Catalyst Consortium Project

From 2012 - 2013 Dance4 led a Catalyst Consortium made up of Dance4, East London Dance, Merseyside Dance Initiative and Dance Manchester who bid for and were successful in receiving funding from Arts Council England's Catalyst Programme.

Below you can read an Executive Summary and Top Tips and from our Catalyst Consortium experience.

Below that please find an article written by Mark Patterson, a member of the Commission Collective. The Commission Collective was made up of members of the public who came together to commission a new choreographic work, which resulted in Jane Mason's A dance at Home as part of Nottdance Festival 2015, of which you can watch just above.

Executive Summary of lessons learnt from the Catalyst Consortium Project of Dance4, East London Dance, Merseyside Dance Initiative and Dance Manchester

The project resulted in capacity building and action planning around five themes:-

1. Governance and Leadership
Each organisation took time to review their current Board including skill mix and job roles which from a fundraising point of view rarely proved to be fit for purpose. As a direct result a number of new Board members have been recruited with more business acumen plus new Chairs. There has been a distinct culture change in the expectation for board members to be actively involved in fundraising and encouragement for individual giving, supported by training and closer links with members of the staff teams. Recognising the leadership role of senior management has led to professional development plans with participants attending training both regionally and nationally.

2. HR Planning
Time was spent reviewing the roles and job descriptions of many staff posts. This is increasingly important in organisations with small staff teams. Several roles were amended to introduce development into existing posts and in other organisations new roles were created to reflect the importance of this area of work.

3. Artist Programme
One of the most important tools for fundraising is the artistic programmes. All staff need to be able to speak confidently about organisational values and unique selling points and the artistic offer should be central to this. Cultivation events are becoming more embedded in thinking, in some cases planned specifically to attract potential funders or supporters including gala events and dinners. Some creative activity has been tailored to encourage philanthropy or to attract a specific commercial partner. 

4. Fundraising and Sustainability
Better understanding of the breadth and depth of potential funding streams gleaned from the numerous training courses has led to a more systematic and thoughtful approach to a number of strands; individual giving (including extended families) and business relationships (support in kind/sponsorship but leading to financial giving).The importance of bringing people on a journey, encouraging and developing the relationship and making clear the mutual benefits possible was clearly endorsed. Staff members are now aware of the importance of preparing the ground, warming up contacts and the clarity of messages that come from the organisation. Increased confidence and competence in making ‘the ask’ requires the capacity and time to follow through and nurture potential donors, not easy for small organisations. 

5. Data and Communications.
Small scale cultural organisations who do not process a significant numbers of financial transactions have rarely been good at data capture in the commercial sense. They have been innovative in marketing and external communications - needs driven by small budgets but with large ambitions. Internal communications including clarity of messaging and direction of travel has often been significantly weaker with board members rarely able to confidently describe artistic programming and unclear about organisational mission and aims.

Quantitative and qualitative information must underpin creative messages in a funding approach or bid. Accurate data of contacts must be maintained as well as demographic and information about their preferences and perceptions towards the organisations. The introduction of new technology and Customer Relationship Management systems has become increasingly important.  

Key Skills and techniques learned from the project included:-

• An overall increase in confidence both of the leadership team but also across the organisations.

• Networking skills, political influencing – unlocking relationships with local councillors and portfolio holders, regional MPs and other opinion formers

• The power of information – unlocking information from the data already available and an understanding of the rigour required in effectively collecting new data 

• The skill and self-confidence about making ‘the ask’

• Developing storyboarding for communications plans through effective PR training

• The ability to better articulate organisational impact and USP’s more effectively with better evidence base and more sophisticated analyses techniques 

• Skills and confidence in bid writing

• Integration of the funding role across the whole organisation and Board 

Ten Top Tips for diversifying investment in dance:-

1) Be rigorous in identifying exactly what your organisation has to offer – its Unique Selling Points - but also the value of its core activity. Clarity of mission and direction of travel is key and the ability to articulate what success will look like.

2) Interrogate the data you already hold and consider investment in CRM software – you need robust data to provide useful information to reinforce your arguments.

3) The ability to measure impact is growing increasingly important – consider a ‘social impact study’ and potentially work with a local H.E. institution or Ph.D. students.

4) Start to bring together resources – ‘killer facts’, ‘surprise statistics’, ‘great quotes’, exciting photos and a variety of case studies, to whet the appetite of potential supporters.

