At Culturapedia we believe in empowering people to make artistic decisions – artistic decisions about professional art with professional artists. We deliver Spot On Lancashire which curates a menu twice a year for local venue volunteers and librarians across Lancashire to choose from. We have also been working with community groups in Darwen and Burnley to programme and champion professional performing arts in their local theatre venue. This is a model that works. We facilitate and manage the process, we do a lot of sifting and leg work, knowing what is practical, affordable and suitable. We don’t play it safe – we challenge our promoters to step out of their comfort zones. We don’t programme things that could easily happen without our support.
This year we are taking this process one step further with a project called ‘commissioning for Lancashire. By Summer 2020, Lancashire people will have commissioned two new digital arts pieces, two outdoor theatre shows and one show specifically for touring to libraries.
The first digital arts commission is almost finished and due to launch this Autumn. We have worked with a team of eight library apprentices across the county to make this happen. We wanted something that could tour and be shown to Spot On Audiences and in libraries in October and November and then be available to all on the Spot On website. We started by workshopping what we meant by digital art. We looked at projects from elsewhere and came up with our own definition : Including but not limited to: New film, archive footage, light design, audio, new digital technologies, 3D printing, animation, multimedia, social media.
We decided that the brief should be broad with an open theme of ‘Lancashire’. A brief was publicised and after a rigorous group shortlisting process we agreed on five artists to invite to pitch their ideas. From this Matt Wilkinson with his project ‘hit the north’ was selected. It was interesting that the strongest applicants tended to be local as they understood ‘Lancashire’ as a theme resulting in less superficial proposals. The group were not afraid of artistic challenge and balanced this really well with practical considerations such as the size of the venues, and the length of time that audiences will have to give to the piece. They recognised that this was going to be a piece for audiences new to digital art but that this was not an excuse for ‘playing it safe’ Inevitably there was compromise and debate amongst the commissioning team but consensus was reached to go with Matt – a decision that we are all pleased with.
The second commission to go live is for a piece of tourable outdoor theatre. We recognise that there is a shortage of good quality, small scale affordable outdoor arts that smaller programmers can use to add value to small events rather than big glitzy festivals. The commissioning group in this instance are drawn from the Friends of Fairhaven Lake in Lytham where the new piece will premier before touring to other Lancashire venues and beyond in the Summer of 2020. The group have now shortlisted five companies to come and pitch their ideas based on the theme of ‘environment’ . There have been challenges – we had applications from companies seeing this commission fee as potential match funding for a much bigger project. It is easy to get seduced by the big and glitzy but we are not in the market of commissioning something that will cost £2000 per outing. We need something that can tour small. The final company has not yet been selected. We can’t wait to see who gets the gig.
Three more commissions are on the way. Another outdoor piece working with people in Burnley will be advertised soon with the theme of ‘adventure’. We are also working with a group of women in Great Harwood to develop a new piece of theatre that can tour to libraries. Libraries offer challenges and opportunities for theatre makers. Shows don’t have to start at 7.30pm with an interval – they can be non-linear and last all day. Once ‘Hit the North’ has been launched we will start thinking about a second digital commission to premier next Autumn.
Working with community commissioners has its challenges for both us and facilitators and for the companies that are chosen to fulfil the commission. The process takes a bit longer as we all need to get up to speed on what is possible and practical. Centrally, we can handle all the logistics, administration and contracting. Our community commissioners can focus on getting the right artists. Once the pieces are finished they become ambassadors, they make sure that their friends and neighbours have access and can enhance the local experience through knowledge of the work, the artists and how it was made.
Details of all our community commissioned pieces are available , once they become live, on the Spot on Lancashire website. Here you can also find out where you can see Hit the North this Autumn in Lancashire.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON APPL:
APPL is a partnership of arts organisations from Pennine Lancashire. This is the first of a series of blogs designed to share ideas and highlight some of the world class practice coming out of the area. Pennine Lancashire includes Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rosendale.