Who do I write this to? I'd originally planned to write this as an "Ode To ACE", but I actually really care for the people I know who work for ACE, and I can't see how they're involved in today's decision-making. Instead, there are some other people who I don't know, and so this is aimed at them.
After all these years, it was so brilliant beyond words that Ballet Black finally became an NPO. Ditto for Rosie Kay, and Tom Dale. But then the hand tooketh away. MDI, Dance Manchester and Greenwich Dance - the dance development agencies for Liverpool, Manchester and South East London respectively - lost all their Arts Council funding and things stopped making sense.
Let's think about dance agencies. They're dance development agencies. They're responsible for dance provision at all levels, from youth to adult to elderly to health-based, from professional to the stage and beyond. I've spent most of the past week at Sadler's Wells for their Elixir Festival to study how older people respond to dance, and you know what? They respond really bloody well. The health benefits are the dream of any GP practice. It's that old arts investment argument again: you give us some money, you receive a small fortune in return. Anyway. Preaching, converted and all that.
So today, the Arts Council went back on all this wisdom to cut the funding of three of the UK's regional dance agencies: Greenwich Dance, Dance Manchester and MDI (Liverpool). In their funding decisions, they chose to shut down all investment in dance in three key areas of the UK.
But it's not just a dance thing. I'm not privy to ACE's rationale, and I don't know why they make the decisions they do, but there seems to be a really alarming theme in that artist support is bad. Apparently that was the reason behind the brutal cuts to Dance Manchester and MDI three years ago: "great stuff, but don't do the artist support stuff", which saw them receive cuts of 49.3% and 33.5% respectively, which cut out the artist support stuff, but unfortunately now, they've now lost the rest of their funding, and I don't know why.
Bearing that in mind, what on earth happened with Greenwich?! At least when ACE started pruning the North West, they had at least had the decency to leave a few sprigs (50+% funding) behind, but oh no: Greenwich Dance stated that their new focus had been to support artists and that had apparently left ACE with no choice but to cut their entire funding after nearly 25 years. Is artist support such a bad thing? Really? How? WHY?
Apparently it is. I may not know many organisations outside of dance, but several other North West organisations have been cut, notably ones which invested heavily in artists from emerging levels upwards. I don't have permission yet to name them, so all I can say is that one is very close to me, while another is very close to another organisation close to my heart. Both organisations have prioritised artist support, and so it's really hard not to see a recurring theme here, regardless of who they are.
This is absolutely bloody ridiculous. We're sitting here and letting this happen. How are we not making the argument for artist support? Even organisations which are kind of rubbish at artist support still know that in order to deliver their youth, community and health work, they need to invest in their dance artists. If they don't do that, they don't have dance artists, which means they can't do the work which raises money for them, and which they receive funding for. Professional artists may need class and creative opportunities, and yes those cost money, but they improve the standard of your professional artists, which improves the standard of the outreach work you offer.
If you still offered it. Ah.
People often ask me who I'm working with, and it sometimes seems strange to say that I choose to restrict how much artist-based work I do, because I'd rather focus on projects which benefit wider numbers of artists, and yet in one fell swoop, Arts Council has today invalidated that. How can I focus on artist support when the infrastructure is not there? And more importantly, how does this impact on artists in Manchester, Liverpool and South East London, who are absolutely relying on that work in order to sustain their careers - and how can Arts Council explain this to them? "We're sorry, we decided you were surplus to requirements"?
Today has seen an enormous outpouring of anger, rage and grief for MDI, Dance Manchester and Greenwich Dance, especially for the latter, because it was so unprecedented. Each of these are organisations which offered artists their first commissions, their first performance opportunities, endless support and appreciation, and for what? A hideously overpriced and unwanted theatre in Manchester which won't benefit anyone at all?
It's not enough. It's not enough for Arts Council to simply cut these organisations without proper explanation or strategy, and in fact, it's not acceptable for them to be cut at all. This would have been an opportune time to readdress and reexamine how artists should actually be supported and funded, and this is absolutely the wrong decision. Cutting these organisations will mean an end to dance provision in these areas, which will of course mean an end to any dance work - and what that entails for artists - as well as the knock-on effects for the people who really love their dance activities.
I think this is part of a much larger topic, and one which makes me even angrier, so I'll finish with an anecdote of chatting with Jennie Hale of MDI at the weekend at Sadler's Wells, London. We discussed their dementia outreach work, which they've been doing for many years - I remember Jennie discussing it with me nearly four years ago when I came to Liverpool to interview her and the rest of Taciturn - and their Parkinson's work. She mentioned that the Alzheimer's Society's funding had been cut so that the former couldn't continue, and then she explained how the Parkinson's programme works and how it's term-based and the participants don't understand that it's between terms, which is why the programme has stopped for now, and therefore so have their sessions.
I urged her to explain the same for the dementia patients. It's on hold for now, but it'll be back soon. Some people made several really bad decisions, and we need to see what we can do to help reverse them. Whatever the reasons for ACE cutting Dance Manchester and MDI, all their valuable work will be lost, as will be that of Greenwich Dance, and if we let those cuts lie, how long before the rest of our industry is decimated?
And also, for the sake of the organisations I can't name: artist support is really bloody important. How can a-n be funded but other artist networks cannot? Does ACE not actually understand the value and impact of network membership? But surely they must, if they're funding One Dance UK and of course a-n.
Please fight. Please don't take this lying down. We've all seen the tweets and Facebook posts. Please be that person who actually does something about it, rather than just scrolls past. Please don't think it doesn't matter if you don't engage. We have no industry without you, and others like you.