As well as producing excellent ballets, Northern Ballet is a great example of how arts organisations can engage with audiences and develop their fundraising. The BBC2 documentary Arts Troubleshooter demonstrated the tough future that Northern Ballet (along with other arts organisations) faces, but also that it is rising to the challenge of funding cuts. The company had planned to reduce the number of dancers from 40 to 30 following a 15% Arts Council cut which left it with a £500,000 shortfall. However it has now announced that it has taken on two more dancers, meaning that the company now consists of 42 dancers, thanks to the Sponsor a Dancer campaign which has attracted both individual and corporate giving.
In May, Northern Ballet’s open day gave the public the opportunity to try dance, observe classes and performances, and attend interesting talks. While the event was under-publicised it was a fascinating insight into the company. Northern Ballet are consistently introducing new and interesting ways to engage with audiences. Over the summer Northern Ballet are opening their rehearsals for Ondine for public viewing, which will surely attract audiences to a ballet that is perhaps less commercial than some. As well as offering opportunities for people to learn about the company and attracting new audiences for its performances, by engaging the public it’s securing its position within the community. If people are interested in Northern Ballet and are familiar with its building and company they are far more likely to donate to ensure its survival.
The government has suggested that philanthropy should make up the deficit left by funding cuts. Northern Ballet’s funding success has demonstrated not only its tenacity in developing its fundraising programme but also the value that the public put on this company. Yet Mark Skipper, chief executive of Northern Ballet, points out that as more and more arts organisations compete for people’s money, relying on fundraising is a risky long-term strategy. Arts and Business, a body aiming to stimulate private investment, suggests that investment by business in the arts is at its lowest level in seven years. Northern Ballet strives to produce quality productions and tour them to provide access to as wide an audience as possible, even when this is not commercially viable. This can only benefit the nation, and philanthropy should complement government subsidy rather than replace it if this is to continue.