A few weeks ago, Twitter notified me that someone from my high school was now following the @clouddancefest Twitter account. Curious to see what the @clouddancefest timeline actually looked like, I scrolled through it, to see that it was mostly full of tweets to Article19.
Online for nearly 15 years, for many people in the dance industry today, Article19 has always been there, either as a go-to place for auditions and workshops, the site's other features, including a rich video library, or the commentary on any number of issues affecting this industry we live in.
And after nearly 15 years, Article19 is now crowdfunding to help support the tiny team which makes this all happen. Only a few weeks after the Ballet News website launched its own crowdfund for a modest (and unquantifiable) £500,000, Article19 is asking for a far more reasonable £3000, with just over £2000 still to raise. The campaign can be viewed here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/article19/article19
It may be hard to justify funding a service which has always been free and will likely persevere anyway should this crowdfund not reach its target, but like it or loathe it, Article19 is an important part of our industry and needs that support.
And that marmite factor is the crux of the issue. Adored and despised across the dance industry, Article19 persists in asking those awkward questions, raises delicate situations and continually challenges the establishment. In our troubled and flawed industry, Article19 (because we never refer to the people involved) dares to speak out on our behalf, regardless of the personal consequences.
For example, how could dancers consider publicly challenging cornerstones such as The Place, Rambert or Sadler's Wells without the potential ramifications it might have on their careers? In a time when partnerships are everything - people learning the importance of collaborations to help create work, rather than simply ticking funding application checkboxes - many of us don't have that freedom to voice our thoughts. And for those of us who do want to speak out but lack the platform for doing so, Article19 has the social media reach - nearly 7000 people between Twitter and Facebook - to be listened to.
It's not all about criticising The Space, live-trolling conferences, other adhoc trolling, flagging people's mistakes and occasional pot shots at The Place, Sadler's, Rambert BalletBoyz and the Arts Council: Article19 takes the time to investigate and report on vital issues such as the low dancers' wages paid by ENO and Royal Opera, Equity's limited support for non-commercial dancers (which is hopefully now set to change with Nicholas Keegan as our Equity dance rep), and the story behind the National Youth Dance Company, as the most obvious examples.
Balancing this, a recent set of features have analysed audition notices from the past nine years to provide us with hard data on how gender preferences have changed over the years, with quotes from artistic directors and dance makers alike. Most features - whether on fair wages for dancers, questionable organisations or funding issues, propose logical solutions which would make this industry a healthier and more robust place. A previous initiative, TheCore, sought to map dance venues, studios and companies across the country - a very ambitious project indeed.
I'm sure every industry has its own uncomfortable truths, but not everyone has TheImp's big ears listening out for us and waiting to pounce. Being tackled by TheImp is never a pleasant thing, but our industry would be far far worse off without Article19's flagging of issues and speaking on our behalf. And making us giggle.
But that's not all that Article19 does. The video archive is an essential resource, especially when filming and video editing is still somewhat underdeveloped within the dance industry; Article19 has travelled extensively, across this country and Europe to produce videos and interviews of emerging and midscale companies as well as student and larger companies.
During our last festival in November 2013, Article19 travelled almost the length of the country for four interviews: myself; John Ross, whose NACA showcase is two and a half weeks away; Rambert School graduate Francesco Conquista and student Simone Donati (now graduated), and Mbulelo Ndabeni, who has recently left Rambert to forge a new career as an independent dance artist.
This was done at no cost to Cloud Dance Festival; Article19's willingness to do this without passing on the cost to the companies featured makes this an essential service in our cash-strapped world.
While the dance world continues to explore what digital means and how it applies to our work, Article19 is a much-needed expert on video techniques, tips and what not to do (a recent tweet: "so we’ve moved from 90 second promos that make no sense to 15 second promos with no sound that don’t make sense… got it!"): if you rummage through the archives, you'll find a series of practical tutorials on how to film and edit.
This makes Article19 sound like quite the paragon, doesn't it? But that's not the point. If you read through the site comments, and speak to a broad spectrum of people from students to senior staff, you'll find plenty of people who loathe Article19's methods. At the upper end of the scale, people can perhaps afford to view Article19 as the whine of a digital mosquito, much as they do criticism from other sources. Nevertheless, in our small incestuous industry, Article19 is our independent spokesperson who maintains a level of objectivity that many of us lack for whatever reasons.
What the point is, I guess, is that the research, investigation and other work which goes into providing us with Article19 IS work, and a lot of work - and just like the rest of us in this industry, none of us deserve to work for free. So please consider what Article19 means to you and pledge even a small amount, to keep the tweets, website and video channels alive. And also because TheImp is running dangerously low on marshmallows.
The Article19 crowdfunding campaign is here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/article19/article19