ACE publishes no-deal Brexit guide

ACE publishes no-deal Brexit guide

Arts Council England has published a sign-posting guide to relevant government information to help arts and cultural organisations navigate a European exit without a withdrawal agreement.

NPG uncovers £35.5m remake

NPG uncovers £35.5m remake

The National Portrait Gallery, dubbed “the nation’s family album”, has unveiled a £35.5m plan for the biggest development in its 123-year history.

Investing in curators pays off

Investing in curators pays off

Investing in curatorial skills will help build museums’ resilience and reputation, according to a new report from the John Ellerman Foundation.

‘Councils and owners need to combine to stop theatres closing’

‘Councils and owners need to combine to stop theatres closing’

The new annual Theatres at Risk Register published today by the Theatres Trust highlights the need for local authorities and theatre owners to collaborate to ensure more are not lost.

Barbican’s Rattle Hall concept revealed

Barbican’s Rattle Hall concept revealed

The detailed design concept for London's £288m Centre for Music - nicknamed “Rattle Hall” after the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra which will be resident there – has been revealed.

THE WORD    Help Eastleigh's The Point to ‘move on’

THE WORD Help Eastleigh's The Point to ‘move on’

The Point, the contemporary theatre and dance studio complex in Eastleigh, Hampshire, is being transformed but its artistic director, Sacha Lee, is looking for artistic help...

What's up in…   Southampton

What's up in… Southampton

AI looks at what's coming up around the country – this week, the arts in Southampton. 

Pontypridd arts centre to open again?

Pontypridd arts centre to open again?

Council asks for expressions of interest in Muni

TAITMAIL  Cliff edge or launching point?

TAITMAIL Cliff edge or launching point?

We’re on the brink. The political arrogance, diplomatic blundering, economic obfuscating and cultural ignorance have led the cultural industries to the top of Beachy Head and about to step off. Or are we?

THE WORD   ‘Centre of culture’ is not about space

THE WORD ‘Centre of culture’ is not about space

says Reuben Kench, director of culture, events and leisure at Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council in response to a recent Taitmail input into the debate about cities and towns of culture, and our empty high streets

AI PROFILE		Lord of the dance

AI PROFILE Lord of the dance

Sir Richard Alston, artist director of The Place and the Richard Alston Dance Company

Carlos Acosta to run Birmingham Royal Ballet

Carlos Acosta to run Birmingham Royal Ballet

Former Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta is to succeed David Bintley as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, the company has announced.

Kathy Bourne returns to Chichester

Kathy Bourne returns to Chichester

Producer Kathy Bourne is to be the new executive director of Chichester Festival Theatre, along alongside artistic director Daniel Evans.

Tullie House all dressed up for Wolfson award

Tullie House all dressed up for Wolfson award

Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum is the big winner in the latest round of DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund grants.

MY STORY The other side of the picture

MY STORY The other side of the picture

DAVID HICKS   

The greetings card company Really Good was started by David Hicks more than 30 years ago with a £40 government enterprise allowance, and capital of £200. It is now worth £4m and sells in 30 countries, but its founder has made a dramatic career change. 

DEA BIRKETT  Mime - and the last word in circus

DEA BIRKETT Mime - and the last word in circus

In the latest in her series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett – the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – discovers more about her artform at the London International Mime Festival

ACE launches £6m leadership fund

ACE launches £6m leadership fund

Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota today launched a new £6m leadership investment fund for museums, libraries and the arts.

RSC heads new era for immersive drama

RSC heads new era for immersive drama

A £16m research programme led by the Royal Shakespeare Company could herald a new era for audiences.

Five vie for new £125k art gallery prize

Five vie for new £125k art gallery prize

Five galleries have been shortlisted for the new £125,000 Ampersand Award to help realise development proposals.

Preston’s Harris Museum gets HLF development boost

Preston’s Harris Museum gets HLF development boost

A £10.7m transformation of Preston’s Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library has received a major funding fillip with a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Creative students on the rise

Creative students on the rise

The numbers of university students studying creative arts and design has grown by 10.5% in the last ten years, according to a new report from the Knowledge Academy.

Drama of keeping more things in the air than you have hands

Drama of keeping more things in the air than you have hands

AI Profile :  Sean Gandini, artistic director, Gandini Juggling

Dramatic new bridge to Arthur’s castle

Dramatic new bridge to Arthur’s castle

Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, traditionally associated with the legends of King Arthur, is to get this dramatic new bridge as part of a £5m English Heritage improvement programme.

What's up in… Glasgow

What's up in… Glasgow

AI looks at what's coming up around the country – this time, the arts in Glasgow

CIRCUS: A flying success

As Circomedia, one of the UK’s first circus schools, celebrates its 30th birthday, Helen Dorritt finds out about plans for the next three decades

Peer behind the heavy wooden door of St Paul’s Church in Bristol and you won’t see a typical ecclesiastical interior. Gone are the pews and the hymn books, replaced with a sprung floor, crash mats and an impressive grand volant flying trapeze rig. Welcome to Circomedia, the centre for contemporary circus and physical theatre.

