It’s More Than Just a Theatre Festival:
Toronto Fringe Launches Creation Lab!
TORONTO – On May 5 Toronto Fringe Executive Director Gideon Arthurs announced an exciting new development to Toronto’s theatre scene – The Fringe Creation Lab at the Centre for Social Innovation Annex. The Fringe Creation Lab features over 3,000 square feet of creation space and a quickly growing list of resources that will accommodate rehearsals, workshops, readings, seminars and intimate special events for Toronto’s theatre & dance community. The Fringe Creation Lab stems from the Fringe Festival’s founding values of access to creative opportunity.
Arthurs explains, “The Toronto Fringe has been a launching pad for Canada’s most successful theatrical ventures, but too often independent ‘Fringe’ artists aren’t given access to resources they need to have their creative endeavours succeed”. The Fringe Creation Lab was born out of roundtable conversations that identified problems facing the independent theatre community. While much of the community’s immediate response was a lack of funding, the Fringe identified common needs and is offering the Fringe Creation Lab as a pooled resource for stage artists in the GTA.
Arthurs continues, “The Fringe Creation Lab will be a home base for independent artists, thinkers and arts enthusiasts to foster their creative spirit and entrepreneurship. By creating a hub for this diverse community, we can elevate our craft, share resources, and reach new heights together”. The Fringe Creation Lab is an extension of the Fringe Festival’s founding values of access to opportunity and is available to artists at pro-bono and subsidized rates on a first-come, first-serve basis. Registration to book space will be announced in the fall.
CSI Executive Director Tonya Surman says, “We are absolutely thrilled having the Toronto Fringe as an anchor tenant at CSI Annex. The Toronto Fringe – and the Creation Lab – are precisely what the Centre for Social Innovation is all about: creativity, opportunity, and community driven solutions that strengthen our future”. The Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world. Operating two sites in downtown Toronto CSI provides a home to over 300 social change organizations. The Fringe Creation Lab will be CSI’s largest space dedicated to one tenant, however it will be shared by hundreds of theatre artists each year. CSI creates community workspaces, incubates emerging enterprises, and develops new models and methods with world-changing potential.
The Fringe Creation Lab marks Toronto Fringe’s last step in its year-round transformation (at least until the next surprise from the home of the unexpected). In 2008 Toronto Fringe began this transformation when it launched The Next Stage Theatre Festival, a second festival in the wintertime. An impressive roster of outreach programs benefiting artists and youth have launched as well, including distributing up to $10,000 to Fringe artists remounting their shows through the Fringe Evolution Fund and handing out 1,000 passes each summer for priority youth to attend the Fringe Festival free of charge.
But wait, there’s more!
‘Da Kink In My Hair is one of the biggest success stories to start at the Toronto Fringe. The show was picked up by David Mirvish and went on to tour the world and later be developed into a show for Global Television. Trey Anthony, the show’s creator, joined today’s celebration announcing the launch of a new award to recognize and promote culturally diverse Fringe artists. To whom much is given…. ‘da Kink award will give $500 to two shows at this year’s festival that are written by a person of colour or a cast featuring people of colour.
Today’s announcement also marked the launch of a new partnership for the Toronto Fringe with Toronto’s NOW Magazine – Canada’s leading alternative news and entertainment weekly since its inaugural issue in 1981. Alice Klein, NOW’s Editor and CEO, says “We are so delighted to be working with the Toronto Fringe as it settles into a new home and takes its last step in a transformation from annual event to a truly year-round arts organization. Looking forward to this summer’s Toronto Fringe Festival, NOW’s passionate theatre-adoring readers and the Fringe’s surprise-filled excitement are as natural a combo as “love” and “first sight”. This year’s Fringe Festival will run July 6 – 17.
Individuals looking to donate to the Fringe Creation Lab can visit
Creation Lab Media Contact:
Toronto Fringe Festival Media Contact:
In the Time magazine article Indonesia’s Artists vs. Muslim Extremists,by Jason Tedjasukmana, the author decries the “Talibanization” of Art in Indonesia. He recounts a story of religious fundamentalists defacing a statue of nude women with spray paint. Government officials and police did nothing to intervene in this and other incidents within Indonesia. There is a certain sanctimonious tone to the story. “Here in the democratic West we are so much better than that” is the assumption of the article. “Our secular society does not allow the religious nutty fringe to dictate our policies toward art”…. but is that true?
