Launching 2016 Anywhere Festival – why majors are not good for independents

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand and pay my respects to elders past and present.

Good evening and thank you so very very much for coming along tonight to the launch of the 2016 Anywhere Festival program.

Today’s the day when everyone can all finally get their hands on the festival guide and see what is on over the seventeen days of the Anywhere Festival and we get to look at it and realise there is one little mistake that was missed in all the proof checking. You can also find it distributed inside the April issue of Scenestr, out today.

The festival looks amazing this year. The performances look cool, there are locations you’ll have trouble visiting any other way, the anywhere reviewers and photography scheme will be back and this year we’ll also be holding an Anywhere Awards and this year we’ve even let some theatres in the spirit of inclusiveness.

Anywhere is a festival created around and for independent artists. A festival for independent audiences and a festival for independent local business and this got me thinking about the independent sector, particularly as it always seems to be about this time of the year that someone from a major arts organisation comes out with a few suggestions for the independent sector or holds sessions asking how they can give us a leg up.

I was talking to an Artistic Director from a major Sydney arts org a few weeks ago and they said to me that they thought Anywhere was on the verge of being considered a major company here and I asked how do you create a successful major theatre company? She said “Easy. Create an incredibly successful independent company made up of artists and then spend a lot more on specialist administrative staff.” I said that didn’t sound ideal and she replied “Show me an alternative way to scale up.”

Each time I look at the annual reports for many of the majors I think that Artistic Director might have a point. Being a major should mean that a larger percentage of your budget goes to the artists – not less. Being a major should mean you make a bigger bang for your buck on audiences on the creative sector, on the public debate  – not a diminishing one. Otherwise, what’s the point of being major?

I believe we should have a larger sector of independent artists creating art who also have to take on board some marketing duties, some producing, some planning, a certain amount of the boring non creative stuff because the alternative is this: you have a tiny fraction of the artists being employed doing just their art and everybody but the artists ends up being the only ones permanently employed.

As an example, you end up with a major theatre company employing the equivalent of 76 full time people a year and only 10 of those are artists and pretty much everyone is on a 1-3 year contract except the artists.

I did some calculations back in 2013 that are still pretty similar now. I’d just like to share them because I find them fascinating, and, well, I’ve got the floor.

Let’s say you had a major theatre company that received $4.8m in annual funding, had an annual attendance of 110,000, produced 18 works a year including scripted reading and touring school shows and employed the equivalent of ten full time artists over the course of the year.

If you put that money into the Queensland small to medium independent sector instead, what could you get?

  • Circa ($409,693)
  • Just Us Theatre Ensemble (JUTE) in Cairns ($180,666)
  • Artslink Queensland ($207,766)
  • Flipside Circus ($70,000)
  • La Boite ($713,410)
  • Metro Arts ($287,981)
  • Brisbane Writers Festival ($301,879)
  • KickArts Contemporary Arts ($180,666)
  • Woodford Folk Festival ($135,500)
  • Anywhere Theatre Festival ($70,000)

If you did this you would NOT get 110,000 attendees – you would get over 600,000.

If you did this you would NOT get 13 works – you would get 161 and you wouldn’t get the equivalent of 10.6 full time artists employed – you’d get 145.3 full time artists employed every year.

Oh, And you’d still have enough spare change to provide core funding for four additional La Boîtes or 35 Anywhere Festivals.

So, I’m not saying we shouldn’t haven major arts companies, but I am saying the independent sector is the true leader and the bigger the focus on it, the better the sector, our cultures and our society as a whole.

Stay independent.

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I’d like to thank Mr Mark Ryan for attending and speaking on behalf of the Queensland Premier.

To Arts Queensland for their support in enabling independent artists to present over 2,061 performances of 328 productions over the past few years. A figure Brisbane Festival nearly matched over the same time.;-)

I’d like to thank the Anywhere Theatre Festival board chair Doug Brimblecombe for speaking and for being on this journey since we first formed the board and the festival from a little nubbin of a festival that we could fit on a fold out A3 sheet of paper to the strapping young six year old we have today and to all the current board members, Helen Astbury, Jeremy Wicht, Travis Clarke, Vera Ding, Howard Duggan.

I’d like to thank Heidi Manche from Room To Play Independent Theatre for providing this incredible space and I’d like to thank all the local small businesses that this year will be providing $623,000 of support by hosting events and providing their spaces free of charge along with staff and marketing support so that independent producers can produce work without being haemorrhaged by theatre venue costs.

I’d like to thank this year’s Producers in Training: Lisa Wheildon, Lauren Harvey, Katie-May Hollett, Chantel Keegan, Celene Pretorius, Kiera Quinn, Alicia Jane Steele, Alexandra Stringer and Teagan Williams.

Last but not least I’d like to thank Ally McTavish, who began this mad journey with me when our first child was three and our second child was one and someone thought that would be the best time for us to start running a festival of theatre that doesn’t use theatre just to be difficult. Thank you for being there by my side through it all…

This is the best festival in the world and it’s because of everyone in this room being independent. Thank you, have a fantastic festival and here are the 2016 Anywhere Festival Guides!

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