HIJINX THEATRE: REVENUE FUNDING 199912000
I write following publication of the Arts Council of Wales draft strategy document and a more recent meeting with Mike Baker and Anna Holmes.
I would like to express the Company and Board's;
disgust at the lack of consultation surrounding the decision and the inadequate support provided by officers of the Council
dismay at the timing of the publication of this document, which despite the Company's best endeavours has caused complications to individuals and groups we work with, and will have financial consequences
amazement that despite the admirable sentiments expressed in the strategy objectives, the cut to Hijinx will damage support to communities, community venues and adults with learning difficulties.
This letter outlines the Board's response to the consultation strategy document and our intention to continue Hijinx' good work, further to the application for revenue funding for 1999/2000 submitted in December 1998.
RESPONSE TO DRAFT STRATEGY DOCUMENT
The draft strategy document received by the Board on 21 January 1999 contains many negative implications for adults with learning disabilities and community venues in Wales.
2 SPECIFIC RESPONSES
We would like to amplify reference three of those points below.
2.1 LEARNING DISABILITY
The draft strategy makes no revenue provision at all for the needs of adults with learning disability, which seems to fly in the face of current government thinking. There is no way that project funding or Lottery funded schemes can provide the level of professional support and expertise required to meet the needs of these audiences. It ignores the fact that producing work in this area is both resource and expertise intensive. With 18 years' experience and core-funded staff Hijinx are ideally placed to service this community, and have in Mike's own words acted as the ACW "brand leader" and "flagship company" in disability arts throughout the 80's and 90's. From our side, the decision to actually axe revenue-funded provision for adults with learning disabilities seems to imply discrimination against this sector. December 1998 ACW "ArtsFile" confirmed that under the Disability Discrimination Act it is illegal to provide a worse standard of service to disabled people.
2.2 COMMUNITY TOURING
Your decision to axe Hijinx Theatre flies in the face of your stated aspiration "To encourage quality, home productions for smaller audience communities: e.g. local community touring". It also contradicts the aim on the ACW website to provide "A access for all ages, cultures add communities.. within a reasonable distance of their home." Do you honestly expect Clwyd Theatr Cymru to mount the same type of community tour as Hijinx?
We tour to over 40 Welsh community venues, as well as taking the product to up to 20 English venues. In all we have visited 112 Welsh venues, and many of these are now in receipt of Lottery Awards to receive theatre precisely like Hijinx. We are one of the few professional companies to visit Canolfan Rhys and Willows High School. According to a 1996 Cardiff Arts Marketing survey 51.8% of our audience travels less than 3 miles to see theatre.
We would have hoped by now that the Arts Council would understand how complicated a job it is booking a 40 date tour. It is not just a question of ringing round a few venues - it involves building and nurturing ongoing relationships with venues, many of whom are working under extreme pressure themselves and experiencing constantly shifting funding patterns. Expertise is also required to take the right product to the right venue, and it seems absurd and ineffective to expect project-funded companies to go through this steep learning curve with each tour.
Strategically speaking, the booking of an autumn tour needs to begin eleven or twelve months before the tour opens. This is hard enough to achieve within a revenue funded company. How will project-funded companies be able to professionally manage the complexity of this scale of touring working within the confines of project funding.
It is symptomatic of the ACW's inability to "pigeon hole" Hijinx that no mention of our work was contained in the section on New Writing. To remind you, we have commissioned 11 new plays over the past 9 years from writers as diverse as Charles Way, Phillip Michell, Laurence Allan, Firenze Guidi and Greg Cullen. The opportunity for our experienced writers to see their work performed in the "real world" - outside the middle scale "arts" venue" and experienced by people who do not necessarily see theatre every week has been a valuable growth opportunity, which is why we have been able to attract such a high quality of writing.
3 LACK OF CONSULTATION
We are concerned at the impersonal way that the strategy review, containing as it does potentially serious implications for Hijinx and theatre audiences throughout Wales, was communicated to the Company.
To receive a copy on January 21, (addressed "Dear Colleague") presumably at the same time as "The Western Mail", and without even a phone call or letter in advance was extremely hurtful. But putting emotion to one side, the lack of prior notification (we understand that the decision to cut Hijinx has discussed at the December Drama Panel meeting) has caused the Board to engage ignorantly in actions that could both cause financial loss and embarrassment to the Company and individuals connected to it.
Council Officers were made aware (in the nature of "Any Other Business" at the end of a Performance Appraisal meeting) on 5 November 1998 that Hijinx were planning two recruitment exercises in December. We subsequently recruited in December two new members of staff, one who started with the company three days after the publication of the draft strategy.