Since its humble beginnings in a community hall as its original incarnation, Fooltime, Circomedia has grown to become a powerhouse on the contemporary circus scene. It offers a degree, a BTEC, and vocational training for aspiring performers, plus 28 weekly classes for adults and children and a public programme of 60 performances a year. All this takes place on two sites, St Paul’s and a former Victorian school in
the suburb of Kingswood which houses four of Circomedia’s studios.

Circomedia’s 30th birthday in April was a chance for the organisation to reflect on its history and its future. Since replacing the executive director role in 2015 with a new artistic and managing director post - complementing the existing artistic and education managing director role held by Bim Mason, one of the original founders - Circomedia has reviewed its mission statement, making it clear that it seeks to become the “European centre for research and production of transforma- tional experiences arising from circus”.

One of the first jobs for the new post holder, Nic Young, was to cast an outsider’s eye over the 2013-18 business plan. “I was able to take a fresh look at what Circomedia does, and how it does it, and work with staff to clarify and amplify the vision” explains Young, who joined the organisation from being director at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre. “We’re now in the middle of writing a new business plan for 2016-22 that’s more overtly ambitious in our aims for the next 15 years”. So while Circomedia has delivered the BA that was talked about in the plan (it’s now in its third year), it’s adding an MA in directing for circus to start in September 2016. The new plan has also doubled the number of performances taking place at St Paul’s, to increase the scope to support artists and to develop audiences. “We’ve changed some of the language we use: we no longer talk about a ‘creation centre’, which has very specific connotations that we couldn’t deliver, but we do talk about being a development agency and pro- viding support for artists, audience development and the artform through this” notes Young.

The introduction of the BA in2 014 alongside Circomedia’s existing vocational courses has brought some changes to the student make up, with most of the degree students coming from the UK and an additional few from the EU. “The increased importance given to contextual studies, reflective practice and practice-as-research demands a greater intellectual dimension to balance out the physical training” explains Mason. He has also noticed a slight shift towards students from more affluent backgrounds alongside an increase in ethnic diversity, plus a higher proportion of female students. The students taking up the vocational option tend to come from further afield, with the current intake hailing from USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Japan, as well as those UK stu- dents who aren’t eligible for the degree or who have used up their loan allocation on another course. One of the aims for the next two to three years is to increase student numbers by 50%,

both by accepting new students onto existing courses and with the es- tablishment of the MA. The latter will bring in a new type of student, as Mason says: “They will obviously have a more mature profile; again, most of those interested are women”. Student fees make up the bulk of Circo- media’s income – 60% – while 11% of fund 

ing comes from being an Arts Council England NPO, with another 4% from its position as one of Bristol City Coun- cil’s key arts providers. “The level of support from these two organisations, other than financial, is just as valuable and that is good from both of them” acknowledges Young. The remain- ing 25% comes from evening classes, programming and hires. One of the aims of the original business plan was to diversify the organisation’s income stream, particularly in regard to com- mercial activity – hiring out St Paul’s for weddings, corporate events and the like, taking advantage of Circomedia’s unique offer: the lure of a beautifully restored historic city centre space with added circus performers is an attrac- tive marketing tool. All this requires a careful balance alongside the needs of the students in a space where capacity is strictly limited, so this has been ad- dressed by taking on fewer events but those of a higher value. This pragmatic approach is working, as evidenced by the generation of a small surplus last year.

Also on Young’s amended business plan is offering more outreach community projects, harking back to the earlier work of the organisation. He’s keen to work with children in the areas around Circomedia’s two sites, particularly those who have limited life op- portunities – St Paul’s is in the top 10% most deprived areas on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation – using circus as an inspirational tool to provide those transformational experiences mentioned in the mission statement.

Alongside its teaching and per- formance activities, advocacy for cir- cus theatre in the UK is also now a fundamental part of Circomedia’s remit, which includes promoting Bristol as the UK’s circus city. “We’re part of the Bristol Circus Forum, whose key aim is to raise the profile of circus within the city, and to increase awareness outside of the city of the quantity and qual- ity of work that is happening here” says Young. Circomedia will also be contributing to the national steering committee for Circus 250 – the celebra- tion in 2018 of 250 years since Philip Astley first put on a show in a ring and founded modern circus, and which is intended to raise the profile of circus across the UK in a similar way to Shakespeare 400.

All these expanded activities require more space, and so it seems inevitable that Circomedia will need to grow physically. “In the long run we’ll need to find somewhere else, but we’re looking at least 15 years hence” says Young. “I don’t know if we could ever get the 7,200 square metres that the Ecolé Nationale de Cirque in Montreal has, but I am sure we will need more than the 1,200 or so that we have now”.

So what’s the vision for the organisation by the time its sixtieth birthday rolls around? Nic Young is expansive in his scope. “I would like to see us having fulfilled our mission statement, with the unique combination of circus education, circus theatre and circus community giving thousands of peo- ple new and exciting ways to discover and develop live performance. Not only would this be fantastic for those involved, but Circomedia’s influence would continue to reach far beyond its doors as the outcomes from those 60 years filter into the wider world. It’s ambitious, yes, but if you’re not ambi- tious, what’s the point?”

 

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