Tag Archive | "Government"

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Funding the arts: How young people are doing it for themselves

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Dana Segal

With endless Twitter hashtags about cabinet reshuffles, Arts Council funding and the first £9,000-a-year university students entering their academic and artistic lives, you’re probably feeling really inspired, right? Oh sorry, I meant disheartened.

It’s easy to believe that as young producers, collaborators and artists, we have truly lost the battle with the arts industry: that we are at a cultural deficit far greater than we can even imagine to reverse in our lifetimes. However, in my opinion, when asked: “What is the biggest issue facing young people in the arts today?” Quite frankly, it’s the fact that people are talking about it. This “issue”.

Maybe there are no issues. Maybe there is nothing wrong. Maybe we’re forgetting that there will always be issues to overcome and those who recognise them are those that surpass them. I don’t know a single actor, artist or musician who goes on stage or sits in front of a canvas or a drum kit and due to the force of government legislation can’t utter their lines or pick up their brush or drumsticks. Young people are still creating so much art and due to the digitalised age they are broadcasting their creations across the world. Even more so to our credit, in response to our culture, we are developing artistic forms beyond those traditionally recognised.

The sad truth is that the Arts Council have cut £100 million pounds worth of funding, so whilst it’s wonderful that we are doing our best to create, fund and most importantly develop artistic work, so much less is readily availiable for us to utilise. But through this sadness? Well, we’ve been doing OK. Young people understand how to subsidise their projects better than  anyone. They raise money the old fashioned way – cake sales, car washes, shining shoes (OK, maybe not that old fashioned) – combine that with platforms for crowd funding and the vast opportunities on offer by organisations like IdeasTap and TalentHouse, and you have the beginnings of a project.

Don’t forget, these people will become the future investors and  fundraisers of the arts industry. Not all projects get off the ground or find the funding, but that’s how it should be and was, even in times of prosperity. Although art is for everyone, it is statistically impossible for every piece or show or song to be artistically brilliant – but those who deserve eventually get, through sheer determination and patience far greater than I have ever had. It’s all well and good to nod our heads and accept that ideal, but it should never be a case of eventually!

Dear Government: doing OK on our own is not a good enough excuse not to support us. How many young people do you know go through the fiddly, mind-numbing, jargon-ridden process of filling out ACE funding forms to produce a show? I don’t know any, and I know a lot of young people. In fact, no one is readily taught the process of even applying for funding; it’s as though discouraging applications will keep you from feeling guilty about denying many projects funding. The few young projects that manage to squeeze some funding out of the ACE through local authorities suffer now from regional cuts. You are creating fewer and fewer opportunities for young people when all we are doing is our best to create them for ourselves.

The media doesn’t really bother celebrating the successes of self-funded projects because it’s too busy telling us about the latest cut or closure. Particularly to those affecting Youth & Education arts programmes. Too often is it felt by parents, education officials and young people themselves that there is nothing to do, nothing available for young people. It’s just not true. Actually, since the recession there have been so many arts organisations that have gone above and beyond to create and develop opportunities for young people who can’t even afford a bus ticket, let alone a £9,000 a year university course. Big and small institutions, digital spaces and charities – so many opportunities that are there for the taking.

It’s not the responsibility of these arts institutions to tell young people to pull their finger out and demand them to take part – if they don’t make the effort, it’s their loss. However, it is your responsibility to make those opportunities clearly aware and available to every young person from every type of background, and be there with the right answers and tools when a curious young person wants to learn how to play piano, create a show, or run an event. Creating a social capital and network of young artists and producers is key to reviving the “issues” surrounding us.

I am boycotting the recession, I am boycotting the idea of an issue and instead making a different one: when the young artists, musicians and theatre makers of our generation finally grow and become the heart of the British cultural industry, how on earth am I going to decide what show to go to each night? A much more optimistic and aspirational issue facing the young artists of 2012.

Image by Howard Lake

Dana Segal

Dana Segal

Dana is the Youth Engagement Officer at The Roundhouse in London. She runs a small local theatre company called Organised Crime, and reviews theatre.