We have additionally; agreed to sanction an increased financial deficit (caused by five years of standstill grants) at the January 20 Board of Management meeting; taken out a bank overdraft; accepted in writing an £89,000 Arts Lottery grant for Wales' only integrated theatre ensemble; commissioned Greg Cullen to write the autumn 1999 Community Tour "Paul Robeson Knew My Father"; cast Greg as director of the autumn 1999 show as opposed to offering the direction to our Artistic Director Gaynor Lougher; confirmed plans for the Spring 1999 performance montage
Further than this it has been public knowledge since November that Hijinx has received an invitation to become the only Welsh theatre company to become resident in the Wales Millennium Centre. We have participated in a most positive series of meetings with the Millennium Centre and its architects, partners and clients over the past two months.
The news of the threat to Hijinx has come as a shock to Sir Alan Cox. He has expressed his outrage to us not just at the fact that the Arts Council does not share the Millennium Centre's vision of the importance of Hijinx Theatre to the cultural life of Wales, but that public confidence in the Millennium Centre project should be undermined in this way by the Arts Council's sudden announcement.
How will history judge the Arts Council of Wales' contribution to the Millennium Centre's highly profiled public consultation? How could Sir Alan have been denied any indication whatsoever that there might be a problem with Hijinx's residency at the Millennium Centre until he found out in the press?
Anna Holmes' only comment at our meeting on 26 January was that "as we had not asked for her opinion on the recruitment, she did not give it". This comment begs a number of questions. It certainly does not help us resolve our potential problem.
Mike's slightly more helpful contribution was that we had been advised in November along with all drama clients that only six month funding might be available. Firstly, we had pre-empted this process by expressing our concerns to Michael Trickey initially on 18 September and again on 15 October about the timescale of the review, and seeking clarification on its process.
Secondly, we had already been discussing the Lottery project, performance montage and autumn show for some months, all of which had been minuted at Board Meetings and some of which Anna had directly observed at Board meetings .Thirdly, did you honestly believe that a professional theatre company can plan a major tour of Wales with such absurdly short advance notification of grant?
In short, we feel that we have been poorly advised, and that this has distinctly disadvantaged the Company, compounding the potential problems of receiving just six months subsidy this year.
4 TIMING OF STRATEGY CONSULTATION AND APPEALS PROCEDURE
Most disturbing in terms of process is the fact that Drama Panel and Art Form Development Committee are being asked to allocate moneys for 1999/2000 firstly while the strategy remains in a draft form, and secondly at the same time as a rather poorly conceived Appeals Procedure is implemented. What has clearly happened is that the strategy has, perhaps through no fault of the Arts Council, fallen behind schedule, and the Council is now having to railroad through decisions on hard finance for 1999/2000 at the same time as it seeks public and Welsh Office approval for the strategy.
There is no way whatsoever that Art Form Development Committee on 5 February or Council on 12 February can act without prejudicing the outcome of any future appeal. These bodies can either agree to cut Hijinx's allocation in line with the draft strategy, which will ultimately mean that the company will have to cancel its autumn tour and go out of business without the due process of an Appeal, or overturn the recommendation of the draft strategy, effectively discrediting it.
We respect the expertise and professionalism of the members of Committee and Council Members, and appreciate that they are in an invidious position. It would only be fair to them for the Arts Council of Wales to accept that the slippage in the strategy timescale has rendered its recommendations meaningless and its process potentially open to negative scrutiny, and to postpone any decisions that could later be called into question.
Whilst the Arts Council of Wales' document has been heavily trailed in the media, it remains a draft consultation paper. As it poses a real threat to Hijinx's existing audiences, as we have not received the courtesy of any consultation over the issue since initial general discussions in the autumn of 1998 nor received the slightest advance warning of its potential negative impact on our work, the Board of Hijinx Theatre reject the strategy in its current format, and insist that further consultation take place to safeguard the Company's short and mid term plans.
In the interests of the recipients of our work, of the artists, communities and individuals we work with, and of our employees we are determined that Hijinx will retain its revenue funded status into the new Millennium. We are also determined that Hijinx will take the place it has been offered as the only Welsh theatre company resident in the new Millennium Centre in the year 2001.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to change the recommendation to only honour six months of revenue funding to Hijinx Theatre, and will pursue every avenue necessary to ensure the protection of Hijinx's
| Hijinx Theatre
|Friday, January 29, 1999|