Tag Archives: community

Five Steps to a Fairer Deal: The Albany’s commitment to artists

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 programming@thealbany.org.uk 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 linda.bloomfield@thealbany.org.uk

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‘Still I Rise’: An Exhibition by Nadine Walker, Inspired by Maya Angelou

Inspired by the beloved poem by the late Maya Angelou, Still I Rise, visual artist Nadine Walker presents a stunning exhibition about overcoming racism, criticism and personal obstacles through a series of images featuring women who are beautiful, strong, occasionally sensual and infinitely empowered, on now in the Albany cafe through Monday 30 June. The images are made using mixed media with digital editing to create striking portraits that portray inner strength and endless endurance.

 

 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

(with illustrations by Nadine Walker) 

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You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

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You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise?

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

 

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While completing her MA in illustration, Nadine’s lecturer challenged her to craft an image using both visual art and text. At the time, Nadine was reading one of Maya Angelou’s books and stumbled across a poem she immediately connected with, Still I Rise, leading to her inspiration for this exhibition. She shared her love of the poem with her year 7 and 8 students from Virgo Fidelis Covent School in Norwood- challenging them to illustrate the poem. She ran a competition across 8 classes, selecting four to join her in her exhibition: Akalia Newland, Tahreem Sattar, Shafia Ali and Tia-Louise Bryan.

Nadine Walker is an art educator, graphic designer and illustrator from Lewisham. She has participated in collaborative and solo exhibitions across Central London, most notably being selected by the BBC as one of 20 artists invited to visually document the HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Thames Pagent.

For more information about Nadine and her work click here.

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Resident Organisation of the Month: TV Edwards

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Our featured resident organisation this month is TV Edwards, a law firm dedicated to serving the community and providing excellent legal services to those who need it most.

TV Edwards, LLP was founded in 1929 by a man called Thomas Victor Edwards. Now run by his nephew, Anthony Edwards, TV Edwards has cultivated a national reputation for delivering first-class legal services, innovative IT development, and a strong dedication to the communities it serves.  TV Edwards has recently moved offices to join us here at the Albany, hoping to expand and enhance the delivery of holistic community-based legal advice on the doorstep of Deptford.

We recently spoke with Senior Partner, Anthony Edwards, about TV Edwards’ work and his motivation to serve the community.

What inspired you to go into law?

My first encounter with TV Edwards was when I was 5 years old and came to the office on Saturdays mornings, then located at Aldgate. I used to stamp the forms and then go on to watch football with my father. I came regularly to the office and before I went to university I spent nine months carrying my uncle’s bag around the East End as he went to courts and to see clients. My father was also in the office and with him I got to know the dockers for whom he worked. I became very fond of the East End and its remarkable and changing community.

At university I had a head start over my classmates, even including the first year lecturers as I had experienced the law in reality. When I graduated my father asked if I realised that I did not have to come in to the family firm. I thought he was mad- what else could I possibly want to do? I loved the law and the community of the East End.

In the 70’s we began to talk in terms of objectives and identified that as a firm we were there to meet all the needs of the local community, we were not alone, all over London small firms like JB Wheatley in Deptford (which we later merged with) were doing very much the same.

What case or element of TV Edwards’ work has been most rewarding?

I am often asked about my most interesting case. I find it very difficult to respond. In truth I like acting in hundreds of what may seem like small cases but make all the difference to an individual’s life. Many of the results do, from time to time, reduce me to tears- the High Court judge returning to a mother her child that had been “bought” before birth by a rich lawyer or the defendant treated with great unfairness by the police.

How does TV Edwards work towards the goal of giving back/serving the community?

Although my passion lies within criminal law, we have brought in keen and able lawyers who can provide all the services and skills we needed to a high standard. The recent series of mergers (with other firms) has been in anticipation of changes in contractual arrangements with the government through the reduced Legal Aid schemes. We will continue to help families with difficulties and a range of social welfare issues and the mentally ill. In every case there is a team of specialist lawyers who lead in their field. We spend a lot of time training new generations of lawyers.

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 Megan Bommarito, Marketing Intern, The Albany

 

 

 

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Why We Call the Albany an Arts Centre

‘ In 2014, we need to turn theatres into secular churches.’