Earlier this month, at a virtual worlds event, in the leading edge of 3D art, an installation by Rose Borchovski was summarily ejected by organizers because the art’s nude figures were in violation of the zoning restrictions in the virtual world. Last fall, Linden Lab, the creators of the Second Life virtual world caved in to pressures from American social conservatives to push “adult” content into virtual red-light districts. One would expect openness and sophistication in the high tech international community of virtual reality residents and the arts community. Instead Linden Lab seems to have chosen to “Taliban-ize” expression within Second Life more effectively than the Indonesians with spray cans.
Are you an artist, performance artist, animator, filmaker, multimedia artist, dancer, or choreographer who would like to be able to integrate puppetry into their art work but need some hands on skills?
Bring your project ideas to the Puppetry Exploratory Laboratory!
The deadline for this almost free learning opportunity (materials fee required) has been extended until Monday. This is the last chance to apply this season!
The online application is available at: http://www.puppetmongers.com/laboratory.html
If you are in travelling distance of Toronto you won’t want to miss this great event!
Puppetmongers @ the Tarragon Extra Space
7 School Shows only
December 15 through 18, 2009
10 am and 1:30 pm
History and fun are integrated in this imaginative retelling of the classic fairy tale. Puppetmongers reset the story in 1834, just as “Muddy” York is to be renamed Toronto, and Ella is expected to cater to every whim of her just-off-the-boat-from-England stepmother and sisters. With a little magic and some imaginative special effects she does get herself to the Ball, and to the satisfying conclusion of the tale. The play is ingeniously staged with a traditional marionette theatre that transforms, as the story unfolds, into scenes evoking the wilderness, pioneer life and early Canadian society.
This is a Cinderella that Canadian children can call their own!
Single Tickets: $8.00
Book the whole theatre of 100 seats for $700
While recently the Met was reported to be contemplating replacing its’ summer programming with filmed performances shown on the big screen, the public was more engaged in filming and tweeting about the 30 public pianos that the city of London had placed on the streets.
“They’re out there to get people talking to one another and to claim ownership and activate the public space,” said the creator of the project, Luke Jerram, an artist who lives in Bristol.
Using obvious search terms in Twitter I found no one chatting in the public commons about the possibility of the Met replacing summer opera with its big screen version. It would seem that news was a big snore, while by contrast I immediately found 140 recent tweets on London’s street pianos. Does this simply mean that in a day of social media viral news that anything you can capture on your cellphone, digitally broadcast to blogs, YouTube, and tweet about is going to have the edge?
Or does it mean something more important about our culture’s relationship to art at this moment in history?
I think the signs are there that people want to take back art from the star system, from corporate control, big record systems, film studios and corporations. From the popularity of shows like American Idol to the rise of YouTube videos to the “do-it-yourself” atmosphere of the Arts in the virtual world of Second Life, more people are spending their entertainment hours watching the little guy and more people are engaging in making art instead of being passive observers.
I have thought for a long time that Alain Trudel is one of Canada’s greatest musical assets. He can conduct, he can sure play trombone, and he has great programming ideas. Isn’t it great that he also is concerned about the future of Canadian music? I just had to post this newsrelease that just came into my inbox.
The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO) and TSYO Conductor Alain Trudel announce two opportunities for young Canadian musicians. Composers aged 30 or younger can submit their orchestral composition to the TSYO Open Call for Canadian Works, and musicians between the age of 12 and 22 can apply to audition for the 2009.2010 Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra season.
TSYO Conductor Alain Trudel started the TSYO Open Call for Canadian Work as an opportunity for young composers to have their work performed by a full orchestra. “Winning this competition invites young composers to take the next step with their work,” says Alain Trudel. “Hearing your composition with full orchestration brings the work to life and allows the winner to receive feedback from professional conductors and coaches.”
The deadline to submit compositions to the TSYO Open Call for Canadian Works is September 18, 2009. For details on how to apply, visit http://www.tso.ca/season/y
The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra is also now accepting applications for the 2009.2010 season. Musicians aged 12-22 are invited to apply to this high level training programme using the application form at http://www.tso.ca/season/y
To learn more about the TSYO, please visit http://www.tso.ca/season/y
Enjoy your very own classical music concert in the most beautiful of settings…
Join us for an intimate evening with members of the 2009 orchestra on board Kajama, Toronto’s only tall ship.
This is an opportunity to see and hear the remarkable talent of Canada’s future musical greats.
You will be treated to:
- A private performance by members of the NYOC
- A meet and greet session with NYOC students and conductor Alain Trudel
- A leisurely sail through the scenic Toronto Islands and Harbourfront
- A gourmet dinner and drinks
- A silent auction
Call now to reserve your ticket!
