An artist's plea: continue all arts funding now and in the future / by Dana Segal


Update! They've redirected the original article. No longer a cultural piece. Now living here:

This blog post is in response to the Telegraph article published today by Douglas McPherson

I've been toying with how to unpick this article for the last few hours. Because I feel properly sick reading it.

I am going to attempt to unpick things that have pissed me off, and I will do my best to explain why; fighting the overwhelming feelings of rage flowing through me LIKE SOME MYTH-BUSTING MACHINE:

myth #1: "In twenty years I can't think of one publicly funded show that was any good..."

In my 8 years of theatre-going I can think of lots of publicly funded shows that were good. I can think of lots of shows that were shit, I can think of lots of shows that were incredible, I can think of lots of shows that properly changed my life, helped me discover and shape my identity, make me howl with laughter, made me cry, made me connect with other people and the world around me.

This list is not even close to being exhaustive but here is a list of some publicly funded shows that have changed my life over the years:


1) Punchdrunk's FAUST (2006): This is the first show that gave me an experience of theatre 'not in a theatre'. This show was the catalyst for my obsession with the art form. This is the show that made me go 'this is what I want to do with my life'.

2) Frantic Assembly's Pool No Water (2007): This is the first show that made me understand, challenge and question 'art' and the concept and inception of it. It was the first show where I realised the power of collaboration between art forms, with the stunning movement paired with the haunting soundtrack by Imogen Heap. This is the show that I then saw  'influencing' (well, replicated, mirrored, copied) in both mine and everyone else's GCSE and A Level performances that year. I'm highlighting that because it's important to show just how much accessing this kind of work begins to shape the creative development process of making theatre work, and helps artists like myself at the very beginning of our journey. 

3) David Glass Ensemble's Gormenghast (2007): This is the first show that after seeing, I attempted to direct myself. It was a school hall, a cast of friends and an amazing Co-Director in Tom Bostock, now member of acclaimed and fucking fabulous emerging theatre company Gruff Theatre. The experience of doing that helped Tom & I realise what we wanted to do, how we wanted to develop as artists, what our unique voice in this world was. It was the show that make me realise I am actually a shit theatre director but a great theatre producer. This was a very good process to go through. 

4) Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia (2008): This is the first show that made me realise it is totally fine to me to discuss my mental illness. And howl with laughter. And cry, a lot. 

5) Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children (2009): Having grown up in Israel, this was the first show that spoke to me in a way like no other before. Painfully accurate, terrifyingly true, yet written by a woman who had never experienced what I had. Unbelievable. My first understanding of the personal/political dynamic in theatre work. It's also the first play that made me end up having a full blown argument in the middle of a lecture with another student. In that sense, it certainly is a theatre experience that helped me find my voice. My loud, brash, unashamed voice. 

6) Periplum's Arquiem (2010): This show made me realise that incredible UK theatre translates all over the world - I actually saw this being performed on the streets of Poznan. It's also the show that helped me build my confidence to perform - I ended up volunteering to perform with them at the British Museum - another amazing example of subsidised collaboration and another important step in me finding my feet as an artist. 

7) Il Pixel Rosso's The Great Spavaldos (2012): This show made me discover lots of things. Circus. Using insane technology in a show. That I look decent in a mustache. But most importantly it made me discover the Roundhouse - going to the show made me discover the Paul Hamlyn Roundhouse Studios, which  led me to my first 'proper' job in the arts... and the rest is history really.

8)  Theatre Ad Infinitum's The Ballad of The Burning Star (2014): I wrote a blog about this piece but in essence this show fixed my soul and gave me a once in a lifetime transformative interaction. The end. 


Every day commercial stuff creates amazing things with help. That help is called money. And rather than grant funding, it's investment. And it's not primarily invested because people like the artistic idea, it's invested because people think it will turn into more money, not necessarily into great art.

The everyday commercial world has, of late, been looking to the subsidised world for help for its next awesome show. Again, this list is not exhaustive, but here are shows I have seen, now in commercial settings, that were originally created through subsidy:

1) Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem  
2) Nick Payne's Constellations
3) War Horse
4) Let The Right One In
5) The Nether
6) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
7) The Play That Goes Wrong
8) 1927's Golem

These shows are extending their runs and winning awards and transferring to other countries and everything dude. Compare that to straight & recent West End hits such as I Can't Sing? (flop) Viva Forever? (flop) and yeah I think I'm done with this point now. 

Myth #3: "No artist or impresario was ever put off their vocation by the lack of a guaranteed wage"

That's because they didn't get the chance to be a paid artist yet. They gave up well before that - its a perception amongst people my age that an attempted career in the arts equates to a job to either no money or all of the money (see every celeb ever). We have to marry artistic value with economic value because at the moment, the shit commercial stuff is paying artists fairly but the great subsidised stuff is not. It's not a case of being 'put off' being an artist, it's a case of literally being able to do it or not. Case in point: my FATLiP collaborator Toby De Angeli wouldn't be able to afford to get the train to get to the venue to perform in our next show if it wasn't for our Kickstarter campaign. 

Myth #4: "You don’t need a grant to write a West End smash. You just need talent, dedication and something worth saying."

Ok so I'm not totally busting this myth, but attempting to re-frame the thinking around this. 

No,you don't need a grant, but you need artist development - you need Camden People's Theatre, Little Angel Theatre, LIDAThe Yard and so many more that I can't list here and loads of amazing regional ones as well that sadly I have no experience of being a crappy Londoner. 

Spaces, organisations, people and venues that develop artists are the hardest to economically justify and practically impossible to make commercially viable, because the value they create isn't measurable in the time frame they work in.  They set artists off - they give them the space (and I'm not always talking about physical here) to try and test and grow and only over time do we see the value of that initial funding. 

It's perfectly demonstrated in the NOW '15 Festival currently on at The Yard. Each week an emerging company is paired with an established artist, and if I'm honest it's always really obvious which is which. But that's not a bad thing. Why is it obvious? Because they've had the time, support, feedback & experience to develop their voice, whereas us new folk are still a little lost in it, but getting better day-by-day thanks to the support from our mentors and The Yard. I've been the immediate product of artist development over the last two years and it has done so much more to enrich my life then I could ever attempt to explain in this blog. That's why I so passionately fight for their right to be subsidised.

No one should be expected to be phenomenal on their first go and if that's genuinely the expectation of the critics of this world then I don't think that's fair. There are so many amazing critics out there; Andrew HaydonMaddy C & Jake OCatherine LoveMegan Vaughan to name a few, who are not only so sensitive to the development of work but also so genuinely interested in the subject matter and engage with it in interesting and challenging ways beyond the live performance - that's what makes them incredible critics and great human beings. These are critics who make me work harder because they are people I want to engage with. You, Douglas McPherson, are not one of those people right now. (You could be though and I have faith in you).

MYth #4: "Not all art can be commercially viable, but the best will be - and the best is all we, the public, need. "

See above. 

To extend the thinking, what about what the public want? Maybe we want to see stuff that isn't 'the best' because it helps us form and develop our tastes, as well as better appreciate those things that are. 

If we're going to go all consumerist and commercial here, customers don't just want quality, but variety - and that, is something that subsidised theatre can offer, in a way that doesn't cost me £50 a ticket and the profits of which end up going to some business man instead of, err i don't know, re-invested into developing other artists...


There are so me decent points made in the article don't get me wrong - grants SHOULD be more accessible to people, and I do think the gatekeepers are interested in their own security rather than taking genuine risks, and I don't think ACE fund enough arts for arts sake (see this article about all of that) but seriously, so much of this is article not going about it the right way to change that. 




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