Taking Risk: A Crucial Concept for the Great British Cultural Landscape

By Amanda Rigali on

Nicola Bullen Profile

Nicola Bullen was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Soho Theatre until September 2016, and is now Grants Officer at Stonewall.

The cuts to Government grants are making their effects known from the top of the sector all the way down to the bottom, and we know that with time the situation is likely to worsen. So to ease the pain, we are urged as organisations to ‘diversify our income streams’ to become more resilient in tough times.

But what about the smaller companies? A young company will have less of a track record, making them less appealing to fund. What impact will these financial restraints have on their artistic development?

In times of economic instability it’s understandable that funders want to support a ‘safe bet’. The National Theatre, the biggest arts organisation in the country, enjoys fantastic support from a wide range of income streams due to its reputation as the holy ground for British theatre. But at some point risks have to be taken. This is what Soho Theatre does for new writers so fantastically, taking a punt on an artist or young company off the back of a good run at the Edinburgh Fringe in the hope that they will be the next big thing. Of course, there’s always the risk that they won’t do as well as expected, but our resources and artistic team are talented and experienced enough to minimise that risk. Just look at how Bryony Kimmings is flying after her participation in the Soho Six programme.

It is however important to note that critical acclaim and great ticket sales don’t necessarily grant you financial stability as an artist.

So how can these companies achieve success? Amber Massie-Blomfield, the Executive Director at Camden People’s Theatre believes that “in terms of scaling up, the key is to have a mission and a plan to achieve it.” If rather vague advice out of context, this is valid. Having a defined mission statement and something different that sets you apart from the crowd is imperative to your success.

L-R: Nina Steiger, Associate Director with Stephen Jackson, 2015 Verity Bargate Award Winner and Steve Marmion, Artistic Director
© Ellie Kurttz
L-R: Nina Steiger, Associate Director with Stephen Jackson, 2015 Verity Bargate Award Winner and Steve Marmion, Artistic Director
© Ellie Kurttz

After almost three months with Soho Theatre I would recommend that all young artists and companies do their research. There’s a wealth of resources available to you if you are just to look. The support that Soho Theatre affords to new writers is fantastic. They accept unsolicited scripts all year round, which will be read by our team, and at the right time of year they will be taken into consideration for the Verity Bargate Award, a new writing award that offers a full production to the winner. The education programme here is fantastic and works with young people to write theatre and comedy and there are many bursaries available for those who need them.

My advice to young and upcoming companies, artists and organisations is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to do this alone and there are plenty of people who came before you who needed help to get to where they are today. Art is collaborative so take advantage of advice from others.

Larger companies now have a responsibility to their young, fresh faced counterparts. Ensuring their financial stability ensures the vitality of our cultural landscape in years to come, so maybe this is a risk worth taking.

Do you know examples of where large organisations are successfully helping smaller ones? We’d love to know examples of fundraising collaboration at its best.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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