live art strategies

keith gallasch on london’s live art development agency

A LIVE ART DEVELOPMENT AGENCY. I WISH WE HAD ONE OF THESE IN AUSTRALIA FOR CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE. ESPECIALLY NOW THAT THE TIME_PLACE_SPACE LABORATORY HAS BEEN KILLED OFF. ARTS NEW SOUTH WALES HAS GROWN A UNIQUE DANCE-NURTURING RESEARCH LABORATORY, CRITICAL PATH. AUSTRALIAN THEATRE HAS GAINED A FRESHLY ENGINEERED PLAYWRITING AUSTRALIA [POST THE CULLING OF THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL PLAYWRIGHTS CENTRE AND PLAYWORKS]. HOPEFULLY PLAYWRITING AUSTRALIA WILL ADDRESS A RANGE OF PERFORMATIVE WRITING [AS PLAYWORKS SOMETIMES DID] IN LINE WITH WHAT CAN NOW BE ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED IN OUR THEATRES AND ART SPACES.

I’m not yearning for a centralising organisation but a facilitating one which can keep artists and companies in the information, inspiration, skills, ideas and touring loops vital to established and emerging work across Australia’s still intimidating distances. England’s Live Art Development Agency (LADA) directed by Lois Keidan and Daniel Brine is an impressive, idiosyncratic example of what a small organisation can achieve as collaborator, conduit and cultivator. It is now going national and has international ambitions.

flourishing & fragile

On our 2006 UK visit the RealTime editors encountered what appeared to be a flourishing contemporary performance ecology entailing live art and experimental theatre. It is supported by LADA; by the networking of Live Art UK, Guardians of Doubt, and the online New Work Network; festivals (National Review of Live Art, Inbetween Time, The Cat Show, SPILL, Fierce); venues (Greenroom, Arnolfini, Bluecoat, Tramway, Tate Modern, Chapter Arts Centre); bursaries and free advisory service (LADA, Arts Admin); book publishing (LADA with various publishers); archives (Live Art Archives, Bristol University, Tate Modern, LADA); strong academic interest (Centre for Performance Research, University of Aberystwyth; Dartington College of Arts, Devon); regional distribution of funding, and a cluster of ‘star’ performers—Bobby Baker, Kira O’Reilly, Curious, Joshua Sofaer, Franko B, Duckie, Pacitti Company, Shunt, Forced Entertainment and related artists, like photographer Manuel Vason.

As remarkably supportive as this all seemed and, in the best sense, institutionalised, we were left in little doubt that it constituted a fragile ecology—small grants, a limited number of responsive venues, a shortage of creative producers, no magazine focused on contemporary performance and little press coverage, the work mostly project-based and created by a multitude of vulnerable often self-subsidising artists. That fragility has become suddenly and brutally real. Arts Council of England Grants for Artists Funding has been cut by 35%, in order to shore up funds for the 2012 London Olympics.

Key live art funding had come principally from the ACE’s visual arts wing but the Live Arts post was recenty axed, “a loss”, writes Daniel Brine, “with serious repercussions.”

Brine reports that “Arts Council funding cuts have already begun to bite within the sector with a number of projects that you would expect to be funded failing to get support.” He worries that “this may not be the end of Grants for Artist cuts as more Lottery money may be allocated to the Olympics in the future, necessitating more cuts. At the same time the arts sector is very pessimistic about the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, the outcome of which is due to be announced in the autumn…The existing cuts to Grants for Artists and the potential of further cuts are very serious for our sector because we all depend (probably more than other sectors) on project funding. If there is no change to this funding situation then by 2012 and the Olympics our sector will be stretched very thin indeed.”

everything you need

Back in 1997, at another critical moment, the ICA revamped its renowned live art program. Its curator, Lois Keidan, left and put in a successful tender when the Arts Council of England sought bids for an organisation to provide support for live art. The Live Art Development Agency was set up by Keidan and Catherine Ugwu in 1999 and, since 2001, has been run by Keidan and Daniel Brine, with Andrew Mitchelson joining in 2006 as company and resource manager. Freelance project directors join for the lives of projects. LADA is based in the Rochelle School building on Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, East London.

LADA describes itself as offering “a portfolio of resources, professional development schemes, projects and initiatives for the support and development of live art practices, and discourses in London, the UK and internationally.” It commits “to supporting high risk artists, practices and ideas of contemporary culture and particularly the practices of emerging artists, and artists from culturally diverse backgrounds.”

“Everything is strategic at the Live Art Agency”, says Brine, “especially in curatorial projects…We work by consultation, always through partnerships, we seek a lot of input and offer free advice—without economic barriers.”

The Arts Council of England devolved funds to LADA so it could offer seven bursaries per annum of nine thousand pounds each for an activity, not a finished work, for example Brine tells us, Ernst Fischer took a course in butlering developing his new work on servitude. The funds could also be used to work with a senior artist as mentor. Unfortunately, ACE ceased this funding in 2005. There is 10 thousand pounds for artists to set up training courses for other artists—the DIY progam, 15 projects across the UK including one led by Australian Barbara Campbell.

