Last week we got an e-bulletin from Bash Street, a company that we have worked with in the past, talking about their fantastic European tour this Summer and their fears about how border controls will affect them next year. They also toured to Turkey, not in the EU and described the considerable amount of work and money involved to overcome what is currently a very easy process in EU member states. I have heard of no planning at government level for such loss and change that will affect companies such as Bash Street. If it is possible and they are still able to tour to Europe, it will cost them dearly.
In 2017 I completed a Masters degree, as a mature student, in Cultural Economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. I wrote my thesis on international touring for UK based small scale performing arts companies. An international tour is a way for companies to spread their sunk costs over more gigs. If a show costs £5000 to produce then this cost must be spread over as many gigs as possible to get a return on investment. There is a limit to the number of bookings that a company can get in the UK but if they can freely travel in Europe then the potential number of gigs grows dramatically.
This is great in theory but it is an opportunity that not many have taken up. We have a language that is understood by potential audiences across the continent and a great reputation for the quality of our arts and culture produced. This is something that Arts Council England has been very slow to exploit and support. They have been missing a very important trick. International touring has been left in the hands of the British Council whose remit is to promote soft power and the image of the UK rather that’s the economic interests of artists.
We have been working for years with Canada who invite us, as UK bookers, to showcases and support artists with information and grants towards travel. They have created an environment where international touring is on the agenda for small companies. For a lot of UK companies, with no support, information or introductions, it is no more than an impossible dream.
If Bash Street’s fears are realised then we may be about to block the door marked international touring for newbies with red tape, visas, carnets and, potentially, hostility towards the UK.
The vast majority of arts businesses, along with UK businesses as a whole, are micro-businesses with a lot fewer than ten employees (more than 95%). If 70 leaders of micro businesses wrote to the Times, it probably wouldn’t even be published, never mind make a BBC news bulletin. In the arts I frequently encounter leaders who are too scared to criticise the Arts Council, never mind elected government for fear of losing funding. ‘Let others fight our battles’. I was impressed when Bash Street sent out their e-bulletin raising an issue important to them and we support them 100%.