5) Be prepared to revisit your staffing structure – ideally every team member has fundraising included in their job description. Dedicated development roles can be helpful but whole organisation buy in is crucial. Fundraising can be labour intensive and time consuming but following up on presentations and new leads is very important.

6) Staff development and training are valuable methods to re-focus on the need to diversify income especially in the current financial climate. Building confidence is almost as important as developing skills.

7) Networking skills can be enhanced through training and making the effort to break into new networks, such as business for a, can pay dividends. 

8) The personal profile of our directors and senior managers can have an influential and positive effect on their organisations brand – this can be enhanced by proactive networking and attending regional or national gatherings and offering support e.g. writing short articles for magazines, contributing ideas and providing opportunities for people to attend events.

9) Being confident to make ‘the ask’ is crucial! This confidence can be enhanced by solid preparation and good support materials and information. Encourage staff and board members to make use of their own personal and professional networks to look for opportunities. 

10) There is no guarantee of success, but careful planning, a confident approach and the right offer all help. Remember that a professional and friendly approach now may prove successful at a later date.  

A Commission Collective Member's Experience
By Mark Patterson 

My involvement with Dance4 began in 2014 when I was asked, quite unexpectedly, if I would take part in a new venture called the Commission Collective.  I agreed to it, but probably rather too readily, since after a quick telephone explanation I had only a partial understanding of what I was about to get involved in. There was mention of commissioning a performance titled A Dance at Home, of sociable organisational meetings in various houses, of piloting a new way of raising money for Dance4. But essentially, my comprehension of the Commission Collective project at this early stage was limited – as indeed was my knowledge and experience of contemporary dance. When I thought of dance, if I thought of it at all, I thought of it negatively and as stereotypes of lean torsos writhing energetically but uselessly on stage. I had heard of Michael Clark and remembered his work with The Fall on in the late 1980s. But an old satirical Fast Show sketch, about an ‘avant-garde dance troupe’ called Thrusk, really said it all for me. My awareness of Dance4’s work was also vague. I knew of the annual Nottdance festival and remembered reading about a performance on canal boats in Nottingham, but that was about it. In summary, I had never been involved with, or imagined I would ever be involved with, contemporary dance as either a commissioner or performer. Yet both experiences came my way when I joined the Commission Collective and in ways which have given me lasting new friendships and connections, enhanced self-confidence and a sense of cultural enrichment. 

