Tag Archives: Art / Politics

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Sustainable Development Goals

Global Festival of Action took place earlier this week in the modestly titled World Conference Centre, which is a beautiful facility built in Bonn as home of the West German parliament just before reunification moved parliament to Berlin. Last year this was the Global Festival of Ideas but now is deemed time for action.

Delegates gathered from around the world and the opening plenary session reinforced a message that this was to be a festival not a conference. Alongside official welcomes from representatives of the German Government, City of Bonn and United Nations we were led in a bout of meditation and a somewhat self-conscious few minutes clapping along with a beatboxer whilst ‘making some noise’ for Y? (a very friendly and enthusiastic rapper from NYC). There were numerous exhortations to blitz Social Media with ‘our message’ and to encourage us Yusuf Omar, a very high energy young man from Hashtag Our Stories demonstrated how it only takes 60 seconds to shoot, edit and post a video on a phone in order to our ‘message out’ there. It was dazzling display achieved on a phone considerably more powerful than mine.

The ‘message’ referred to throughout is the urgency of addressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The festival made an immediate impact as I arrived not knowing what the goals are and now I do – though, unlike most delegates, I am as yet unable to refer to them by number alone.

1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
9: Build resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.
10: Reduced inequality within and among countries.

11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

In foyers spaces stands showcased initiatives, approaches and new technologies. I plugged myself into both a 360º VR movie experience and then a full on walk through VR experience which captured the interior of a large block in Berlin that had been occupied and re-decorated by artists shortly before its demolition. It was breathtaking.

In familiar conference style there were plenty of Breakout Sessions to choose from and with Action as the aim many had a practical dimension. I attended the two which looked most like the session I was due to contribute to on Thursday morning – my idea was to pick up some tips of what to do and what to avoid, how many people to expect and how engaged they were likely to be.

At first my plan appeared to have backfired as the incredibly bright and positive photojournalist Ulla Lohmann’s session started by encouraging us to find a unique story that would ideally give us access to unique photographs. Her example was travelling to Papua New Guinea, learning Pidgin becoming adopted by a remote tribe and strike up a deep and trusting relationship with an elderly chief who as determined that he wants to revive an old tradition of being mummified and placed in a niche high above the tribe’s village in order to protect them post death. As a result Ulla was able to photograph a couple of practice embalming carried out on two pigs, before capturing the real thing once the chief died.

Ulla spoke about the ethical dimensions of sharing this story with the world via National Geographic and later gave us insight into how her very positive personality and honest approach allows her to gain access to take the photographs she’s after. As an encore and demonstration on how to construct and pitch a photo story she shared with us shots of her and a team of scientists abseiling into an active volcano. You should check her website out, she is a remarkable woman.

Somewhat rattled I then attended a session that promised to use Design Thinking to develop innovative project ideas in an Open Situation Room environment. Here a women who works for the Swiss Government shared with us a challenge she has been set by her boss to ‘support movements’ in an effort to advance the SDGs. The rapid fire approach of 5 minutes to discuss this, 5 minutes to agree that, 5 minutes to explore the other was frustrating and the dynamics of my group didn’t help. I took this as a warning to be heeded in running my session the next day.

I ducked out of the SDG awards ceremony on Wednesday evening, choosing instead to catch up on some Stan’s Cafe work and go for a run along the Rhine – a beautiful route.

Theater Bonn had invited me to provide the ‘interactive’ element of their session. For 25 minutes participants were shown photos and film clips while Nicola Bramkamp, Artistic Director of Theater Bonn and Andrea Tietz, producer of Save the World explained their belief in art’s power to effect social change. Then Nick Nuttall, Head of Communications and Outreach for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change backed up that opinion, explaining how politicians are empowered to make important decisions by the mood of public opinion, which in turn is shifted by a range of factors, including art projects.

Finally I had a room full of SDG activists to get interactive with. I’d decided to keep things really simple and walk them through one of my approaches to ‘having good ideas’, with their concerns as the subject of their creative thinking. So, having grouped everyone according to the SDG they were most passionate about, I encouraged participants to list challenges they face communicating the urgency of their chosen SDG to the public. Having done this I encouraged them to think of the artistic form that would most elegantly solve this problem; in other words look for the form that most elegantly matches up with the content of what they are trying to communicate. The groups then pitched their favourite idea in a single sentence. And that was 40 minutes.

