Northern Ballet’s Funding Success

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.

Kids Week, and A Night Less Ordinary

Having spent the best part of an hour this morning attempting to navigate the very busy Kids Week booking system, as well as my equally busy diary, I am now looking forward to seeing Les Mis and Singin’ in the Rain with my younger sister this summer. Kids Week (which offers free theatre tickets to children accompanied by adults paying full price, as well as events and activities) is a great example of the continuing interest in engaging a new generation in theatre.

Although some of my friends attend the theatre sporadically, and one of my best friends is as addicted to theatre as I am, there are also lots of young people who don’t consider theatre as something that could be relevant to them. Many are intimidated by the prospect of attending the theatre, which is something I can relate to; even as an avid theatre-goer I was somewhat intimidated by the Royal Opera House’s grand décor and smart-looking clientele when I visited aged 18 to see Romeo and Juliet. But once inside the production was amazing, and if people dared to venture inside a theatre a new world would be opened up to them (also, most theatres are not as posh as the Royal Opera House!). The National Theatre has an inviting atmosphere and is home to a café, bars, and there is always an exhibition or musical performance to enjoy (although it is a bit of a maze). As the National Theatre turns Inside Out this summer its outside festival programme is bringing free and accessible entertainment to the South Bank. The outside venue creates an informal atmosphere and is sure to attract passersby.

As ticket prices continue to rise cost is also a barrier preventing many young (and older) people from attending the theatre. Yet many theatres have schemes offering cheap tickets for under-25s. The National Theatre’s Entry Pass scheme offers £5 tickets for all of its productions and often these are excellent seats. Although I think that this is the most generous scheme, especially considering the number of productions staged each season, there are many other theatres offering cheaper seats to young people, including The Old Vic, The Barbican and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. C145 is a brilliant scheme which not only offers under-18s the chance to see productions for £5 but in doing so also encourages them to attend a wider variety of performances than they might otherwise have done.

As well as these schemes there are also opportunities for everyone to have affordable access to quality productions. The Globe’s standing tickets are only £5, while the National Theatre’s Travelex season offers £12 tickets for many performances. Many West End theatres also sell day tickets which can be an affordable option for those with the time to queue.

A Night Less Ordinary (the Arts Council’s 2009-2011 pilot scheme to encourage theatre attendance among the under-26s by offering free tickets) demonstrates the importance of attracting a younger audience. The evaluation report found that while the majority of tickets were given to young people who said that they would probably not have visited the theatre had it not been for ANLO 92% of participants enjoyed the experience and 88% said they would pay to go again and would recommend theatre to friends and family; this clearly demonstrates the potential audience that young people offer.

Furthermore, participating venues believe that taking part has helped them to engage with young audiences and 41% of venues said the scheme had brought them commercial benefits through tickets sold to those accompanying free ticket holders and extra merchandise sales. The report suggests that ANLO is also partly responsible for the continuing development of the many membership and discount schemes for young people. The high success rate of ANLO demonstrates the importance of these discount schemes in developing and retaining an audience for the future.