If a dance education becomes the privilege of a moneyed elite, we're in trouble

In order for our society to continue to create great art, a shift in mind-set is required

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The Independent Online

Since time began, one of our most basic instincts is to move to music, as anyone knows who has watched a child when the radio is playing.  At a time when childhood obesity is a matter of national concern, we should be embracing this primeval urge for its long-term good.  It is good for health and good at engendering the behaviours and disciplines - like teamwork and relationship-building - that are required for success in professional life. 

Within this context, the lack of comparative funding for dance education seems wrong.  Music education benefited from a £171 million investment in Music Education Hubs across England between 2012 – 2015, and a further £75 million for the coming year.  And this is in addition to support provided to youth orchestras and youth music.  There isn't the comparable support for dance, either as part of the education system or through the provision of consistent country-wide services.  Instead, it is left somewhat to chance, with only children who are lucky enough to live near one of the regional dance organisations who receive funding for youth dance able to benefit.

For the art form, the implications of limiting access to dance are no less severe.  The dance sector in this country is the envy of the world and we should be proud of it.  But its future relies on identifying and developing tomorrow’s talent, today.  If a dance education becomes the privilege of a moneyed elite, the best talent will never be developed, the art form will suffer and we will struggle to achieve excellence.

And excellence in professional dance has to be the aim.  Great art is created by great artists, but they need a relatively stable framework in which to do this.  For this reason, I am frustrated when politicians use the arts as a political weapon, and would love every party make a commitment to the arts In their manifestos. Realistically, arts policy won’t win an election, so let’s make it non-partisan, non-political, and if any party really wants to make a bold gesture for the arts in the run up to 7th May,  they should acknowledge this and commit to setting up a cross-party forum to work with the arts sector.  We all know budgets are tight, and they’ll be tight whoever gets into power, so surely energies would be better spent working together on building our cultural future, with dance at its core.

And given the current fiscal situation, that future, I believe, will have to include a range of funding solutions.  Government support is essential, but it will have to be alongside both corporate and individual giving.  I appreciate that there are those who are ideologically opposed to an increased role for non-government funding.  Frankly, whatever the rights and wrongs, it is simply not realistic to believe that large government budgets for the arts will return, at least in my lifetime.  Economic data suggest the post war period was a time of exceptional growth, enabling unprecedented levels of government spending, and that we are now returning to a period of lower growth.  This will be exacerbated by an ageing population which, in addition to dampening growth, will place a huge burden on government resources, on top of already existing high levels of debt.  It is therefore highly unlikely that any government in the foreseeable future will be able to afford, financially or politically, significant increases in arts spending.

So in order for our society to continue to create great art, a shift in mind-set is required from both individual donors and the arts community. I do not underestimate the size of this challenge, and nor should anyone else.

For four years I worked with Rambert to help raise the funding for their fabulous new building on the South Bank.  It was incredibly hard work – an uphill battle for much of the way and one in which the fight was as much about challenging the perceptions of modern dance, as it was about persuading them to give.

Because people do give, £12 billion a year to be exact, of which the arts, in all its forms, receives £660m. So the challenge is twofold: how to get a greater share of the £12 billion, and how persuade those who have never given before to start giving.

Long-term sustainable funding from individuals also requires a change in thinking across most of the arts sector.  Most potential donors are smart people.  They do not want to be treated as cash-cows, to be approached only when funding is required.  They will give because they share a passion for the art-form and the project.  But they want to be part of that journey – partners in the project.  And they need to be thought of  as partners, not funders. They are co-investors.  Those of us from the business world, whatever our feelings about the arts, know our creative limitations.  We won’t meddle in the creative output, but we may expect a seat at the table, an opportunity to help artists achieve their ambitions, and this relationship, when it works, will be to everyone’s benefit.

Building these relationships will take time, and there may not be any immediate pay-back.  But the sooner a network of individuals is identified who share the passion, and the sooner there is an investment in relationships with them, the greater the possibility that, one day, when a project needs funding, a partner will be there, ready back the vision with hard cash

This is an edited version of a speech to be given by Ian Taylor at this weekend's Dance UK conference.  Ian Taylor is a businessman and philanthropist. CEO of Vitol, he is a trustee of the Royal Opera House and a former Board Member of Rambert.

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