In Battalions: State of the Industry round table discussion.
The title of this event promised a round table discussion. However, there was no such table of adequate size given the amount of people who attended to add their voice to the debate. The reason for such a high turnout was because London Writers Week was hosting this year’s In Battalions meeting. The event was held to address the current state of public arts funding in the UK and to gauge the impact that this was having – and would continue to have – on writers.
The In Battalions report was created by Fin Kennedy (playwright and artistic director of Tamasha Arts) in 2013 after a chance encounter with Ed Vaizey. The former Minister for Culture told Kennedy that he was convinced the government cuts to the arts budget was having no detrimental impact upon British Theatre, specifically new writing. Kennedy wrote an article on his blog which went viral in a matter of days and he was inundated with offers of support and agreement from theatres and theatre-makers across the country. The report was launched in 2013 which gathered data and testimonies to lay bare how cuts to funding seriously affected new writing and new writing opportunities.
Despite a battle to get Vaizey and the DCMS to fairly respond to the report, it has shown that an individual voice which grows into a national display of frustration and solidarity can have a genuine political impact; in 2014 the government announced tax breaks to new plays and regional touring. In the discussion this year, there was further reason to feel cautiously optimistic.
Mags Patten, a representative from the Arts Council, and the playwright David Edgar argued that while the situation was hardly rosy, in the last few years the arts had done better than expected since the 30% cuts to the ACE in 2010.
While funding figures can be interpreted and contextualised in various ways, there was a tentative consensus that through a huge amount of people power and relentless work, the arts had at least managed to stabilise itself since this initial travesty.
Edgar cited figures that showed a genuine rise in new writing which is performed in venues over two-hundred seats, citing an increase in new translations and adaptions alongside growing literary departments as the main reasons.
Despite these promising achievements there is a perpetual difficulty for smaller scale, regional and touring companies to see these benefits. As argued by Rebecca Manson Jones and Fiona Whitelaw amongst others, there remains widespread self-exploitation coupled with a growing gap in funding between larger established companies and smaller-scale touring companies. The disconnection between funding bodies, touring dates and box office deals with venues lead to a constant financial and creative anxiety.
Scott Lyons echoed how many young creatives, specifically in new writing, were forced to source funds through crowdfunding and innovative social media campaigns. The result can work but it doesn’t take into account the amount of time this takes to set up and naturally, there are only so many times you can ask friends and contemporaries to support you.
Despite all the possible predictions that many had envisaged for the next few years, Brexit has left huge question marks for the arts in general. As we begin to witness the fallout of this decision and the subsequent political maelstrom that has ushered in new individuals into cabinet jobs, there are few clear answers available.
The confusion and uncertainty for the government will naturally impact on all forms of public funding bodies and there is the well-documented loss of European funding that is anticipated. In reality, as much as any of us wanted to look towards future funding models that promised greater opportunities and recognition for writers, there are too many dark clouds looming.
While the environment might have lurched dramatically in the past month, the people and ideas behind In Battalions are needed now more than ever.
For links to the individuals mentioned above and to further writings on In Battalions see: