Ian McMillan learns to knit for
the performance of HAT - see below
"...The week of events is being
organised by Arts and Business Yorkshire, an independent company
based at Dean Clough, Halifax, and dedicated to promoting partnerships
between arts and business organisations in the region.
And one of the messages the organisers
want to put across is that the relationship is changing. Rather
than cash-strapped theatre and dance companies or visual artists
asking for hand-outs from businesses in exchange merely for putting
their names on programmes, they are creating a two-way process:
artists have a lot to teach business leaders about creative thinking,
for example, while help from businesses who might not have a
lot of spare money to throw about can come by offering expert
A hugely successful spin-off
of this new thinking was the show, Hat, an extraordinary celebration, in words
and music, of knitting.
It arose from a collaboration
between the Wakefield-based manufacturer of hand-knitting yarns,
Sirdar Spinning Ltd, and Simon Thackray,
of the innovative performance venue, The
Shed, at Brawby, in North Yorkshire. He conceived and produced
the show, which featured poet Ian McMillan and guitarist Billy
Jenkins, and which had the performers taking audience participation
to new levels every member was given wool, needles and
pre-show tuition, and encouraged to knit throughout the performance.
Hat won priceless publicity for
Sirdar, as it was featured
on Radio 4's arts programmes, the national broadsheets and magazines
as diverse as Time Out and Women's Weekly.
Another Arts and Business project
was a musical story called The Hunt For Betty, devised and performed
by an orchestra of 120 primary schoolchildren and 15 teachers
as part of the Harrogate International Festival and involving
staff from the town's famous tea-shop.
Since Arts and Business was formed
two years ago, business has invested more than £7.5m in
creative partnerships with the arts. "Both parties to the
transactions we've helped to broker have reaped benefits,"
says the chief executive, Tessa Gordziejko. "Businesses
have used arts partnerships to help get their name known, change
their image, increase their markets, train their staff and invest
in their community."
She estimates the knitting show
has reached an audience of 8.5 million through the wide coverage
it received; there's talk of taking it to London or the US.
"We're trying to get businesses to move out of their comfort
zone, and to think differently about how they can learn from
the arts," she says.
Even large prestigious arts organisations
in the region, like Opera North and the Northern Ballet Theatre,
have struggled to get sponsorship recently; but the Leeds-based
Northern School of Contemporary Dance has shown one way round
"We had our awards ceremony at the Northern, including a
performance from students at the school and the company, Full
Body and Voice," recalls Gordziejko. "There were quite
a lot of business people who had never seen contemporary dance
before, and their response was ecstatic. As a result, GNER gave
financial support for the Northern tour, and John Lee, an ex-director
of Human Resources at the Halifax, came to the Northern to develop
a mentoring relationship with Gurmit Hukam, the school principal.
"They've both said it's
one of the most inspiring relationships they've ever entered
into; it's bringing business skills to the arts, while enabling
business people to develop their skills in a challenging environment."
She says arts companies are the best places for businesses to
learn about innovation at its source: "It's not something
they do on a Thursday afternoon, but they manage innovation habitually;
it's a cycle of creative behaviour, but business people can help
them make creative behaviour into useful behaviour. And the business
benefits from subliminal association with excellence."
Yorkshire sales people have already
had a course about using theatrical techniques to develop their
selling skills; and office staff have developed their drawing
skills to help them overcome inhibitions in their job.
"These were the sort of people who wouldn't normally visit
an art gallery, nor describe themselves as cultured, but they
are learning how to think creatively, and they can transfer that
into business benefit," says Tessa.
As part of next week's events,
arts and business managers will be offered the chance to swap
places for a day, to learn about each other's businesses.
"Companies can have an arts or drama workshop for an afternoon,
have a great time and translate what they've learned into business
thinking; arts organisations can learn how to re-package themselves
in a way that's attractive to business."
And a week of events celebrating
the success of Arts and Business in Yorkshire includes a half-day
tour of arts organisations in North Yorkshire on Tuesday; a chance
for businesses to sample arts-based skills at the Priory Campus
in Barnsley on Wednesday; a chance for people to discover hidden
artistic talents at Bishop Burton College, near Beverley, on
Thursday; and a debate about architecture in the community at
Public Arts, Wakefield, on Tuesday, March 11.
Details from Arts and Business Yorkshire, 01422 367860.
© Eric Roberts YORKSHIRE
POST ( Published 27 Feburary 2003 )