Advance 2016 – What We Did
Between January and June 2016 Tonic worked with a second Advance cohort. Having completed a pilot in 2014 there were some key pieces of learning we could act on when devising the 2016 programme.
The pilot taught us that the methodical approach of Advance really worked for the organisations and that they were able to benefit from the combination of quantitative and qualitative information that the programme delivered. We knew they found the Away Days to be a valuable opportunity to come together as a group and to have some designated time in their busy schedules to focus on gender equality. They told us that doing the process over a six-month time period felt just about right; it was long enough to explore an aspect of gender imbalance in detail but not so much so that it dropped off their radars or lost momentum. They liked being set deadlines and being required to deliver action plans by the end of the process – while achieving these things weren’t without challenges it forced them to focus on action and practical solutions rather than getting stuck just talking about the problem.
The pilot confirmed for us the value of having organisations of all different shapes and sizes in the room together. Across both cohorts we purposefully sought to bring on board a range of organisations which, between them, have a national reach, are a mixture of building-based and touring, and which hold distinct positions in the performing arts ecology.
The organisations vary from very small (Mahogany Opera Group has just seven members of staff) up to big national institutions (the Royal Opera House has over 1000). That’s because the pilot demonstrated how organisations of varying scales can – between them – affect change in different ways. Small organisations can be agile and quick in their decision making so can be at the front of the curve in regards to driving change, even though they may be limited in their resources. Large organisations may take longer to agree on and implement change, but when they do, have the resources and industry profile whereby they can instigate seismic shifts.
Having different types of staff involved in the programme was important too. There was unanimous buy in from the top, and each organisation’s work on Advance was led by its Artistic Directors, Executive Directors or equivalents. But they worked in collaboration with a range of staff from within their organisations including personnel involved in areas like producing, communications, human resources, and education, as well as their associate artists and those whose focus is on the development of artists and new work. This meant that, between them, the people who made up the cohort brought a plethora of skills and perspectives to the question of how to reduce gender imbalances in the performing arts.
Advance was originally conceived as a programme for theatres, but while running the pilot we realised it needn’t be a theatre-specific project; it would be equally beneficial in other areas of the arts and creative industries. With the 2016 cohort we began this process of broadening Advance out by working with dance and opera companies.
Looking ahead, we’re excited too to recognise that Advance provides a toolkit that could catalyse change in many different areas. While it was conceived to address gender equality it is not applicable to gender alone and in the future we are keen to explore the wide and various applications it could have.