This was the provocation of Honour Bayes in a recent blog for The Stage. She was writing about ‘events that bring the outside world into theatre – not just artistically-led platforms, but socially-led ones too’. She kindly mentioned Meet Me at the Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s.

Her article chimed with many of the conversations that are taking place at the Albany on pretty much a daily basis about what we stand for, and, for the communications team, how we talk about the work we do. It provides an interesting context for a live discussion about how we define ourselves.

The Albany describes itself not as a ‘theatre’, but as an ‘arts centre’, and increasingly, as a ‘community arts centre’. This isn’t just semantics. It is significant for us because it reflects the fact that we operate in a very different way to most theatres – and we are funded to do so. While we have a strong programme of professional theatre (this season you can catch work from the likes of Kate Tempest, Jonzi D, Polarbear and Bryony Lavery on our stages), we are, first and foremost, driven by a consideration of the needs of our community. This is the principal reason we’re supported by our main funder, Lewisham Council, and their recognition of the role the arts and organisations like ours can play in fulfilling their community agenda means that the range of ways we are working with them is growing significantly, at a time when many local authorities are cutting arts and culture budgets entirely.

For example, within the last couple of years we’ve been contracted to take on the management of two libraries, both in Lewisham (Deptford Lounge) and over the border in Southwark (Canada Water Culture Space). Meet Me at the Albany forms a core aspect of the council’s programme of activity to tackle the issue of isolation in older people. We provide office space for twenty seven small charities, arts organisations and social enterprises, and we are working with the council and others on various enterprises to increase networking amongst businesses and the creative industries in the borough.

There’s a queasiness about the term ‘community’ in the arts: it hints at cringy ‘Legs Akimbo’ style outreach projects where artistic quality is compromised in the fulfilment of social agendas. Historically, we’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with it here. But today, we find it useful to embrace it as a prompt that drives us to, quite radically, interrogate the notion of community spaces: the role they play in people’s lives, and how they can serve the needs of the contemporary community.

Bayes writes about theatres fulfilling the role churches have played historically. At the Albany, we’re drawn to the idea of the ‘third place’. Originally defined by Ray Oldenburg, the ‘third place’ is a social environment distinct from the ‘first place’ (the home) and the ‘second place’ (the work environment). ‘Third places’ are the informal meeting places that anchor community life and facilitate broader, more creative interaction. The qualities of a third place are, according to Oldenburg:

–       Free or inexpensive

–       Offer food and drink

–       Highly accessible

–       Involve regulars

–       Welcoming and comfortable

–       A location for meeting new and old friends

Examples of third places might be a general store, a barber shop or a sports centre and of course, it’s a role that has historically been played principally by churches. The secret of Starbucks’ success was in part the fact that its founders capitalised on the need for third places at a time when churches were no longer playing this role in people’s lives.

The qualities of a third place go above and beyond what most theatres typically deliver. They are public places where people linger for substantial periods of time, throughout the day, a role certainly not fulfilled by West End theatres that may only open their doors an hour before a show starts, and offer only a restricted bar space with prohibitively expensive drinks.

The Albany is open throughout the day, offering a stimulating environment with affordable, nourishing food options and ease of engagement with others. On Tuesdays, visit our café and you might find yourself caught up in a Meet Me at the Albany sing-a-long, or an impromptu spoken word performance. On Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays the building will be buzzing with people spilling over from the adjacent market, nipping in to use our toilets or discussing their latest purchase over a cup of coffee. And for many local children, the relationship they have with our garden – whether through our Growing Up Club or helping out on our allotments with their class – is just as important as the shows they see in our theatre.

In short, the socially-led activities that Bayes refers to are the heart of what we do, and have been for a long time. But the crucial thing in all of this is that this foundation to our work enriches our ability to deliver great art. Artistic excellence is not a side issue – for us artistic innovation is driven by the need to access and engage with our wide and diverse audiences. For example our leadership on the Circulate project, a three year programme of large scale outdoor productions developed specifically to tour to outer London boroughs, was motivated by the need to access audiences for whom crossing the threshold of arts buildings is a huge barrier. Similarly our work in libraries is underpinning a major strand of our thinking about creating outstanding art that responds to the particular needs of audiences in this setting. Furthermore, by adopting an increasingly dynamic business model, we are securing new opportunities and resources to support the creation of new artistic output that truly resonates with the people of Deptford.

Amber Massie-Blomfield, Head of Communications, the Albany

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