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Behind the Scenes: the Guardian’s Open Weekend

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Sarah Williams

This weekend saw the Guardian open its doors to readers for its first ever Guardian Open Weekend. Just some of the theatrical highlights on offer saw Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicolas Kent talk to Lyn Gardner, Jez Butterworth in conversation with Andrew Dickson and, in an entertaining role reversal, critic Michael Billington being interviewed by Sir David Hare.

But first-off, a lively discussion on the subject of ‘What Can the Arts Offer in an Age of Austerity?’ On the panel were the Guardian’s Claire Armistead (Literary Editor), Melissa Denes (Arts Editor) and Mark Brown (Arts Correspondent), as well as author and founder of Poems on the Underground Judith Chernaik. Perhaps unsurprisingly, speakers and audience alike spoke overwhelmingly in defence of the arts (in particular the need to safeguard access to them), but there was still room for animated debate. Armistead paid lip service to pertinent arguments against cultural spending (“why pay for art in hospitals if you can’t afford hip replacements?”) and Chernaik emphasised that art has always survived – and always will – without government support. She namechecked artists who have overcome much more than austerity, from war to the Great Depression. Significantly, she also questioned the notion that the arts really are experiencing austerity (a word falsely applied by this government?) given the money consistently spent by audiences and consumers of the arts today.

Other points of contention arose with regard to how funding has been spent previously. One audience member referred to the large grants paid to institutions such as the Royal Opera House where high ticket prices might limit access to the well-off; others questioned whether funding really has succeeded in permeating beyond major cities. Brown’s commentary on the regenerative effects of funding in areas such as Margate (with its Turner Contemporary) was disputed by an audience member who questioned whether a gallery visited primarily by a “London weekend crowd” really benefitted local people, even in monetary terms. Another went so far as to suggest that, rather than the arts being starved by austerity, Britain seemed historically to need to be “battered down” to start producing worthwhile art.

Debate was rife elsewhere in the Guardian towers, too, but so it seemed was a fascination with occasions in which it might be lacking. In their separate talks, both Michael Billington and Nicolas Kent addressed the idea of “preaching to the converted” with both in fact defending the case for doing so. “What’s the problem with it?” Billington asked, commenting on whether political plays have made a real difference to society; “it happens in churches up and down the country”. Kent spoke of audiences at the Tricycle, stating that “if people feel passionately about something and you can reactivate their passion… that can be very useful. It’s reassuring to know that as a society we care about these issues.”

He also highlighted the way in which the Tricycle’s particular brand of political theatre, the “tribunal play”, presents an audience with evidence distilled in the purest form, allowing them to examine it for themselves. In the case of Justifying War: Scenes from the Hutton Inquiry (2003) he described how the audience arrived at “the opposite conclusion to Lord Hutton, as did the nation”.

So what does theatre have to offer that journalism cannot? Gardner pointed discussion towards the tension between the two media. For many plays, it seems largely a case of access and coverage. Trials and enquiries occurring behind a courtroom’s closed doors could be steno-graphed, distilled and staged to reach a wider audience. Norton-Taylor (also the Guardian’s Security Editor) described the “butterfly-mindedness” of many news editors, which often prevents stories from receiving the in-depth, continued exploration they deserve. As a journalist, he finds an audience that engages with a subject for two or three consecutive hours immensely satisfying.

However, plays can also offer a certain visceral detail impossible to the journalist. Norton-Taylor emphasised the significance of details such as body language, which the written reporter cannot describe but which his actors endeavoured to recreate with accuracy. For this same reason, Kent said he was uninterested in creating a play about the Leveson Inquiry, because it has been televised throughout and “at some point someone will string together an overview”. This statement was challenged by audience members entreating Kent to reconsider, and some thinking aloud from Norton-Taylor also suggested that Leveson could perhaps yet find itself in the Tricycle’s limelight. “I feel a play coming,” said Kent.