August 5th, 2009
6:00pm – 9:30 pm, Toronto Harbourfront
Tickets $200 (Tax receipts issued for the maximum allowable amount)
Contact: Maggie Fairs
T: (416) 532-4470 ext. 233 E: email@example.com
I think it was David Parsons, the Music Officer at the Ontario Arts Council who said to me that while he used to think of arts organizations as going through processes of recovery that would end in a stable state that would remain indefinitely, he now believed that most arts organizations were constantly going through cycles of invention and re-invention if they did not wish to devolve and die.
I agree. Arts organizations that depend upon their founding energy and original creative mission as the only continuing energy in their engine will eventually meet the law of entropy and run down, engine sputtering and eventually failing.
What makes for a resilient arts organization that can recover from challenges and find new momentum?
I think of organizations as having some similarities to mechanical engines. They are propelled by the forces of varying numbers of cylinders and work at peak performance when all cylinders are firing with equal force. They can limp along when one weakens, if the opposite/complimentary cylinder is strong. Certain configurations of failures cause the engine to seize up and fail dramatically, while others just cause slow oil leaks that take years to grind the engine to a halt. In no small part I am drawing my analogy from the classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” , a book that talks about how the attention to the small details of systems, ensure that the whole runs trouble-free.
What propels a healthy arts organization?
- Artistic Vision/Leadership–a compelling artistic vision from artist(s) that is at the centre of everything the organization does. The heart of the organization.
- A community that is connected to and responsive to the artistic vision, supporting it as audience, donors and through word of mouth
- A Board of Directors that is engaged through buy-in to the artistic and educational vision of the artistic leadership and provides the direction and resources to realize that vision.
- Management-volunteer or paid that reports to the Board of Directors and carried forward their strategic plan in partnership with artists and community board members
- Staff & volunteers as needed who are selected for the best fit with strategic goals within the living organism of your arts organization.
ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP: It all has to start with the Art.
Artistic Visioning is not something that gets done when the organization has some down time, or as a make-work project funded by OAC’s COMPASS program or Canada Council’s Flying Squad (as is too often the attitude in organizations already in trouble). If there isn’t an Artistic reason for your organization to exist, then quit, get out of the way, give up, fold, you are wasting the audience’s time and scarce resources. There are scores of artists and artists collectives out there filled with creative projects crying out for funding so, “I don’t know, we’ve been presenting concerts for 37 years so we are just trying to keep on doing what we’ve done for those years” just isn’t going to be a compelling battle cry for anyone. If you are parched with thirst for real art, go back to the well, consult with arts visionaries and re-connect with an inspiration to carry you forward again. If your artistic leadership is not inspiring your musicians, your actors, your company, then you have a problem. You are not going to solve that problem by band-aid solutions (programming committees, artistic guidelines, etc.) although those things might help in the short-term. You need to find out what the obstacles (if any) are to the artistic process, help the leader(s) re-charge their batteries, and be prepared to replace the vision or abandon the organization. There is no point to an arts organization without an artistic voice. Does this mean you must be professional? Absolutely not. An arts organization can have at its core a mission to empower and present local amateurs, artistic creation of children and youth.
When do you know when there is a problem in Artistic Leadership?
- Do reasonably informed stakeholders give radically different answers to the question, “What is X arts organization about?
- Do Board members frequently feel that the organization has lost focus, is on the wrong track artistically (because so many discordant visions co-exist)?
- Is programming more often reactive to fundraising, marketing, educational programming rather than being a starting point for those processes.
- Do marketing and fundraising staff often have difficulty in constructing clear, convincing descriptions of artistic programming for brochures and grantwriting
- When Artistic Statements are written for grants & brochures: Do they vary wildly from year to year? Are they so generic that they say nothing about the artistic priorities of the organization?
- Is Artistic vision identified as a problem by major funding bodies?
- Are peer organizations reluctant to collaborate with you because they view your Artistic Leadership as problematic or lacking in vision?
- When you perform formal or informal exit interviews with departing contributing artists/musicians or staff, is lack of artistic vision a recurring theme?
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Art has a purpose and that purpose is how it is transformative in the lives and culture of our practicing artists and the community that the arts organization serves. Finding the balance between artistic vision, serving the community and working transformative magic within the community is the ongoing role of community engagement that the arts organization must undertake as a constant. Communities change constantly and so arts organizations must change also in order to serve new constituency and/or move programs and services to areas craving their programming. A mentor of mine was fond of saying “if people don’t want to come, you can’t stop them”.
