Samuel Moore, Music Officer, Arts@Trinity, Leeds
The following is based on a telephone conversation with Emma Webster on 12th January 2018.
I have been working at Arts@Trinity for about six years and am responsible for the classical, jazz and world music programming at the venue, while another colleague looks after the rock and pop side of things. Arts@Trinity started as an idea to hold arts events in the space and to fill a gap in the Leeds market. In Leeds when I started working for Arts@Trinity there were either the more ‘high-end’ concert halls, which were expensive for artists to hire, or the lower-level venues. Arts@Trinity occupied the middle ground and offered a unique city centre space to performers at the start of their careers as well as attracting world-renowned artists on a less frequent basis. From this, the project has grown dramatically. We also focus on artists having a unique space in which to perform but it is also a unique space for audiences, so is mutually beneficial to both, plus it benefits the parish because without the arts events then the church would not be open as often as it is.
The Holy Trinity Church is the second oldest building in Leeds and is owned by the City Parish. Arts@Trinity is a separate charity in its own right and we pay a modest amount of money to use the space. A lot of the events held at the church are now arts events but the church still holds church services, particularly on Sundays, but the majority of the time that the church is open, it is open for arts events. Arts@Trinity has meant that the usage of the building has increased, brought in extra revenue, and it allows people to see what a wonderful building it is, so it is an important partnership. In general, unless you are a cathedral or your church has significant historical significance and hence attracts tourists, it can be difficult for churches to operate because of the large operating costs. Non-cathedral churches therefore often have to offer a different model to stay open. This can be via outreach or charity work, or by hosting weddings or vintage fairs, or by building an arts programme; there often needs to be different layers beyond just being a church. Churches have had to diversify and to think innovatively about how to use the space, or have to have a large team of volunteers to keep things going. Many churches have core congregations who support all their in house arts events but Arts@Trinity is slightly different in that we have an audience for the arts events who don’t necessarily attend for worship, and vice versa. That being said, we have a very good working partnership with the church and the worshipping congregation who also use the building. The two things run contiguously and the two pillars support each other and make it work.
Because it’s a church, we have to be mindful that it’s a consecrated building. It’s not a commercial venue so we have to be careful not to put on anything that is anti-religious or overly full of swearing. It’s not a negative but we do need to be mindful that it’s a space that is seen differently by different groups of people. We wouldn’t want a member of the church congregation to come to an arts event and feel uncomfortable because we’re not respecting the space, for instance.
The main issue we face is cash flow. As with many small arts organisations, particularly ones who don’t receive core funding, you’re never more than a few months away from money running out, especially if one of your major events were to go wrong. We don’t get any core funding from funders like the Arts Council; it’s all from sales and a few small grants for the arts. The advantage is that we can be flexible with our programming, but the disadvantages are that you’re having to sign contracts guaranteeing sometimes large artist fees and then you’re paying out for promotion ahead of the event, so you’re always conscious that something could go wrong. Another worry can be noise, we are in Leeds city centre and if there is a noisy event outside the building, the sound can come through the walls and interrupt our events. However, if this were to happen, for obvious reasons you still have to pay the artist, so you could lose a lot of money. As we’re in the city centre we’re conscious of the places around us and, thankfully, nothing bad has happened yet during a major event, but you always worry that, for a quiet acoustic concert, say, if the shopping centre next door were to put on a noisy event it would have a detrimental effect to the concert. Thankfully, however, this never been a major issue.
When I first joined Arts@Trinity, they were working on building the Trinity Shopping Centre next door so we had a building site around us for about two or three years, which meant that our growth was initially sluggish because the building site put people off. Generally, though, we have a good relationship with our neighbours and the organisation has grown dramatically since the construction work finished.
Generally, I think it’s been a positive thing to have a wider diversity of festivals in the UK. There’s been an increase in the grassroots element at festivals. They used to be very ‘top-down’ with no opportunity for local communities to actually perform. There are now more grassroots festivals, mobilised by the Internet. The headline acts subsidies the community elements so festivals don’t just rely on local performers to support the festival by attending; they now offer opportunities for local performers to perform. Everybody benefits. This model is the way to do it and the rise of the Internet has made this possible. The difficulties with running festivals always come down to money. You’re having to sign legal documents saying that you’ll commit to paying artists fees but as previously mentioned, you can never be 100% sure that you will make this back in ticket sales so you just have to grit your nerve and go for it.
Funders are nervous of institutions with a profit agenda but festivals have to generate profit in order to function the following year. As a result organisations running such events often need to have a profit-making and a not-for-profit branch to get funding which is needlessly complex and time consuming to set up. Alongside this, there’s a bit of a blockage in the funding system whereby resources often go to the same institutions. The reason for this in my experience is simple, the process of applying for funding is very bureaucratic and time consuming – particularly as most funding institutions are reluctant to fund 100% of a project and as such you need to send many applications to many different institution each asking for a partial percentage of the funding for a particular project. As such, in real terms an arts organisation who requires funding for a particular project really needs to employ a person who is paid a full time salary just to fill out application forms in order to have any realistic hope of getting any funding at all! However, most institutions cant do this as they don’t have the resources and, for the most part, are made up of a skeletal staff of very busy individuals who work for said institution on a part time basis and then also hold down many other jobs on a freelance basis to make up there income. As such, asking such people to fill out a 20-page form per funding grant is just not reasonable, and it means that the institutions who have the resources to pay a full time salary whose only job is to deal with fundraising tend to be the ones who get most of the funding. In my opinion, there needs to be some kind of initial and very simple sifting process – a one page form to fill in for which funding institutions can say ‘yes’ to in principle – and from this a more comprehensive form should then be sent and an understanding made there needs to be scope to change the project when discussed more broadly. Most importantly, funding bodies need to be willing to take risks and understand that most people applying for funding grants simply do not have the time to send many application forms out to many institutions and as such institutions such as the Arts Council need to be more receptive to giving grants that fund 100% of a project without the need for money raised from other channels.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work for Arts@Trinity and to have the opportunity to work in such an amazing space. There is lots of goodwill and lots of people working together and pulling together; it’s a very organic machine.