IETM Valencia – A Crossroads

This time last week, I was representing Lincoln Drill Hall at the most recent gathering of IETM – Informal European Theatre Meeting. Along with the other eight founding members of Future Arts Centres, this was the first step in delivering an Ambitions for Excellence award we had received from Arts Council England focusing on developing new international collaborations and work for arts venues in the UK.  The three day session was entitled Crossroads, and sought to debate whether business approaches, self sustainability, tangible measurement of ‘value’ and growth focused audience development risked loss of artistic integrity, losing remaining public investment in the arts and authentic relationships with audiences.

It drew a diverse range of theatre makers, independent producers, programmers, live artists, policy makers, academics and others from across the continent and beyond to the beautiful Spanish city of Valencia to meet, debate, network and discuss these challenges within the framework of a changing political landscape.  It was a meeting designed to ask the big questions.

I’d been warned though, by colleagues who had been to other sessions before that a first experience of IETM can be quite difficult to navigate the first time you attend. As I reflect on my experience I’d have to agree. I was unsure really on returning to the UK where I, or our venues work fits into the picture or discourse created.  I found the sessions I attended – there was a huge choice of subject sessions on offer – to be rather unsatisfactory. I’m not sure I came away from the process feeling that I’d learned anything new or revelatory, there was nothing tangible that I can grasp that would prompt an immediate or fundamental change in the practise of our organisation.  Unfortunately I and a number of colleagues found some sessions didn’t translate in reality to their descriptions in the programme brochure.

That though, is not to say there was no value.  It is apparent that in certain areas, UK arts practice appears ahead of other countries.  This appeared true for instance in the way we evaluate, measure impact and define value in the work produced.  It seemed to me also that, whilst acknowledging a lot of work to do, the UK sector is advancing strongly in our approach to diversity – the Arts Council’s Creative Case for example proactively challenging arts organisations to embed diversity in its widest sense throughout their work.

IETM also curated a programme of work for us to enjoy and two pieces I saw were particularly strong.  Birdie was a multi media live art piece that used the migration of birds as a metaphor for present day human migration and was incredibly slick, powerful and beautifully delivered.  The other, The Son I Want To Have was very sentimental, but a joyful, inspiring and uplifting show about life and family and who we want to be.  Including a number of community performers in the cast it ended with the back doors of the theatre being opened and the final scenes playing against the backdrop of the city.

I also met with Jolita, the director of Arts Printing House in Vilnius. This I hope is the start of a longer and deeper creative conversation between our venue and theirs, one that I’d love to involve members of our own Lithuanian community in Lincoln with, to see how European collaboration can enhance both of our work and our audiences experience of the arts.

So overall, yes IETM was a difficult experience for this first timer, but one that also had a number of positive outcomes.

Chris Kirkwood
Chief Executive, Lincoln Drill Hall