I’d tried to leave the maximum time for discussion and debate. Some of the ideas that emerged I would happily have pursued and people seemed to enjoy themselves. Presumably the people who got little out of the session zoomed off without saying anything and those who got a lot out of it lingered to explain why and say thank you.

Job done, time to find the U-Bahn station to the Hauptbahnhof to Klön to Brussels Midi to London St. Pancras, walk to Euston train New Street, my bicycle and home by 11 thanks to the hour gained when crossing the channel.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Reshuffle Pt 1 – 3

Part 1
Matthew Hancock, appointed on Tuesday, is now the ninth Secretary of State to be custodian of Culture in under eleven years. See how many of these you recognise:

Jeremy Hunt was David Cameron’s first Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, remember how he was lightening quick to offer his department up to the treasury in the first round of ‘austerity’ cuts. Presumably this showed he was made of the right stuff as he soon got whisked off to become Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. In this case ‘soon’ was after 2 years 4 months in the job, which makes him comfortably the longest serving Culture Secretary since Tessa Jowell who served six years under Tony Blair (Gordon Brown ripped through James Purnell, Andy Burnham and Ben Bradshaw in a fraction under three years).

Maria Miller stepped in after Hunt for 1 year 8 months; she had a slightly less onerous job than him as the Olympics were not under her purview. Sajid Javid managed 1 year 1 month. I’m afraid I genuinely don’t recall John Whittingdale at all but I’m sure his 1 year and 2 month reign was a triumph. Midway through her 1 year 6 month tenure Karen Bradley managed the transition into being Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I hope The Right Honourable Matthew Hancock gets his gonks and family photos and coffee machine out on his desk quickly because form suggests that unless he’s decisive he’ll be off before he’s had a chance to choose what glories from the Arts Council collection to hang on his office wall and make himself at home.

The business of government is a peculiar business, indeed it rarely resembles any business I know. How would we look upon a business that appoints someone to a role they are almost entirely unfamiliar with and which they haven’t applied for, leaves them in that post for approximately eighteen months, until they are almost beginning to get a feel for the lie of the land, then ships them out for another job, which they didn’t apply for and know almost nothing about? How would you look upon a business that does this not as an aberration but apparently as a matter of policy? I’d look upon them and think “you’re no threat”.

I hate the term ‘reshuffle’ when applied to Government, somehow it exposes too explicitly the game playing nature of politics, it also suggests a randomness, a limited set of options that might just bring us better results if we play these same cards in some different order.

Part 2
To be honest I’m also not that keen on the term ‘reshuffle’ applied to Stan’s Cafe. Here things are different, the Secretary of State has been in post for over 26 years and in this situation departments can get stale and complacent, inflexible, narrow and set in their thinking; in this situation there’s every chance that everybody would benefit from a change, fresh thinking, new energy and different perspectives. So the question came up at the last meeting of the Stan’s Cafe board “Is James Yarker still the best person to lead Stan’s Cafe?”

The Charity Commission asks this question of all organisations led by their founder who are applying for Charitable Status. It’s a fair question, they need reassuring that the charity is to be run for the benefit of the nominated beneficiaries and not its founder.

In their great wisdom and having considered many options the Board of Directors decided I’m still delivering the goods and so a reshuffle has been avoided, for now.

Of course one of the main reasons a reshuffle isn’t required is that the shuffle was done in 2015 when Roisin joined us as joint CEO. The Secretary of State now has twice the brains and twice the energy, we are hydra-headed and we are a threat!

Part 3
But surely there is one business that everyone acknowledges is more crazy that politics and changes its leadership at an insane rate as a knee jerk response to any temporary downturn in performance or popularity, surely the post of football manager is less stable than being a Secretary of State in Her Majesty’s Government…

Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark, Gary Rowett, Gianfranco Zola, Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill. Birmingham City 7 managers since November 2007.

Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood, Remi Garde, Roberto Di Matteo, Steve Bruce. Aston Villa 8 managers since August 2006.

Tony Mowbray, Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson, Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel, Alan Irvine, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew. West Bromwich Albion 8 managers since October 2006.

… all of our local teams have had FEWER managers than we’ve Secretaries of State for Culture in the last decade and WE’RE the ones continually being urged to think more strategically!