The title, A Dance at Home, came from Dance4’s chief executive and artistic director Paul Russ. There was a conception that it would consist of a performance or series of performances that would reflect different ideas about home and that this would be shaped, or commissioned, by a body of people who were not professionally involved in the dance world. The cast of ten commissioners, who would be guided by an as yet unappointed professional choreographer, was called the Commission Collective and included doctors, nurses, headteachers and self-employed business people. However, it was soon obvious to me that some of the commissioners already had experience of contemporary dance as audience members and that connections already existed between them. There was also a considerable degree of warmth towards, and knowledge about dance, which was in stark contrast to my own ignorance about the art form. So while I was open-minded towards what was to come, I also initially felt like an outsider in the project. Nevertheless, everybody was quickly involved in the commissioning process as we began to consider the practicalities of what a ‘Dance at Home’ could and would be. Would there be one or several performances? If so, in whose homes? Would the commissioners also want to perform?  And how would the performances reflect the theme? At one point there was even talk of staging part of the performance on Nottingham’s trams.  It was in debating these knotty issues in various commissioners’ homes in late 2014 that the collective became truly immersed in the tough creative decisions that would be required to create a performance fit for public consumption. Consideration was also given immediately to the recruitment of a professional choreographer. To this end a shortlist of several suitable candidates were selected by Dance4 and after viewing their work on video the commissioners selected four for interview. An afternoon was set aside at a commissioner’s home for this task. However, even the interview process was innately problematic since at this point there was no consensus whatsoever about what kind of ‘dance at home’ the commission wanted to stage. Given this uncertainty, how did they know what questions to ask the candidates? Despite this problem it soon became clear in the voting that followed the interviews that one candidate, Jane Mason, was the commissioners’ clear favourite and it was Jane who was selected by then and subsequently officially appointed by Dance4. Even so, the debates about theme and place continued over many weeks. Indeed, the success of the final performances belie the organisational complexity of a process that required regular meetings of the ten commissioners who all lived by different timetables. The appointment of Jim Henley as assistant producer a few months into the process helped to alleviate these problems. However, the one person who became absolutely pivotal to the project’s success was the choreographer, Jane Mason, as it was she who ultimately had the task of giving form to whatever it was that would become ‘A Dance at Home.’ She began by spending several hours with each commissioner in their homes to gain a sense of their feelings about home. These ranged from feelings of security and close associations with loving relationships to relative estrangement. In another meeting Jane asked the commissioners to come together and talk about objects which had significant associations with home. Again, this helped to illuminate a range of emotions about home as the objects included books, coffee beans, knitting needles, model theatres, sculpture and a feather duster. The difficulty of shaping performances from such diverse material was compounded by the fact that some commissioners had decided that they did not want to perform. Another commissioner dropped out of the process at a late stage due to work pressures. Nevertheless, over late 2014 and early 2015 an agreement was reached that the commissioners would perform in four distinct events in four of their own homes. However, while the four events would be distinct the separate ‘dances’ by each commissioner within these events would somehow have to be blended into co-ordinated and polished performances. That this was achieved after only a few sessions, and with commissioners who had rarely if ever taken part in a contemporary dance event before, was a testament to the sensitive and intuitive personal skills and choreographic approach of Jane Mason. Jane’s desire at all times was avoid making the commissioners/performers feel exposed or uncomfortable. Rather, she encouraged them to feel safe by working with or around their ‘significant’ home objects while also suggesting ways in which they could extend the boundaries of what they were willing to do in front of an audience. For instance, my own passing remark about having an interest in karate as a mental and physical discipline immediately interested Jane because she sensed there was potential in it for something physically dynamic. So, over a couple of long sessions in the living room of my flat we worked on what turned into a cartoonish mock-martial arts performance set to pounding electro-dance music. This, I admit, was going much further than I had envisaged as I knew the final performance, in front of an audience, would make me feel completely exposed. Did I really want to go there? Until meeting Jane most of the dancing I’d done had been with my young son in the privacy of my kitchen. Jane assured me that she didn’t want to make me do something I didn’t feel comfortable with. And I had to admit I didn’t feel entirely comfortable about performing a mock karate dance in front of strangers. But the novelty, the dare-I-do it factor and the sense of adventure were more dominant feelings.  These thoughts were the same as the ones that I hope I took to the entire Commission Collective process. My philosophy was: seize the day and do whatever you’re going to do with 100% commitment. 

Meanwhile, Jane had also succeeded in integrating some my most valued ‘lifestyle’ objects, a collection of travel books and some camping equipment, into my part of the performance. These weren’t used as mere props – although they served that role too - but rather as different expressions of my own conflicted feelings towards home which came to be summarised in my opening line: ‘I love to travel, and I hate coming home.’ But other commissioners had quite different views about home. For one couple home was a place of love, shared memories and a disco dance to the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me? For another commissioner the performance revolved around a passion for coffee beans, which became central to a series of movements around his own kitchen co-ordinated with his wife’s painting activity in the back garden. But with each performer Jane sought to convert remarks, interests and small movements of the body into choreographed moments. It was such moments (‘OK let’s pause for a moment and think about how we can turn that into a ‘thing’,’ Jane would say), subtly teased out of the commissioners by Jane, and segued and co-ordinated with the next set of actions, that formed the physical substance of the performances. Being part of this process offered me a ringside insight into the mechanics and relevance of dance choreography. At the same time I was developing a new appreciation for contemporary dance as the unspoken language of the body; of dance as an expression of the limitations and potential of the human form, and ultimately, of what it is to be human. I felt, and still feel, that I had travelled a long way from the cynicism I felt about contemporary dance when I was first telephoned by Dance4 as I walked down the street in Nottingham city centre.   

By the time the live events took place in March 2015 the commissioners had had time for two, and some cases just one, complete rehearsal. I think this helped to give the performances an edginess and slight sense of danger because, certainly in my own ‘Dance at Home’, I had the feeling that the event could dissolve into chaos if somebody missed a cue, forgot a line or was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. But nothing like this happened. There were four performances in four homes over two nights and all went ahead without mishap despite being complex events involving music, spoken word, dance and co-ordinated movements by several performers. My own contribution, which was co-ordinated and segued with contrasting performances by two co-commissioners, comprised two long spoken word pieces, one set to music, and the karate dance. For weeks I had been wondering how I would feel when this karate moment finally arrived. Could I do it? Or would I freeze? I knew Jane would be joining in at some point, as would two adults with learning difficulties who were pupils at the school of one of other commissioners. Even so, all eyes were on me as the music started and….I started to dance. And as I danced I spoke, providing a part-rehearsed, part ad-libbed commentary on the dance. ‘When I come home from travelling I feel down a miserable for a few days,’ I said. ‘But one way of lifting me out of it is to do physical exercise.’ As the music grew louder, and Jane joined in, I put in some mock karate kicks and combat postures. Soon there were four or us jumping and dancing around the room to music loud enough to make the neighbours complain. Then, at Jane’s signal, the music went off suddenly and that was the end. Afterwards, one audience member told me: ‘I have seen a lot of contemporary dance and often see shows in London but this was one of the best things I have ever seen.’ Another woman said she had been moved to tears. Obviously, that was all very satisfying to hear. But these comments were also a testament to the dedication everyone had put in to produce a series of original performances that were by turn intriguing, intimate, meditative, funny and moving. As a commissioner of, and performer in these events, I know the experience will stay with me for many years. 