For playwright Butterworth, the premise upon which the creative process begins is perhaps less easily definable. Sometimes triggered by note making, it nonetheless essentially results from strange moments of inspiration, or thoughts which elicit a physical response: “I only follow ideas which give me goosebumps”, he said. One such moment occurred while driving, when a line familiar to Jerusalem fans suddenly popped into his head: “I, Rooster Byron, hereby place a curse upon the Kennet and Avon council”. He stopped the car and asked himself “what on earth was that?”, but felt a burst of excitement. However the roots of Jerusalem actually extend much earlier to a 2004 Royal Court read-through of a play set in a wood. Wryly describing this as “the most painful experience of my life”, Butterworth explained how this early attempt “wanted to be itself so badly, it wasn’t”. He never returned to that script in writing Jerusalem, but observes that the trouble he encountered has given him a curious new determination: “I no longer follow the things I want to write. I follow the things I don’t want to write.”

Butterworth also spoke fondly of his early connection with theatre; a desire to “go to Cambridge [University] and write plays” was fuelled by watching his older brother in a production of Brian Friel’s Translations there. Playwriting really was his sole focus as he admitted to having attended just one lecture in three years, and reflected fondly upon being quite literally chased by his head of studies Tom Morris (Director of War Horse) for an essay he would never write.

But there is also a kind of writing that Butterworth has avoided as a reader, upon Harold Pinter’s advice: reviews. Butterworth’s explanation invites controversy: “Harold worked out that there wasn’t a single person reviewing for the nationals who wouldn’t swap places with him in a heartbeat, and there wasn’t a single playwright whose work was being produced who would swap places with them.”

However, what arose most clearly from the interview was in fact Butterworth’s humility. On working with actors such as Mark Rylance to rewrite a script, Butterworth emphasised that the most important work happens inside the rehearsal room. He said that attempts to “forensically” assign parts of a performed play to a particular hand were ridiculous, because a play,  like a child, is a thing in itself: “I never feel even that the words I write belong to me, so why would anything else?”

For David Hare, criticism possessed potentially more irritating tendencies. Referring to a critic who had regularly mistaken not only the name of a play but also the theatre in which it was staged, he declared, “there seems to be a basic level of reporting about theatre criticism – that you get the facts right – and an awful lot of critics can’t seem to get over that bar”.  Not a charge he levelled at Billington, but he did suggest that his interviewee tended to be “soft on actors”. Billington partially accepted this, saying he had been moved by the (often tearful) effect of harsh criticism upon the people who must, after all, “make this thing live night after night”. To which Hare countered that he has himself likewise “picked playwrights out of the gutter”.

Billington also responded defensively to Hare’s suggestion that he had “a certain idea of how a play should be staged”. He explained that while he felt a critic was duty-bound to place plays into a context based on their experience and expertise, he also tried always to approach each production with the “innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm” of a first-time theatregoer. He celebrated the “democratisation of criticism” through the recent boom in websites, blogs and social media. This idea also featured earlier in the weekend in the discussion ‘What Defines the Guardian?’ with Editor Alan Rusbridger. A critic like Billington, says Rusbridger, writes his professional review, but the show has likely been watched by nine hundred or so others. “Are their views unimportant? The answer is so obvious.”

Wholly representative of the Guardian’s current policy of “open journalism”, this sentence encapsulated the theme of the weekend overall. So let’s watch, react and talk about theatre, but just remember (for Hare’s sake) to get those all-important facts right.

Sarah Williams was at the Guardian’s Open Weekend, 24 – 25 March 2012. For more information, visit the website here.

Image credit: the Guardian

Sarah Williams

Sarah Williams

Sarah has an MA in theatre from RADA and King's College London and has written for publications including A Younger Theatre and The Guardian.

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News: Interest on Student Loans set to rise

Posted on 13 April 2011 by Eleanor Turney

News has reached AYT that the government has plans to change the way that interest rates are charged on Student Loans. Now, we know financial stuff isn’t the most thrilling topic, and that the words ‘interest rates’ are enough to make you click away from the page (I feel the same!), but this could be hugely important, so do have a read:

When you take out a loan, you have to pay it back. The money is loaned to you. A grant, sponsorship or bursary you don’t. When you borrow money, it is on the assumption that the lender can earn money by doing so – they charge you a percentage of the amount of borrow in interest. This is money you have to pay back on top of the sum you borrow.