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: ‘Scratch’ and works-in-progress are a blight on theatre.

In early May we spent a week working on a new show called The Capital which is planned to open in 2018. It has a big cast and ambitious set, so it’s going to be expensive. This means it seemed sensible to check the ideas are going to work.

We need some people to commission the show, so we wanted these ‘some people’ to see it in the hope they would be inspired to invest. So, at the end of the week, we performed some things to an invited audience. I think this may officially have been classified a ‘work in progress showing’ which unfortunately may make me a massive hypocrite. Why? because I have just written a whole essay explaining why such things are a blight on the world theatre.

You can read the full essay here, gather your thoughts and then tell me why I’m wrong (or not). I spent a bit of time on it so please do read it and decide which side of the fence you’re on.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Love Thy Neighbour


Presumably the license plates led to the hire firm and the hire firm pointed to the address and so, within hours, armed police were swarming into q flat and by the morning national news journalists and their dish topped TV trucks had formed a secondary cordon around uniformed officers. The 128 bus edged its way past. A tendril of national news has reached out to us. Its spotlights are set up on our pavements.

How sad the circumstance. How cowardly the action. How banal the imagination. How tragic the trade. We are sewn together.

When The Pope visited The Oratory less than 100m away this same pavement was packed with happy cheering crowds.
Close by a victim of terrorism and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai received her education.

Closer by still nine of the world’s most powerful men sat down to dinner in 1998.

Practically close enough to cast their late evening shadows on this same pavement stand the brick and mortar models for Tolkein’s two mythic towers.

Within spitting distance, through another squashed door up another flight of stairs Chut the Tailor made Andy’s bespoke presidential suit for Lurid and Insane.

The psychogeography of this locale has grown deeper, the pavements gained another, darker, unwanted patina. Remember: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: If I stay there will be trouble, if I go…


So the CBI guy, speaking in a personal capacity said “out” and had was kicked out.

The Bank of England guy said “out” could cause trouble and that caused him trouble.

The Queen is being interpreted as saying “out” but that was years ago before anyone was asking so she can’t have been answering and now she’d say nothing.

So where does Stan stand?

Well, we have a risk register and we are going to enter Britain leaving the European Union as a risk for Stan’s Cafe but where do we place it on the likelihood / severity matrix? At this point, damp finger in the air, people around the world with a taste for ‘change’, with media massed in the ‘out’ camp reporting on the refugee camps, maybe we go ‘quite’ on the likely. The impact axis is even more tricky to evaluate.

If leaving the EU spooks the markets because of its uncertain implications for trade then the value of sterling could drop we become cheap for international promoters and get more bookings. Of course if the markets react the other way then we become more expensive and overseas bookings could drop.

Then there are questions about visas. When we are booked to perform in the United States our hosts have to build a big dossier setting out why our actors have to travel to perform the show rather than us using US actors. This is a time consuming and expensive business that culminates in us having to send all our actors down to the embassy in London for an early morning visa interview appointment that requires an overnight stay; if we were required to do the same thing prior to a gig in Germany that would be an utter nightmare.

It should be crazy to happen even on exit but there have to be benefits to being in the EU club, if none of these benefits are withdrawn when you leave what would the point of being a member of the club, what would stop everyone else leaving? There must be some penalties on exit because if there were only upside surely everyone would go.

Then there are reciprocal tax agreements for the company that mean that in theory we don’t have to pay tax on our shows in the country where we perform them (this isn’t a Facebook kind of thing I promise). If rules change this could become a problem. It’s proved tricky in Canada for us in the past, but to be honest it has also proved tricky more recently in EU member Poland.

We can only speculate. Everyone is saying the thing they think will persuade others to join their prejudice. I am prejudiced. I love being European. I love being connected to all those other member countries. Given that I often don’t vote for the domestic government I get I don’t mind this government being in tension with European government I voted for but don’t control. I think of it as a balance of powers.

So how do we mitigate this risk? Maybe Stan’s Cafe should lobby for ‘in’.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: ITC AGM

Next Monday the Independent Theatre Council will have their Annual General Meeting. It’s a great organisation, providing lobbying, training and advice on finance, management and legal matters, they negotiate recommended pay rates and provide networking opportunities. Stan’s Cafe have been members since receiving our first ever grant, thanks to the sound advice of guru Mick Yates. This is the first year I am going to the AGM and I urge other members to come along too, to show your support and get your voice heard.

