What We Did
“Working on Tonic Advance confirmed many of the observations we had about business planning and development within the independent sector, but also challenged many of the underlying assumptions we had about why this situation existed. The opportunity to listen and reflect – not only on our own area of focus but also the experiences of colleagues in the cohort – was invaluable in helping us to develop an appropriate response to the challenge we set ourselves.”
We held a workshop session for a number of female-led artists and companies based in the North East, through which we began to unpick some of the issues that they face with regard to sustainability and growth. This workshop session was followed up with interviews with these participants, and other artists and companies from beyond the region. The research identified a number of headline needs shared by mid-career artists, and in separating actual from perceived needs, the research has enabled us to develop a response that we hope will have real impact. It has also identified opportunities for Northern Stage to develop ways of working more collaboratively, by identifying needs of Northern Stage that can be met by those artists.
What We Learned
We discovered that many female-led non-NPO’s in the North East had made purposeful decisions to work in the independent sector, as it was felt to be liberating artistically, personally and politically. However, an unhealthy culture had developed (both within the North East and beyond) of small/independent companies being encouraged to view Grants for the Arts as a primary source of income, rather than a part of a mixed funding model. This made them financially fragile: they had few assets to rely on, minimal reserves, little contingency, and were vulnerable to unfavourable decisions. Working within independent organizational structures meant that they rarely got to see how other people ran their companies or planned for growth and sustainability, and they ran the risk of becoming isolated in a narrow frame of reference.
We also recognised that Northern Stage’s own artist development schemes had been focusing on development of the creative work, and there had been little investment in proper business planning to support the structures underpinning the art. While we were trying to encourage artists and companies to think in a long-term, strategic manner about their future, we were not providing the skills to be able to deliver this approach.
What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned
We plan to introduce a strand of our artistic development activity that is focused towards supporting the organizational development of companies in our region. We will work with female-led companies to identify skills and common interest in delivering projects with Northern Stage, to develop more sustainable income streams. We also intend to collaborate with Newcastle University to facilitate access to business planning support and expertise.
Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?
Northern Stage is the largest producing theatre in the North East, and as such we feel a keen responsibility for the theatrical eco-system in our region. We want to identify ways for the organization’s resources to be at the service of audiences and artists in the North East, supporting the growth and sustainability of the sector. Over time we would like to develop many more opportunities for integration of our own activity with the ambitions of artists in our region.