Dancing into the classroom

Dancing into the classroom

Diane Parkes on a DanceXchange initiative that is taking dance into Birmingham classrooms

Antarctic Copperfield star of Dickens show

Antarctic Copperfield star of Dickens show

This battered copy of Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfieldi s what kept half of Captain Scott’s team entertained as they wintered in an ice cave while their leader led the expedition for the South Pole in 1912.

Worthing’s theatres and museum to cut free from council

Worthing’s theatres and museum to cut free from council

Worthing’s three theatres and museum, currently owned by Worthing Borough Council, are to go it alone.

Arts worth more to UK economy than agriculture

Figures released today by Arts Council England show that the arts and culture have grown by £390m in a single year, overtaking agriculture as a contributor to the UK economy.

Bristol ‘our most cultured city’

Bristol ‘our most cultured city’

Bristol has come top of a list of 20 best UK cities for arts and culture, with London only fourth.

Liz Stevenson takes over at Keswick

Liz Stevenson takes over at Keswick

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick has appointed Liz Stevenson as their new artistic director to work with executive director James Cobbold.

Dukes loses artistic director post in shake-up

Dukes loses artistic director post in shake-up

The Dukes in Lancaster is losing its artistic director, Sarah Punshon, as a result of cuts in its local authority funding.

ACE’s £3m more for diversity

ACE’s £3m more for diversity

Arts Council England has committed another £3m to encourage organisations run by BAME and disabled people.

Music agent joins diversity struggle

Music agent joins diversity struggle

A classical music agency has set up a foundation to support diversity and inclusivity in the arts.

Michelangelo comes to Hampshire

Michelangelo comes to Hampshire

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s painted masterpiece, is to come to Winchester this summer in a photographic project under licence from the Vatican.

Morris’s Cotswolds ‘heaven on earth’ to get £6m upgrade

Morris’s Cotswolds ‘heaven on earth’ to get £6m upgrade

Kelmscott Manor, the inspirational Cotswolds retreat of William Morris and his family, has opened for its last season before the start of a £6m project to secure its future.

THE WORD  Can the arts help bridge Britain's divides?

THE WORD Can the arts help bridge Britain's divides?

Jill Rutter, director of strategy and relationships at the think tank British Future, is co-author of its new report Crossing Divides: How arts and heritage can bring us together.

Blake – by himself

Blake – by himself

This is believed to be the only self-portrait by the poet, artist and visionary William Blake (1757-1827), which will be seen in public in the UK for the first time in a Tate Britain exhibition this autumn.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Three Queens, Westminster Hall, February 1952, by Ron Case.

Campaign to fight mental illness crisis among musicians

Campaign to fight mental illness crisis among musicians

Two-thirds of our musicians, three times more than the general public, suffer from depression and need help, according to Help Musicians UK, amounting to a crisis.

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE	The growing challenge of creative ambition

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE The growing challenge of creative ambition

Moya Maxwell, executive director of Shobana Jeyasingh Dance since September 2018 having come from the Royal Institute of British Architects, on the joys and hardships of managing a small arts company

THE WORD    Looking in the mirror of art

THE WORD Looking in the mirror of art

Jacqui O’Hanlon, RSC’s director of education, reflects on the 14-18 NOW legacy creative skills programme, Make Art Not War

 Students decide to ‘Make Art Not War’

Students decide to ‘Make Art Not War’

Thousands of 16-18-year-olds have responded to the challenge “What does peace mean to you” with works of art.

TAITMAIL   Arts in print – a critical juncture

TAITMAIL Arts in print – a critical juncture

By Patrick Kelly

A tweet from a frustrated music critic announces the shrinking of arts coverage in the venerable Glasgow daily, the Herald.

Manchester – for the Greater Good?

Manchester – for the Greater Good?

Patrick Kelly takes a look at Greater Manchester’s first cultural strategy.

Robin gets another string….

Robin gets another string….

Robin Hood, the Grade II listed statue outside Nottingham Castle, is to get a new bow after it was vandalised.

MY STORY Enter the unexpected – Judith Dimant goes Wayward

MY STORY Enter the unexpected – Judith Dimant goes Wayward

Wayward is a new production company specialising in new work from unexpected sources. Its first production opens at the Barbican Theatre on March 28, an adaptation by the Irish playwright Enda Walsh of Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, starring Cillian Murphy. Wayward’s founder and producer is Judith Dimant

Grenfell cooks highlight of Boswell festival

Grenfell cooks highlight of Boswell festival

Contributors to the Grenfell Tower community cookbook, Together, are to be a highlight of the 9th Boswell Book Festival.

Sackler suspends arts donations

Sackler suspends arts donations

The Sackler Trust has suspended “all new philanthropic giving” following a growing controversy over the source of its fortune.

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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