent experiences working at the Albany have given me another perspective.  Age is much more than a number, as we’re learning through our creative programmes for young people, who are using arts as a means of self discovery, and mature people who are channeling their life experience through their artistic engagement. So why don’t we more often celebrate age as a creative catalyst?

I was 14 when Aaliyah released that tune, the same age as many of the Albany’s current Uncover Youth Theatre members. It came around in my shuffle on Friday, by chance, on a walk after two meetings – one with Roisin Feeny, Co-Director of the youth theatre group which caters for 13-19 year olds, and the other about Meet Me at the Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s. It prompted me to notice that I had deduced the same broad idea out of both meetings: that age (or, strictly speaking, life experience in years) is a defining characteristic of the work artists make, especially when a number of the same age collaborate to create. Our industry, has spent the last couple of decades promoting the importance of youth arts, and, more recently, been seriously investing in older people’s arts so that proves there’s more to age than acne and wrinkles.

Two things…

1. Youth Is Wasted On The Young.

No. No, it isn’t.  If you came to see Uncover Youth Theatre’s response to Yam Yam! Festival, The Big Food Fight, you’d agree. They wasted a fair bit of jelly and spaghetti, but not an ounce of their youth, and, for that messy 55minutes I wanted to be them: sliding around, being outrageous, clever, cheeky and FUN. I admit, I envied their recklessness but laughed so much forgot I was an adult at work. The attitude on show was the same that is prevalent in the best work with young people – shows like Ontroerend Goed’s Once and For All We’re Going to Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen and Junction 25’s I Hope My Heart Goes First – it was energetic, and it was exuberant, and crucially, it was YOUNG.

2. You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks.

Er. Yes. Yes, you can. If you pop into the Albany on a Tuesday you’ll struggle to get a table in the Café because 30 of our Meet Me at the Albany regulars will be (over a cup of tea and biscuits) trying out something for the first time. The week before last they had a session in the theatre with our Associate Artist Vicki Amedume of Upswing, who led a workshop on circus skills. Possibly one of the most unlikely skill sets to teach a group of the over 60s, but they enjoyed it enormously and  a few even ended up suspended above the floor in silks.They were fully aware of the physical challenges but went for it anyway, working with Vicki to adapt the experience to their own needs.

My point is: that young people are inherently wet behind the ears and older people have probably seen it all before and once we accept these sorts of stereotypes- and perhaps even allow ourselves to play with them- that’s when creativity can really begin.  Vicki’s silks session prompted a vivid debate about body image amongst attendees, which is now having a dynamic in the artistic planning for next season’s activities. The collective and unadulterated joy of Uncover Youth Theatre members has morphed into their trademark performance style – absurd, loud and uncomfortably honest.

We’re not the only organisation recognizing and playing on the strengths that come with the age of artists – 20 Stories High in Liverpool has thrived on the energy of young people, using its regular youth theatre as the beating heart for professional productions and artistic vision. Clod Ensemble’s The Amazings has been quietly radicalising arts in residential care homes to prove that in such places do you get an unparalleled abundance of life experience and professional know-how.

So, sorry to say it, but Aaliyah was wrong. I guess only a naïve 15 year-old, railing against public disapproval of her alleged marriage to an R&B warbler 12 years her senior, would announce such a silly thing, but then get away with it for being beautiful, laissez-faire and full of promise. Bet her nan had something to say about it, though.

Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes, the Albany

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