Heather Holcroft-Pinn was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Tobacco Factory Theatres. Heather helped to raise new funds from Trusts & Foundations, both to support education work and the organisation’s future capital plans.
Since the 1970’s cultural buildings have played an integral part in the regeneration of Bristol. From the key role played by Arnolfini and Watershed in the conversion of the Harbourside from a defunct industrial area to a recreational hub, to my host organisation Tobacco Factory Theatres’ impact on the run down suburbs south of the city centre - transforming Southville into a flourishing community with thriving independent business and a local spirit. Cultural buildings have to a certain extent defined Bristol’s success but whilst it may seem on the surface that the project is complete, as fundraisers there is still a great deal of work to be done.
If you work in development for a cultural venue, you’ll know that the job of capital fundraising is never complete. The simple fact is that buildings require upkeep and maintenance and you never know when unexpected problems might arise.
At Tobacco Factory Theatres the organisation has raised money to make the large industrial building more energy efficient by installing PV panels on the roof, and has replaced the theatre’s original eclectic mix of church pews and plastic chairs with new seating that audiences can comfortably sit on during a 3 hour show. Now we’re working on raising the money to create a new studio theatre in our building, due to the necessary closure of our original second studio space, our Brewery Theatre, so we can continue presenting and producing excellent smaller shows, new writing, family work and experimental theatre, and developing artists and companies. However, we are not the only ones - many of Bristol’s major arts organisations are raising funds for on-going developments and improvements.
The current landscape for regional capital fundraising can be a challenging one, as the governmental report Philanthropy Beyond London points out ‘London is …the base of the greatest number of wealthy individual givers, trusts and foundations, and of corporate sponsors and givers.’ Encouraging these givers to donate money to infrastructure outside of the capital can be difficult. Plus, the general public passion for regeneration and new cultural buildings has cooled somewhat as Angus MacKechnie recently wrote for Arts Professional: ‘The notion of constructing something for culture that has walls and doors and requires people to cross a threshold, is deeply unfashionable.’
So how do fundraisers in regional settings continue to raise capital funds and keep the legacy of cultural regeneration alive?
- Make the case for support
Unfashionable or not, arts infrastructure is still essential for regional towns and cities and makes a measurable impact on local communities. Make sure potential funders know how essential you are. The truth is that many regional towns and cities are under resourced when it comes to cultural facilities. Bristol is lucky enough to have four professional theatres; however, this is nothing in comparison to the 241 theatres in London. Even accounting for the difference in population size, it equates to far less access to theatre per person. Your venue will be an essential resource for local artists, touring artists and local audiences, so gather the statistics and testimonials that prove this.
- Get your community on board
This is a useful thing to do wherever you’re based, but in smaller regional areas the support of your community can make or break your fundraising efforts. Make sure your community knows about your developments and sees why they are important. A recent excellent example is The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol, who raised over half of the funds to open their new theatre from a public appeal and an initiative to ‘Buy a Pint for the Wardrobe’ with support from the Bristol Beer Factory.
- Explore all your options
It may be the case, especially in regional areas, that your building is much more than an arts venue. My host organisation, Tobacco Factory Theatres, has its doors open to the community from 9am – 10.30pm. The theatre building hosts everything from children’s ballet and handstand classes to charity fundraising events. As a community resource there may be funders that aren’t necessarily arts-focused that would be interested in supporting you. For example, landfill companies often have pots of money to support community buildings that are registered with the ENTRUST scheme.
- Remember you are more than just a building
Whilst I firmly believe that arts venues are an essential resource it’s important to remember that it’s your work and the art that interests your donors and audience. Your fundraising efforts should be focused on linking your building to the fantastic work that takes place there. During the period that Tobacco Factory Theatres is without a second, smaller studio theatre, we are taking epic theatre out into different venues across the city for our BEYOND season with great success. BEYOND proves the demand for year-round high quality theatre in Bristol, showing our audiences that Tobacco Factory Theatres is more than just a building.
Sabrina Mahfouz’ The Love I Feel Is Red, part of Tobacco Factory Theatres BEYOND Image by Lolostock/Dani Mayes
Do you have any tips or experiences of capital fundraising in a regional setting? We’d love to hear.