Ventnor Exchange has received emergency funding from Arts Council England. Combined with your support we’re able to keep going. We wanted to be transparent and explain what this means.
These are strange and difficult times for many, and we are incredibly grateful for the backing of Arts Council England in supporting us during this period. We know that many other fantastic organisations will not have been as lucky, and that there are other sectors of the economy without such support systems in place. The lockdown has not affected everyone equally, and we all have to be mindful of this.
But I also truly believe that Ventnor Exchange is worth saving. We have been a vital new voice for the Island, challenging long held assumptions, disrupting the status quo, testing and proving new ideas. In short, we’ve shaken things up.
There are still so many challenges to address and obstacles to overcome, but in the ten years since we started Ventnor Fringe there has been real change within the town, and I think we can justifiably feel we have been part of this.
The Shame of Funding
For a long time I felt awkward about grant funding, and receiving any money would come attached with a lingering sense of guilt. It should really be for someone else; something bigger, something better. It’s a strange conflict that would always play out in my mind, with every cultural grant an opportunity, but one you’re not really entitled to. Who just gives away money? I now realise how much of a barrier that attitude is, and why so many people who are most in need don’t apply. Funds are made available to be given away and if you can fit the criteria you can, and should, apply. Somebody will always be successful, the money will get spent.
We are not all born with equal access to opportunities and experiences. Far from being unfair, a well managed grant programme can help to redistribute wealth and level the playing field, and I believe society is more vibrant, innovative and exciting as a result. I would like to see a much wider range of people supported to access funding and this is something we want to help others with.
Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t
Running an arts organisation I’ve become very aware how easy it is to fall between two contradictory criticisms. On the one hand there are those who are critical of any funding as unfair subsidy. After a decade of austerity and cuts to so many vital services that can seem understandable. As a team of young people we all entered the job market in the aftermath of the financial crash and always knew that public funding would be very limited. Despite the clear economic benefits of events like Ventnor Fringe (We estimate over £400K is spent in the town directly by Fringe audiences during the week) and social benefits of a vibrant creative offer, we do not receive any grants or funding from the Town Council or IW Council whatsoever.
Instead we adapted to raise funds in many different ways. Our income is a combination of ticket sales, bar and retail income, sponsorship, commissions, consultancy and hires, with around 15% of our turnover in a normal year being in the form of grants, and around 10% more being indirectly supported in some way via funders.
In comparison to many similar organisations this is quite a high level of self sufficiency, especially given our rural location and relatively high levels of deprivation. Ironically it is this self sufficiency that has of course made us more vulnerable in the current crisis.
But of course running bars, shops and other commercial activities leaves you open to another criticism. Being accused of ‘selling out’ – with the implication that you are no longer supporting the development of new talent, work and ideas. We have always reinvested all of our income into creating new work and providing opportunities for young people. Every drink or record your buy is paying towards this work.
“Ironically it is this self sufficiency that has of course made us more vulnerable in the current crisis.”
“We wouldn’t exist without you and your support will mean this particular story continues. We can’t wait to write it with you.”
A Collective Endeavour
The reality is this year is going to be tough and like so many other business we will lose a lot of money. Ultimately up to 80% of our turnover is at risk and so we have explored every option to raise funds.
Since Ventnor Exchange closed in March we have received over £10,000 in donations from individuals, an incredible level of support that is larger then some city venues. We have successfully obtained a number of new commissions to work on while our building is closed, Government awarded us the Small Business Grant and Arts Council England have provided an additional £8,000, of which nearly 90% is from the National Lottery.
We will use every penny wisely to steer us through these difficult times, focusing on key issues like supporting the creative ecosystem around us and the community of freelancers we rely on. We will also invest heavily in our work with young people, who we feel will be particularly impacted by the economic fallout.
When it is safe to do so, we will once again host shows and events, when celebrating that live communal experience will seem more important than ever.
We wanted to once again say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to everyone who has supported us; funders, sponsors and our community alike. We wouldn’t exist without you and your support will mean this particular story continues. We can’t wait to write it with you.
Jack Whitewood, Co-Director
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