Live & Local: Arts Professional article

The following article about Live & Local has been published on the Arts Professional website this week (22nd July).

Sarah Fell on how Live & Local has facilitated shows in surprising places for nearly 20 years

Live & Local has facilitated shows in surprising places across the midlands for nearly 20 years. As one of the largest not-for-profit organisations working in rural and community touring, we manage four schemes: ‘Live & Local’ in Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, and ‘Shindig’ in Worcestershire. We now work with more than 200 voluntary groups who choose and promote 300 professional live performances for their local communities and gain new friendships, volunteers and skills in the process.

A professional office team provides practical expertise and helps volunteers choose shows, put the programme together, subsidise performances and assists in attracting an audience. The work is made possible by financial support from Arts Council England (ACE), 27 local authorities and ticket income, but it happens because of the investment of time, enthusiasm and commitment from volunteers in the communities. It’s a genuine partnership of the private, public and voluntary sectors working together.

Like many arts organisations, Live & Local has had a busy 18 months fending off cuts and we are relieved to say that we’ve come away relatively unscathed. We have taken a 6.9% hit from ACE and lost funding from two of our 27 local authorities. On the upside, some authorities have given us more and we are now an ACE National Portfolio Organisation.

We started taking steps over 18 months ago to strengthen our foundations and weather the impending financial storm, including expanding our geographical area, diversifying our work and having a consistent communications plan. The biggest of these has been taking on the management of the Shindig scheme in Worcestershire in January, and now having 25% more communities and 50% more events to programme and manage.

Alongside the touring schemes, we have developed new partnerships and engaged with more project-based work. We ran a pilot Transport Project with Lichfield District Council and we have entered into a partnership with Warwickshire County Arts Service and two district councils to deliver ‘Arts on our Doorstep’. This is a new arts development scheme for rural communities providing advice, support and resources to enable local people to organise and participate in small arts projects. We are also developing a new Rural Cinema network in mid-Warwickshire and expanding our marquee-hire business.

There was also an important shift two years ago to make advocacy a major focus of our work, with appropriate staff time and budgets attached. This has included developing a strategic communications plan to ensure that we are able to demonstrate our achievements to the right people, in the most appropriate way, at the right time. We have developed case studies, in film and hard copy form, and questionnaires to demonstrate the ‘soft outcomes’ of our work, and are able to present this information to key decision-makers when it counts. We keep in close contact with councillors and key decision makers and invite them to attend regular events such as showcases. We also encourage our community groups to invite their local councillors to all their events and shout about their successes and why the scheme is important to them.

We ran the gauntlet of this year’s local authority settlements and are planning to do so again next year. In the meantime rural communities with little or no access to mainstream live arts are continuing to engage with quality live performances on their doorstep. In knitting together the different strands of our network and continuing to develop our artistic programme and professional partnerships, we can only be optimistic about what the future holds.

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