Think of two scenarios for a family that has recently arrived in a community. In the first the family gets a brochure for a subscription series to the local orchestra. One child has had an orchestra ensemble visit their school and brought home a study guide. The family saw the orchestra playing in the park during the summer, and mom attended a program at the library on music appreciation led by the orchestra’s artistic director. In the second scenario, the family gets a brochure out of the blue and has never heard of the orchestra. Which brochure will go straight in the re-cycle bin and which one will get a second look?
In two organizations that I worked in during times of economic problems for (respectively) an orchestra and an opera company, their communities were alarmed and outraged at any thought that the organizations would fail. Individuals, corporations, area businesses and civic politicians helped to find ways to restore the organizations to financial health. It is interesting to note that neither communities were terribly wealthy nor noted for culture. But in yet another organization I served in, the organization had decided to pare its programming down to cut all community outreach, made an alienating name change, and disenfranchised community participation … all in the same year. Recovery of community trust was a huge challenge for that organization despite its existence in a privileged community.
ENGAGED BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Without #1 Clear Artistic Vision and #2 Community Engagement, an organization will find it difficult to recruit and motivate a volunteer board.
Boards typically go through a development cycle as organizations grow. Take the example of a community theatre. At first the Board does eve
rything from hanging lights, sewing costumes, selling tickets and holding fundraisers. As staff is hired to take care of production and ticket sales, the Board becomes more engaged in fundraising and community liaison. As the organization is able to afford professional grantwriting and fund-development staff, the Board role will shift to stewardship and making connections to major sponsors and donors for staff to follow-up on.
Board Executive and Nominating Committees have to set clear expectations of Board Members and recruit appropriately. When Board Members expect to be part of a “doer” Board and find that the expectation is mainly fundraising and oversight, they may feel sidelined. When Board Members expect to set policy and direction only and join the Board of a small arts organization, they may be surprised or even offended to be asked to roll up their sleeves and help with the nitty gritty. It is important that Board Members understand that their role is to help fund resources, find resources for the artistic work of the organization and work in ways that support the artistic mission of the organization. I have seen Board Members who behaved as though the arts organization was there to provide opera singers for their private parties, buy services from their clients, and that staff should shelve all artistic production work to assist Board Members with the running of gala balls or golf tournaments. While we all have to work together in arts organizations to raise funds, pulling staffing from accomplishing the core Mission, in order to facillitate Board fundraising initiatives cannibalizes artistic resources and is not sustainable.
MANAGEMENT: The role of the arts manager is to take the artistic program and the resources supplied by Board & funders and to implement the program objectives. Through expert knowledge of the industry, the manager employs best practices, allocating resources as carefully as possible to achieve optimum results.
The manager that is both under-resourced and without a clear and well-ariticulated artistic mission & strong community connections is unlikely to be able to achieve good results. If the organization also is burdened with an unfocused, non-contributing Board, the manager alone will not have the power to turn the engine of the organization single-handedly. In order to write grants, appeal to foundations or seek sponsorships, the manager will need a compelling story to tell about artistic & community arts education plans and the support that exists in the community, demonstrated by results, photos, endorsements. She or he needs the community connections of an engaged Board to gain new funding and connect with local industrial and business leaders. If there is a lack of money for marketing artistic programs, the manager will need the Board’s community connection and legwork to promote artistic programs through grassroots initiatives.
Arts managers are there because they really love the arts and they have a tragic tendency to burn out as they try to prop up failing arts organizations.
WHY DO ORGANIZATIONS FAIL? We always hear of arts organizations failing for lack of money, but I have yet to see an organization fail purely from lack of money. An organization that has less money than is needed to fulfill all it’s programming has to be flexible enough to be responsive to the reality and scale back or make economies to live within its means and simultaneously work on seeking more funds. A healthy arts organization with a clear Mission, valued by the community, with an engaged Board and adequate staffing will survive financial setbacks.
When organizations insist on not changing despite annual deficits, money becomes an issue. When artistic mission is muddy, community connections are lost, fundraising becomes extremely difficult. When Board Members are unclear on their roles, unfocused and non-contributing and sometimes caught up in their own politics, an important driving force in the organization siezes up. When managers and staff are called upon to deliver/sell/find funds programs that have no coherence, artistic energy or community connections, it is no surprise that they fail.
There comes a time in every small, growing arts organization when the people involved realize that the busiest time for promoting their activity is also the time that they are busiest WITH the activity as they gear up for performances or art show. They can’t drop everything to follow-up on marketing opportunities but they need the marketing activity to keep on schedule, no matter what production complications might be thrown their way.