So, if you borrow £3,000 at the rate of 3% interest, the money you pay back will go up every year like this:

Year one: Money owed is £3,000. 3% of this is £90. So by the end of year one you owe £3,090.
Year two: Money owed is £3,090. 3% of THIS is £92.70. So by the end of year two you owe £3,182.70.
Year three: Money owed is £3,182.70. 3% of THIS is £95.48. So by the end of year three you owe £3,278.18.

This effectively means that whoever lent you the money has earned £278 from lending you the money. (It’s not quite as simple as that because money depreciates in value – inflation – but the basics are right.)

Now, if you are lent the money by a bank, then you are likely to be naturally suspicious and will be looking at much higher interest rates. However, what if the government is lending the money in the form of a student loan? And what if instead of charging interest linked to inflation (so that you pay back the same amount in cash terms as you borrowed and the government doesn’t LOSE money by loaning it to you), it decides to change the way loans are paid back so that you end up paying a rate linked to high street bank’s rates but capped at RPI (inflation)? This would put the current rate at about 8.5%.

The government’s plans are that:

  • Interest on your loan will be applied at inflation (RPI – Retail Price Index) plus 3% while you are studying, and up until the April after you leave university or college.
  • From the April after you leave university or college if you are earning below £21,000, interest will be applied at the rate of inflation.
  • For graduates earning between £21,000 and £41,000 interest will be applied between RPI and RPI + 3% on a gradual scale depending on income.
  • For graduates earning above £41,000, interest will be applied at RPI + 3%.

Let’s call it 8% for the sake of my poor maths skills, and do those sums again:

Year one: Money owed is £3,000. 8% of this is £240. So by the end of the year you owe £3,240.
Year two: Money owed is £3,240. 8% of this is £259.20. So by the end of the year you owe £3,499.20.
Year three: Money owed is £3,399.20. 8% of this is £279.94. So by the end of the year you owe £3,679.14.

This is an extra £679.14 that you now owe.

Now, consider two things. Firstly, you don’t start paying your money back until you start earning a certain wage (£15,000 for people graduating before top-up fees, £21,000 under the new system which starts in September) so you’re not going to be looking at the interest over three years. It’s likely that you won’t hit this threshold when you are working in arts for several years – let’s say five to be on the optimistic side. Another five year’s interest on top of the £3,679.14 that we already owe? We’re looking at an additional £2,405.86 in interest, taking the total to £5,405.86.

Depressed yet?

Secondly consider this: most student loans aren’t £3,000. Let’s assume, again for the sake of optimism, that your parents are able and willing to help you through university. Your fees are likely to be around £9,000 A YEAR, which is £27,000 for three years. £27,000. And that’s before your maintenance loan, for luxuries like rent, food and books, which is up to £5,500 if you live away from home and study outside London; up to £7,675 if you live away from home and study in London; and up to £4,375 if you live with your parents.

After one year, on 8% interest just on your tuition fee loan, you would owe £2,160 in interest. By the end of your third year you will owe £34,012.22. How long do you think it will take you to get a job (or jobs) that pay you more than £21,000 a year? One year after graduating? Then you start paying back £36,733.20. Three years after graduating? You now owe £42,845.61.

I’m going to stop now, as the numbers are getting too depressing, but the sums are at the end if you wish to work out how much you’ll owe after ten years or more.

To put this further in perspective: I pay my loan back at the rate of £15 a month. On the new rates, by (modest) loan is accruing interest of around £60 a month. So, every month that £15 disappears off my pay slip, I am paying back a quarter of the interest I owe, without ever touching the lump sum I borrowed. It just carries on getting bigger.


ON A LOAN OF £3,000 at 8%

Year 4 (first year after graduating) Interest is £294.33 = £3,973.47 owed
Year 5 £317.88 = £4,291.35
Year 6 £343.31 = £4,634.66
Year 7 £370.77 = £5,005.43
Year 8 £400.43 = £5,405.86

ON A LOAN OF £27,000 at 8%

Year one £2,160 = £29,160
Year two £2,332.80 = £31,492.80
Year three £2,519.42 = £34,012.22
Year four £2,720.98 = £36,733.2 First year after graduating
Year five £2,938.66 = £39,671.86
Year six £3,173.75 = £42,845.61

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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