I’m banging the drum as the official West Midlands Representative, but I’d bang the drum anyway and if you can’t make it but want your point to be made then tell me your point and I’ll point it or you. If you’re not a member but want your voice heard then let me hear it and I’ll see what can be done. There was a good discussion in the Summer at The West Midlands Open Space event about opening the ITC up to a wider membership via an ‘associate: ITC Lite’ scheme and I”m interested in pursuing this.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: A Lot for A Little

A couple of days ago I posted a depressing report on an Arts Council briefing. At the end of the briefing they showed this video. The challenge is to watch this and say public subsidy of the arts isn’t worth 17p per week from our taxes.

17p is the VAT on a £1 bottle of pop (see my Juice for the Arts campaign). It costs you 20p to have a piss at New Street Station (actually now the station’s been revamped I don’t know what the pissing cost is).

17p cut by 15% becomes 14.5p so there’s the choice. Do you really want to rip up the country’s culture for the sake of 2.5p per person per week?

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: We’re Under Attack!


‘Arty types’ are often not terribly into maths and statistics etc. maybe they even drifted off in their maths classes, but there are some sums that are so chilling they are impossible to doze through.

Today I attended a presentation from Arts Council England. If you wish never to sleep again please do read on by all means.

Arts Council Briefing Meeting – 7th June, 2013.

Presented by Peter Phillips – Area Chairman
Laura Dyer – Area Executive Director
Peter Knott – Area Director

The Introduction.
Peter Phillips opened the meeting by saying that things are getting very tough, but that he knows that this is when the tough get going. He noted that Arts Council is now highly efficient, with running costs now accounting for just 3% of their budget. He thanked thank valued colleagues who have been lost in the cuts.

The Problem.
Laura Dyer followed saying that although things are tough “all is still to play for” and that we can still make a difference.
She set out what is expected from the next spending round, which will cover just one year (2015/16). Approximately 2.4% is expected to be cut on average across all Government departments but as there are departments protected from cuts the others, including the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) can expect to be cut by 5.2%. From here it becomes a question of how the Department chooses to spread the pain – as Great Britain and Elite Sport are expected to be protected the Arts Council are preparing for a 10% cut. There is then a suggestion that a further 10% cut could be spread across the next two years. The DCMS asked Arts Council England (ACE) to model 5% – 10% and 15% cuts for (2015/16). ACE responded that in these three scenarios the cumulative budget cuts from 2010/11 would total 35%, 40% and 45% respectively.

The Possible ‘Answers’.

Peter Knott set out ACE’s thinking and models around these scenarios. Although only one year of Government funding (Grant in Aid) will be confirmed they propose open applications for three year revenue funding with the second two years agreed on the proviso that GiA money is confirmed later. Applications can be expected to open in late 2013 and close in March 2014 with results being made known two months later giving organisations ten months to deal with the outcomes. It has been decided to take this approach as, even a cut at the lower end of expectations, spread evenly across the portfolio, would push a huge number of organisations over the edge. Also there is a desire to continue to provide the possibility for new organisations to be added to the funding portfolio.

ACE intends to continue with its three strands of funding National Portfolio Organisations and Strategic Funds and Grants for the Arts (G4A). Planning is complicated by the fact that ACE receives both GiA money (which is being cut) and Lottery Money (which is volatile and could be diverted but is currently not being cut). A principle of ‘additionality’ applies to Lottery money which legally means it cannot be mixed with GiA money but has to be spent on ‘additional’ activities. Under current arrangements touring and young people’s work are deemed additional and as a result lots of NPO agreements include money from both pots with the two pots having to be accounted for separately. ACE is keen to find ways to stay within the law and do away with this complexity (there are also political considerations to any approach which suggests GiA could be cut entirely and replaced by Lottery cash. One suggestion they have is that organisations may in the future be 100% GiA funded or 100% Lottery funded – they asked if people would mind being ‘additional’.

Modelling the various levels of cuts beyond 2015/16 deliver the following results:

A 5% cut would reduce the current 695 National Portfolio Organisations by one third with a reduction in strategic funds and an increase in G4A to try and aid up to 200 fromer NPOs.

A 10% cut would reduce the Number of NPOs by four fifths with possibly 150 helped out by slightly increased G4A money.

