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How might we weather the coming storm together? by Robert Pacitti




How might we weather the coming storm together?

 

A special announcement from SPILL Festival of Performance

Robert Pacitti, February 2013

 

In April 2013 Pacitti Company will present the fifth edition of SPILL Festival, at a range of venues across London. The programme consists of artists coming from across the UK and around the world. It’s an exciting mix of work from experienced makers, those just starting out, and a whole raft of events that open up space for shared exchanges between artists and audiences. But this isn’t the whole story.

In recent years Pacitti Company has moved away from solely producing its own artistic product in the form of touring shows, and increasingly now focuses on commissioning and presenting the work of others, predominantly through SPILL Festival. The Company runs a modest building and rolling programme of events in Ipswich as a public Think Tank, exploring how experimental practices can be of broad public benefit. And it activates community-centric projects that bring together large numbers of people that may not usually engage with the arts, with seasoned artists who continue to take risks and seek new ways of expressing urgent cultural concerns. Creating a meaningful interface between these different constituent groups is something that Pacitti Company does well.

Across the past 4 SPILL Festivals Pacitti Company has presented over 500 events, supported 1,300 artists and companies, and achieved average audience attendance levels of 91%. And in the 2011/12 year alone our outdoor events and film project On Landguard Point actively engaged over 20,000 people in making the work happen.

Pacitti Company is very fortunate to receive on-going Arts Council England funding for its core activities, and we don’t take it for granted. This, and the support of other funding bodies, plus earned income from ticket sales and merchandise enables the Company to thrive through being in service to others: peers, project partners and the public. This mix of support remains crucial to ensuring Pacitti Company’s work continues to deliver at the highest level and that the Company grows doing it. We are a small yet incredibly determined core team of 8 very tenacious and resourceful people working across both London and Ipswich, and for our size our delivery is not just extremely high but consistently over and above what might usually be expected. Like many of you maybe reading this we know that’s what it takes to make great stuff happen, as the majority of us still have to struggle to make ends meet.

 But across the past 12 months something has changed that is now threatening Pacitti Company activity and we can see this damaging some others already. In short we have been unable to raise essential funds to realise our full hoped for programme. And the upshot of this is that at Christmas 2012 we had to step away from 7 projects that were planned to show in April 2013 as part of SPILL Festival. 2 of these projects in particular are new large-scale works that would have absolutely wowed UK audiences – works by world acclaimed companies that will not now be part of the festival. The other 5 pieces are a mixture of amazing smaller group works and solo pieces – not so expensive in themselves, but curatorially and financially linked to the larger 2 projects. This is a painful, difficult situation for all concerned.

“So what?” some of you might say – “there’s still a big festival on its way, and no one should be spending money they haven’t got right now anyway.” Others of you might ask why I even dare to write this, from the for-now security of within a publicly funded company, and with cuts taking place all around us, in health, in education, in housing, to people’s welfare, and all the time with costs rising on the high street whilst wages and benefits at best stand still for the majority, or are cut altogether for some. And it is true that visiting experimental art isn’t immediately at the front of the priorities queue.

But I believe that the funding difficulties currently faced by Pacitti Company are a crisis looming for many of us in the new work sector, and that things are rapidly going to get worse for many before any sort of change might come to pass.

Think about it: Pacitti Company is entrusted to run a significant artist-led festival that came from a place of urgency, to force high visibility sustainable change for performance and experimental work in the UK. Through activating on-going relationships with amazing venue and project partners the festival has been able to nurture, commission and present huge numbers of artists. You may not like my curation or taste, but that’s slightly different – the fact is that Pacitti Company works incredibly hard to serve other artists in order to then serve the public. Our SPILL National Platform and Showcase initiative seek to fill a gap for emerging makers, and many artists that take part go on to present their work elsewhere in the UK and internationally as a direct result of their participation. Established practitioners are presented alongside SPILL Salons to encourage a criticality to extend forward our shared – and sometimes conflicting – thoughts on the role and value of new work.

SPILL Thinkers, SPILL Writers, SPILL Publications, SPILL TV, and special projects like the SPILL Tarot Pack all engage audiences made up of artists, thinkers, writers, students, academics and generally curious folk that may not otherwise have much to do with the arts, in large numbers and with high impact outcomes. All of this demonstrates the lengths Pacitti Company goes to in order that the work presented resonates over and above the time we all spend together watching in a gallery or sitting in a theatre. Since 2007 we have been working in this way and learning as we go. I know that we now excel at what we do, and how we do it. As do Fierce Festival in Birmingham, and In Between Time in Bristol, and many other fantastic UK based arts companies and individuals – see Thomas Bacon’s extensive new Tempting Failure line up, or Buzz Cut in Glasgow, or Performance Space’s rolling programme as other examples of people pushing open new sustained spaces, seemingly against all odds. (As a note: I am writing this text purely from my own perspective and do not mean to suggest that any of the parties above may be facing financial challenges).

But if we are no longer able to raise funds for our work, what happens? If we have to step back from presenting amazing companies and artists, what does that mean for next year and beyond? Or for those established artists that are known worldwide yet still struggle to survive? Or for the person soon to graduate and destined to make important cultural contributions for years to come if the opportunities exist? Or the company that’s been working on a shoestring for years, hanging on in there and making amazing work but still living hand to mouth? For the budding producer or presenter that is setting up their own festival or artist run space or co-op? For the skilled technicians or writers or sound artists? What will become of us all as this current crisis worsens – how will we survive? We can’t all become 0.6 university lecturers in Performance.

Some say that good work comes from hardship, which having no other option but to operate without resources makes them resilient. And it’s true that to some extent artists working in that way may well weather the storm intact. But I reject that argument as a slippery slope, leading logically to offering a case on a plate for the removal of all state support.

So to be proactive here and not just a voice of impending doom: during the next SPILL Festival you can join Pacitti Company and anybody else that chooses to attend for 2 days of shared activities that aim to audit what artists need now, as broad networked communities. The SPILL Folk Academy asks how we might activate self-determined futures for artists and cultural workers prioritising ‘liveness’, and what ideas and tactics we can share between ourselves, in order that together we might weather the coming storm resiliently and sustainably. The SPILL Folk Academy is a semi-structured two days of shared work, but we are totally open to throwing out any or all of the planned activities, in favour of pursuing a new collective blueprint for the sessions. Bring ideas, provocations, and openness to shared working. The days are free to attend and all are welcome.

These sessions have been put together because I believe we have to work together to find shared sustainable ways of working that utilise our current resources to the max. I believe we need to find shared ground and I think that has to happen now.

And whilst it might not always feel this way – we do have each other. Yes we often have different views on just about everything to do with live art, performance, experimental praxis, how those areas get presented, experienced, written about, supported, hell – probably even lots of what I’m writing here. But if we don’t start radically assessing what we can all bring to the table, in order to share and redistribute it to maximum effect we are all going to lose out – maybe not you personally next week, or even next month. But without doubt it’ll be soon.

One thing is already for sure. In April you can come to the next SPILL Festival in London and experience a whole heap of really fantastic events made by artists who care about nothing more than sharing their work with you. The programme is busy and the curation is tight. But you won’t see ——- from ——, or ———– from ——-, or —— —– from ——–, or ——- ——- from ——, or ——- —– from ——, or —— —— from ——–, or —— from ——-

 

This is where it starts.