Wendy Martin, Head of Dance at Southbank Centre was recently interviewed about our dance programme and our Unlimited Festival.
Hi Wendy, can you tell me a bit about Southbank Centre’s dance provision?
We want to share our passion for dance by presenting and commissioning the work of artists and companies that excite, inspire and provoke. We also look for work that speaks to the themes of our festivals. Across the year, the programme at Southbank is driven by a series of thematic festivals that provide a framework for investigating the world of contemporary dance from particular perspectives.
How are you engaging new dance audiences at Southbank Centre?
Learning and participation is hugely important to us and there are always opportunities to become engaged with dance more deeply than by simply watching a performance. This is a great way for people to step into the world of dance. For Unlimited – our upcoming festival celebrating the artistic vision and originality of artists with disabilities – people can take part in a workshop led by integrated dance company Stopgap, where disabled and non-disabled people with no dance skills can learn together.
We’re also presenting the return of Groove on Down the Road, ZooNation’s hip-hop dance show inspired by The Wizard of Oz. The performers are from ZooNation’s youth company, all aged between nine and 19. The show is bringing in family audiences, many of whom are seeing a dance show for the first time.
What’s your programming process?
The only way you can really understand the landscape of what’s happening in contemporary dance is by seeing a lot of work. To make a festival like Unlimited, I endeavour to see as much work as possible created by disabled artists and I also get to know the artists so I can understand their particular point of view, their creative goals and career ambitions.
Finding work is the beginning of the process. When I see a show I analyse my own response but I also ask a series of questions about why I would present a work, who would want to see it and what our marketing and PR team might say to sell it. In the end, the decisions you make are always driven by questions of context, budget and marketing.
Dance received almost a 10% funding rise in the recent national portfolio organisation (NPO) round – why do you think Arts Council England (ACE) upped its investment?
There are so many people and organisations in the UK passionately committed to dance – from the brilliant artists creating the work we see to community programmes like Big Dance that bring people together. Dance plays such an important role in our culture and community, and the NPO funding increase is acknowledgement of that fact.
What’s the key then to making sure that investment stays strong in the long-term?
Creating and touring work requires serious financial commitment so the idea of organisations pooling resources is a smart one. The important thing is that the work is seen and that opportunities and audiences continue to grow. Wouldn’t it be great if the corporate world could see the immense value in this and begin to support dance the way it supports sport?
How far do you think disability arts have come since the London 2012 Paralympics?
The Unlimited programme and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympics proved, as Lyn Gardner recently acknowledged on her blog, that disability arts are an integral part of the arts ecology and society itself. ACE, Creative Scotland and the Spirit of 2012 Trust have acknowledged this by committing ongoing funding to enable the Unlimited programme to continue to commission, develop and show ambitious and high-quality work both nationally and internationally.
The disappointing thing is that as these funding agencies recognise the merit and value of disability arts, many artists with disabilities are finding it difficult to get the support they need to make work because of government cuts to the Access to Work scheme. There is a paradox there that needs to be addressed.
What needs to change?
Without the support of the Access to Work scheme, creating work can be a massive challenge for artists with disabilities. Deaf artists who require sign interpreters for communication or artists who need carers to be with them are simply not able to work without support. We are not talking about benefits; they are essential.
As presenters we must also consider the needs of audience members with disabilities. A huge part of our budget and planning for Unlimited is committed to ensure that as many performances as possible are BSL interpreted, captioned and audio described. These are essential provisions. They are costly but venues must commit to making work accessible to everyone.
What do you make of what’s going on at the moment with the Australian arts and culture sector?
It’s devastating to have a government that does not respect and support the role of the arts. The biggest arts cuts in the recent budget were to the Australia Council for the Arts and Screen Australia.
Take cinema: for a small country, Australia has punched well above its weight and our films speak to a broad international audience. But it’s the leadership that makes a difference. Culture thrived in Australia under Edward Whitlam and later Paul Keating. These were enlightened individuals.
This interview was first published on the Guardian website.