A 15% cut would reduce NPOs by more than four fifths with possibly just 200 organisations supported in total.

Questions were then invited from the audience of arts CEOs.

Q: Have ACE told the treasury directly about the hammering the arts are also getting from local councils?

A: Yes, and they were not entirely unsympathetic.

Q: What would be strategic about strategic funds in a landscape so blighted by such cuts, shouldn’t it all go directly into the other funding streams?

Q: The minister for culture emphasises the arts’ need to “contribute to growth”. Has it been pointed out to her the impact these cuts would have on the wider economy?

A: Yes.

Q: Could we not conference digitally to save time, money and environmental impact, especially now our region as expanded so radically.

A: We are working on that and already do it a bit.
Alan Rivet opened his questioning by stating “this is as bad as it gets”.

Dorothy Wilson was pleased to hear that ACE would have no ‘sacred cows’ when it came to looking at where cuts should fall and hoped that this would indeed be the case as politicians have sacred cows. She suggested “this is an emergency” that it effects the whole country but that with philanthropic giving so heavily skewed towards London it damaged is somewhat masked in the centre of power. “Advocacy [for the arts] could never have been more urgent than it is now.”

A: There is a ‘lobbying toolkit’ on the ACE website.

Q: If there are no sacred cows has ACE considered selling off any of the country’s vast capital assets? The country owns a vast number of extremely valuable paintings.

In answer to a question posed by ACE about having two portfolios it was pointed out that a single portfolio would be much easier to fight for than two.

Laura Dyer wound up proceedings by pointing to the ACE website lobbying section. She noted that having started to spend time in Westminster she has been surprised how much the ‘background noise’ of the country does create an impact. She noted that if we are internally divided we are easier to attack. The message has to be that the investment in the arts is small and the impact is huge. “Look at what you stand to lose”. Culture Matters.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Funding

I try not to mention funding on this blog because there is little so dull as artists banging on about funding. Stan’s Cafe are privileged to be valued enough by society for society to invest in us enriching its culture. This delights us. So this said please indulge me a couple of paragraphs about funding because UK Sport has just announced its elite funding program looking forward to the Rio Olympics.

This week, along with every other regularly funded Arts Council England ‘client’, we learned our current agreement is being amended so we receive a 1% cut in funding next year and 2% the year after. Yesterday it was announced that UK Sport increasing its investment in Olympic Sports by 11%. Somehow this morning this isn’t being reported as a dream scenario for them – which it is, instead the focus is on those sports that have missed out on the general bonanza or been cut.

I haven’t got time to do the research but it would be interesting to learn more about where that 11% has come from. Has non-elite sport been hammered? Have they retained the Olympic premium on the National Lottery ticket sales and as it is no longer being used to build venues it can go to athletes? Does it come from Department for Culture, Media and Sport, in which case does Culture and Media take the hit?

Meanwhile, we’re intrigued that someone who does have time on their hands has made a Freedom of Information request to look at our Arts Council application for Tuning Out With Radio Z. What is that about? These are paranoid times.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: THE Arts Council


Innocent abroad: late night return ruled out public transport as option for yesterday’s Brighton day trip so casually decided to visit Farnham Maltings ‘on the way’ – turns out to be far from ‘on the way’. It was worth the trip though, the Maltings team speak a lot of sense and their philosophy for encouraging theatre seems spot on – the building’s impressive too.

The day’s main event, after catching up briefly on Amanda Hadingue’s adventures with Complicite was dinner with the Arts Council.

It was relatively recently that I learned that there actually was a Council at the heart of The Arts Council of England. The departing Chair – Liz Forgan – was keen that, as a break in the midst of two days spent strategising, THE Arts Council should have input from some artists (there are artists amongst the council). The lot fell to theatre to provide the artists and I was one of the four to be asked.

In a small restaurant commandeered for the purpose we spent 30 minutes ‘in conversation’ before joining in the meal. We sitting at a table each for the first two courses and a second table for desert and coffee, it felt that this was we’re the powerful conversations happened as I was quizzed about ACE policies, the theatre landscape, frustrations, experiences, predictions and opinions. It genuinely felt as if I was able to send up messages from ‘the shop floor’ directly to ‘the bosses’ – whilst eating delicious food. All that then remained was a late night drive back to Brum “, not via Farnham