Future Arts Centres at IETM

As part of the international work being undertaken by Future Arts Centres, following an Ambition for Excellence award from Arts Council England, nine CEOs from UK arts centres recently travelled to Valencia to attend an IETM meeting.

IETM is an international network for contemporary performing arts, which originated from the name Informal European Theatre Meeting.

During our initial research, we explored a number of European and international networks, looking for one we could join.  Although IETM wasn’t a perfect fit, as by far the majority of attendees are independent artists and practitioners, we felt it was the closest, as at least the topics of conversation felt relevant, with many of them revolving around arts and social change.

For most of the FAC delegates this was their first experience of IETM. Although pre-warned that it was a ‘meeting’ rather than a conference, the level of informality still took some adjusting to. With delegates from across European, as well as other continents, there were very few people in the room known to us, which made the whole event seem a little impenetrable. Interestingly, this is probably because, as CEOs, we have all been around for a while so when we attend UK events, generally know quite a high proportion of people in the room. It was a useful reminder of how arts sector gatherings can feel for many new leaders.

At some point, almost everyone commented on feeling a sense of guilt. We are so used to trying to maximise the value out of everything we do, that we were questioning almost immediately how much benefit there was in this trip away. It is a real commitment of time and money to be there for four days. It is also, of course, a great privilege, a point reinforced by the sunny weather, beautiful city backdrop and extensive beach. Nevertheless it was interesting to see the level of guilt experienced by CEOs away from their organisations. There was a palpable sense of pressure to return with some tangible outcomes, otherwise how would the trip be justified?

In fact, the benefits of the visit were huge, if not always tangible. Thinking and talking time with peers from other venues, as well as other countries, is of considerable value, especially as many of us are in a strategic planning cycle as we plan our applications to remain part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. Making new connections is vital, even if it may take years before we see the real value of those relationships.

By far the overriding impression we left with was shock around the lack of diversity – noticeable not just in terms of the make-up of the panels but amongst the delegates too, with the exception of a UK group supported to attend by ACE. Although we are all working hard to increase diversity in all aspects of our work, we know that the UK has a long way to go before arts and culture are truly representative of our communities. However, IETM highlighted that diversity is not even on the agenda for many in Europe.

Arts centres have a real strength in the UK in focusing their work on local communities, but are often missing from these wider conversations. The visit helped us reflect on what we do, where we have strengths we can build on and what we need to do better. As the Future Arts Centres project continues, we hope it will also give us confidence to make the most of our new international connections, for our venues and audiences but also for the wider sector.

Gavin Barlow & Annabel Turpin
Co-chairs, Future Arts Centres

For two other personal views of the IETM meeting – see the thoughts from Chris Kirkwood of Lincoln Drill Hall here, and Daniel Brine from Cambridge Junction here.

Tips for first timers at IETM here from Richard Foster of Brewery Arts Centre Kendal