Dear Emma

Having spent way too much time lately on and offline in various conversations about the Wise Children NPO decision, a letter to Emma Rice  – a love letter at battle with it’s own sceptical heart…


Dear Emma

I’m sure you’ve heard the whispers. I’m sure you’ve seen the social media posts, many of which are then fearfully deleted by funding dependent colleagues. It’s not personal, believe us.

ACE’s decision to award such a newly created company NPO status as a company with an intention to partially base itself in the South West hurts us. Not because we doubt your talent, not because we doubt you are worth it, and not even because we doubt you will attract further investment – but as such a newly formed company that surely demands a leap of faith from funders that would rarely be taken with others in the NPO process.

An award from Ambition for Excellence perhaps, or some other strategic pot, but an NPO? The funding stream that so rigorously assesses not just artistic talent but business track record and sustainability? Please forgive us if we seem a little incredulous.

As a region the south west is outward looking, we have to be, as much as we value our distinct identity. Much of our strength is from doing things a bit differently. So when you write that ‘all national touring companies seek a London home’, I have to scratch my head and ask if that isn’t the exact paradigm that we have been challenging?

Sure, London residencies are great and relationships are vital, but that’s very different from all that a ‘home’ implies. This all matters when arts policy is about diversity, which resonates through every layer of management and artistic process, engagement and performance.

The thing with privilege is that none of us like to acknowledge where we may have it. For whatever and many reasons, there’s still far from a level playing field in the arts. I’m sure it hurts when artists post that we would never have the same favourable treatment as you because our networks are smaller and less influential, and yes, that’s something we all need to get better at. But privilege remains a privilege, however it is won.

The poorly co-ordinated response, firstly from ACE distancing itself from the award by citing arms length National and Regional Council decision making, (The Guardian, 29 July ) and the remaining confusion over exactly how regionally based Wise Children will be (with local commentators noting the tiny ripples and misses to local economy such as the London based web design company), have seen this story roll and roll.

It’s bigger than you and Wise Children. Like I say, it’s really not personal. This has become symbolic of so many layers of inequalities.

But you can play a part and turn this around. You are quoted as having said; “I have learned, never again, to allow myself to be excluded from the rooms where decisions are made”. You are in a position to help open those doors to others. I really want to believe that you will.