Looking back at now I think A Dance at Home had multiple positive impacts and outcomes for the commissioners, Dance4 and audiences. For some commissioners the performances undoubtedly boosted self-confidence and expanded ideas about their own capabilities. This was undoubtedly true for myself and the two adults with Down’s Syndrome who had prominent guest parts in my performance Another benefit came from learning how a live dance performance is created from scratch and that the process is largely driven by difficult decisions which, in this case, reflected the performers’ character, abilities and willingness to perform in public. The commissioners also now have a share in ownership in A Dance at Home and so have part authorial credit for a dance performance that may be repeated in future. 

For audiences A Dance at Home showed that non-professional performers, with professional support, can produce absorbing dance; and dance that embraced a gamut of moods including dynamic and loud, quiet and moving, nuanced and intimate. And audiences clearly appreciated the performances. The performances also demonstrated that dance definitely does not have to take place on a stage. Indeed, apart from moving some furniture, each of the private homes used for the performances remained as non-theatrical domestic spaces. While this obviously limited audience numbers in some cases the settings also promoted feelings of intimacy and connection between audiences and performers, and especially as all of the performances took place ‘in the round.’

For Dance4 itself the success of A Dance at Home showed that its decision to produce new performances in this way had been sound strategic thinking. The novel nature of the productions also promoted Dance4’s name and immediately led to a large printed and online article in Nottingham’s monthly culture magazine Left Lion and an exhibition by professional photographer David Severn. David had been commissioned to photograph meetings of the Commission Collective from the start and was subsequently asked to capture images of each of the commissioners’ valued domestic objects. These latter photographs, along with audio excerpts from interviews with the commissioners, went on display at the Malt Cross Hall in Nottingham during the Nottdance 2015 festival during which A Dance at Home was staged. A 12-minute film about the making of A Dance at Home was also produced by commissioned film-maker Jes Hill and this had its public premier at Lakeside Arts Centre on June 20 at a Dance4 discussion event titled A Place to Dance where many of the issues raised by A Dance at Home were aired. The positive reaction to the film by audience members – many of whom had not seen the actual performances -  suggested that A Dance at Home (and the film made about it) were judged to be successful. ‘The intimacy was really beautiful,’ said one viewer. Jes Hill’s film is now available for future viewings and it thereby provides Dance4 with a ready-made documentary about, and advertisement for, the Commission Collective process. This may prove especially valuable in the near future as the project’s success means that Dance4 hopes to bring together a second Commission Collective. Dance4 also wants to retain choreographer Jane Mason for this work. However, lessons learned from the first collective will feed into the second project. As a pilot project for a new method of raising revenue A Dance at Home was successful in its aim of raising 10% of the £12,000 public subsidy that the production cost in terms of staff time. In future, the amount asked of commissioners will be raised from £100 to £1000 although this larger figure will be payable over two years. The larger amount will better reflect the costs of the production, better off-set the subsidy from regular funders and hopefully ensure a 100% commitment to the project from the commissioners. One issue that cropped up at a late stage during rehearsals for of A Dance at Home was the unease that two commissioners felt about performing. 

Another issue that needs to be resolved concerns the ‘public’ nature of the performances. When the Commission Collective first began discussing A Dance at Home there was a clear idea that the performances would be open to the general public. However, by the time the performances took place they had become invitation-only events. To some extent this reflected a sensible need to limit audience numbers in small performance spaces. On the other hand, there was perhaps a later acceptance by Dance4 that the ‘public’ message had become muddied at some point through the process and that in future Commission Collective performances need to be advertised as being ticketed events that are fully open to the public – or remain as essentially invitation-only events.