Because small arts orgs’ marketing needs are sporadic, they often think of shortterm contracts with a marketing company. How can they get the most out of this business relationship and avoid the horror stories that we sometimes hear when the arts meets the professional world of marketers.
Oh, you haven’t heard any horror stories? Let me share a few from my own experience.
I once came into a position and found the season brochure was behind schedule. The marketing firm had been secured on a contract that was based on a monthly fee rather than product delivery. All the budget was spent and the brochure was still at rough draft stage. The copy on the brochure was almost un-edited cut and paste supplied by the arts organization with in-consistent length of artist bios & performance description, wild shifts in style and a look which was out-of-step with the organization’s mission. After one try at salvaging the relationship, I canceled the contract and we were forced to pay a monetary settlement to extricate the company from a contract where we would be forced to pay for work that might not result in anything we could use.
Lesson No. 1: contract payments have to be attached to successful completion of materials by deadline.
In another larger arts organization where some of the work was outsourced to marketers, we were occasionally shocked and embarassed by advertising materials where the marketers’ lack of understanding of our artistic product led them to distort copy without checking the results with artistic leadership. On one memorable occasion, the marketing firm changed the orchestra’s working title for a concert “Memory and Reflection” to their preferred “Soothing Reverie”. But the work featured on the program was a symphony inspired by the Holocaust, so very far from “soothing”. This was a public relations disaster.
Lesson No. 2 : It has to be clear who has sign-off within your organization of marketing copy to avoid misinformation and/or public relations disasters.
Lastly, I remember an occasion when I asked an office assistant in my arts organization to do some tasks for me that day and had her break down in tears. What I didn’t know was that she was trying to do a full work load assigned by me, and a full workload assigned by our marketing company. She felt like she had two bosses as the marketers phoned each day with things she needed to get for them or materials that they wanted her to mail out. Much of the work she described I had expected the marketers to do themselves, using their own support staff. We had hired a Marketing firm because we did not have the staff resources to do the work ourselves, but they were pushing the work back on us to the extent where little gain was being realized.
Lesson No. 3: “Who does what” is an important part of the conversation with your Marketing company. If your staff has to provide some of the legwork for the Marketers, firm limits and process has to be put in place.
Does it sound like Marketing firms can be more trouble than they are worth? I certainly thought that at one time, but really all of the above situations were mostly the fault of the arts organization, who failed to be clear in their expectations when contracting a marketing firm.
Hiring a part time staff member with some training or experience in arts marketing and communications to work for you in-house is a preferable choice for many arts organizations. If you have a good mailing list and are not hoping to increase marketshare dramatically, this may be the best choice for you. A staff member is more responsive to your needs and more able to provide low-cost grassroots maketing solutions. The advantage of Marketing firms (that you want to assure they will bring to the table) is that they have access to lists of contacts that might be interested in your artistic product, and their volume buys of more expensive media spots will make for more choices in advertising, eg. advertising in an expensive high distribution newspaper will become possible at half price.
Questions to ask yourself as you think about your marketing needs:
- Do I most need a marketer or a publicist, or both?
- Is my marketing budget sufficient to maximize the contribution of a professional marketing company by making the media buys the firm will recommend?
- Can I articulate the look and feel that my company wants in their marketing through samples of our materials, or materials of other companies that we’d like to emulate and/or through a style sheet we’ve constructed?
- Have I done my research by asking colleagues who has done their excellent marketing campaigns?
- Have I considered who will provide sign-off on marketing materials (considering both knowledge and accessibility/availability)?
- Have I considered who will be the point person in assisting marketing company with acquiring the materials/information they need, and distribution of print materials? How much of that person’s job description/time is to be allocated to marketing liaison?
Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to book meetings with your chosen marketing firms. You will want to communicate the following when asking for a plan and quotes:
- An outline of your need for material with due dates.
- What you will be supplying and when it will be available (rough copy, artist bios, photos, etc.
- What you are hoping they will do. Finish copy or just edit and format? Find and supply art or use your art? Find new markets or use your lists? Leverage ad spots?
- Who will be point person and how much time/assistance they can give the marketers and who will have final sign off on copy.
- Lastly communicate which part of the marketing plan/campaign you will be keeping in-house (if any). Coordination of efforts like your inhouse flyer exchange campaign will help everyone. Surprising your Marketing firm with inhouse efforts will lead to bad feelings.
With all these things communicated, the Marketing firm should be able to present you with a clear plan and costing which will reflect a solid grounding in the reality of your organizational needs and expectations.