On the premises there’s the much used and very comfortable Study Room extensively stocked with live art performance on VHS and DVDs, large monitor, books and magazines, including RealTime. There are associated Study Room Guides available on The Body in Performance; Performance, Politics, Ethics and Human Rights; Site and Space In Performance [a guide created by Gregg Whelan of Lone Twin that takes the form of a series of short texts written in response to key works in the Study Room]; Performance and Activism; and, forthcoming, Richard Dedomenici’s guide to performance posted on YouTube, and Socially and Politically Engaged Performances written by Robert Pacitti. Some of the guides can be downloaded from LADA’s website.

LADA’s strategies include joint publishing, practitioner meetings around the country, hosting the Live Art UK consortium, and organising the successful China Live tour and book in 2005, partnered by a number of venues. LADA continues to be involved with Bluecoat artspace in the Liverpool Biennale live art program and has collaborated on the De La Waar performance program, Performance Studies International and, in 2003, in the Live Culture program at the Tate Modern.

recruitment

There’s even a recruitment aspect to the organisation’s program. LADA provides talks and lectures on live art for upper school and university classes. Then there’s Everything You Wanted To Know About Live Art But Were Afraid To Ask, a touring information and advice day aimed at recent graduates, emerging artists and interested persons. For the first time, the tour has gone national in 2007. Everything… is part of Joining the Dots, a Live Art Development Agency professional development initiative for artists across the UK.

expanding niches

LADA’s latest book, Programme Notes, Case Studies for Locating Experimental Theatre, was recently launched by Forced Entertainment’s Tim Etchells at the Fierce Ten Festival in Birmingham. Edited and published by LADA, it’s “about furthering dialogues and collaborations between the theatrical mainstream and artists from the independent sector… [focusing on] models of exciting and innovative relationships at work in different places in the UK.” Using case studies, interviews and essays the book “explores the ways in which contemporary theatre is changing through new relationships between mainstream venues and experimental practices.” It has been devised as a resource for “theatre programmers, artistic directors and venue managers, with the aim of sharing knowledge and stimulating thinking around a broader range of new and emergent theatrical practices.”

LADA sees much of its work as infrastructure building with Live Art UK playing a key role in coordinating and developing a national perspective, commissioning works and “addressing different ways of touring—adapting to situations.”

the word

London-based live art practitioner, writer and teacher Joshua Sofaer ran the Live Art UK critical writing course, Writing for Live Art, for 6 writers meeting on weekends in 2006. New writers are joining the program in 2007. Leading the program is an opportunity, Sofaer told us, to rectify a situation where it “can be impossible to get a review in the ghetto of live art….Many of my peers have never had a review.” The aim of the project has also been to provide brokerage so that the writers’ work can be placed, given publishing opportunities are few. Daniel Brine reports that, to this end, Live Art UK recently held a meeting with editors and writers from Frieze, A-N, Total Theatre, Guardian, Wire and Dance Theatre Journal.

Another Live Art UK initiative is the Live Art Almanac, to be published in May 2008 by LADA and Live Art UK with financial support from the University of Leeds. Editor Phil Stanier and his team will gather together “the most engaging, provocative, thoughtful writing about live art and the cultural landscape in which it is set.”

Sofaer attributes the visibility of live art to the vision and hard work of the Live Art Agency’s Lois Keidan, but getting the term into common parlance has been difficult, he said. Sofaer’s five-minute video, What is Live Art? was made for public distribution during Live Culture. He also made a box of instructions for DIY Live Art, the Performance Pack, for the Live Art Development Agency and Tate Interpretation and Education in 2004. The limited edition quickly sold out. RealTime holds one box on behalf of the Live Art Development Agency for use by Australian artists.

event creation

As well, LADA produces forums and events for other organisations. In March this year it was commissioned by Tanzquartier Vienna to create a three-day live art program, Performing Rights Vienna, featuring performances, presentations, debates, workshops, screenings and interventions about the relationships between performance and human rights and between art and activism and will create a similar program for the 2008 NRLA in Glasgow. In April this year LADA collaborated on a symposium for the SPILL festival in London.

books and burnings

LADA sells book, DVDs and other materials through its online sales wing, Unbound. Brine says it’s not going to make LADA a lot of money but that it’s been well received, “in particular, we have been surprised by the very good international response. Our next step is to begin to focus more and more on self-publishing and we are very keen to develop a market for DVDs from artists and burnt on demand.”

going international

“Over the next twelve months”, writes Brine, “we plan to work on our international strategy. We are developing Live Art Unpacked, which is the working title for a tool kit for international promoters and venues consisting of workshops, lectures, screening programmes, The Performance Pack and DIY projects. We think there will be two versions: Live Art Flat Pack (easy-assemble without our presence) and Live Art Development Agency in Residence (our formats and programs and us making them work in local situations).

how it’s done

I wonder about the division of labour that makes all this prodigious effort workable. Brine replies, “Lois and I have been working together for over five years now and we’ve developed a collaborative working method that works well for us. Basically, we both do everything together although there will be times or situations when one or the other will take the lead. Andrew has been a fantastic addition and he makes sure things run smoothly, especially the Study Room, Unbound and our financial records.”

The Live Art Agency does all the above and more, making the most of partnerships and building on and expanding networks, fuelling (and being fuelled by) live art and experimental theatre artists, and bringing new blood and mainstream venues into play. And it’s not about power, but about enabling and, yes, everything is strategic.

Live Art Development Agency,
www.thisisliveart.co.uk
www.thisisunbound.co.uk

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2007