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“As we look towards the Phoenix Season we’ve been thinking about 5 questions”

PRESENTATION – an overview of the programme to re-open the Grand Hall at a press event on 13 Mar 2018 three years after the fire

Thanks for coming this morning to Battersea Arts Centre, on the third anniversary of the Grand Hall fire.

We are currently on the set of our co-production with Touretteshero – Not I – which has had such a great response from audiences and critics. Massive welcome to Jess this morning.

My name is David and I am artistic director. I’ll offer a brief description of myself as part of our drive towards becoming a relaxed venue and accessible to all comers.

I am a white, middle-aged male, wearing an old blue suit. I’m also middle-class. Like too many other artistic directors. I do enjoy wearing hats since I lost my hair, mainly because of working here.

We are going to be in this space for about 40 minutes. Please do feel free to come and go or move around. After this presentation we will offer you the chance to meet some members of the wider Battersea community and offer you a preview of the emerging Grand Hall.

If you choose to visit the Grand Hall this morning we just ask that you take no photos at this stage. But do please come back later in the year, lots of times & take as many as you like.

This is Amber. We’re doing a double-act this morning. Amber will be live-scribing the event. This is a “scratch” or a test. Because when we re-open the Grand Hall we want there to be a visualisation of all the ways people connect with BAC – through all our different programmes and partnerships.

A map of our activity – right outside the front of the building – as an invitation.

It’s not every day that we say out loud so many of the things that BAC does. So we have invited Amber here this morning for a speed-scribe in a mini-format.

To start the process of thinking about what that map of activity might look like. In true Scratch style, it would be great to get your feedback.

As part of our very warm welcome to Battersea Arts Centre this morning, I now want to introduce you to an artist who has been occasionally hanging out in our building, over the last year, and whose new show, called Vaseline, is a new BAC commission which we very much hope will occupy the Grand Hall in years to come. Please do give her a very warm welcome for this very early morning gig at Battersea Arts Centre, to Amy Leon.

[Amy performs – @ 3:32]

When we re-open the Grand Hall later this year, one of things we are going to do a lot of, is curtain raisers. We will be hosting five minute slots – before a show – for artists to scratch new ideas.

But also:

  • for sharing an item and story from the Wandsworth collection
  • or for social entrepreneurs sharing new ventures
  • or for local voluntary groups presenting their future ambitions

We want curtain raisers to highlight someone or something exceptional.

This is because we – don’t – just – think – arts centres & museums are about shows & exhibitions

We are about change. We are a home for everyone’s story. And everyone’s creativity – which expresses itself in myriad ways. We want to reflect that when the Grand Hall reopens.

Because the show that you come to see here is just one frame in a Battersea kaleidoscope of ideas, projects, stories and community organisations.

Our curtain raisers will encourage a world of ideas – & people – to be more visible in our community. Thank you again to awesome Amy – and more about her later this morning.


When you walked in to the building this morning, you might have thought about the last time you were here and what happened.

Or perhaps it was your first time walking in to the building – and you began to imagine what might happen today.

Buildings are not just bricks and mortar. They are bound up with memories. Our expectations. Our relationships. They are portals to our emotions.

A few years ago, before the Grand Hall fire, we asked local people to nominate their local heroes – long associated with this building over its 12 decade history.

As well as the usual suspects – like Charlotte Despard, leading suffragette and John Archer, London’s first black mayor – people also nominated their unsung heroes – like Doris Nichols who worked at the Town Hall in the 1940’s and who protested against being paid less than young men, her age, doing the same jobs – and won – her salary was raised. It seems extraordinary that 80 years later Doris’s fight continues.

We then spent time thinking about the kind of values these people’s stories represented. Determination, Courage, Hope, Creativity and so on…

We chose 12 which have shaped the building’s 12 decade history and inspired us to think about its future.

We are now working with artists such as Lemn Sissay and the Hackney Mosaic Project to create adventure trails, across this building, especially for families, to explore these values, and these stories, as part of our BAC Moving Museum programme.

3 years ago today, when fire scorched through the Grand Hall, in the late afternoon of Friday 13th March, in the 13th decade of this building’s history, we were quickly moved to add a 13th value to our trail – because of the action taken by – thousands of people.

Within hours of the fire, artist Stella Duffy had created the hashtag BACPhoenix. Within 3 days it had been seen millions of times all over the world.

About 15 or 20 staff spent the next morning in Cafe Parisienne opposite. When I went to pay for all the breakfasts and teas and coffees, Kazim wouldn’t let me pay. He didn’t let any of us pay for a week.

By Sunday morning I had received 500 emails and hundreds more to other members of staff. Each offering incredible support.

Because our office base was below the Grand Hall, we lost almost every piece of office equipment in the building. So we bought a printer from Asda and stuck every email up on the wall in our emergency HQ. Just next door to this room.

This was so that everyone who no longer had a computer – could see the emails & get back in touch with people. But if you ever needed to just cheer yourself up, you just read the walls.

We couldn’t find a dangerous structures company to take on the site. It was a massive problem. A week later someone walked in to the building, explained they worked for a dangerous structures company, Deconstruct, lived across the road, and that they wanted to offer us their services at cost.

2,300 people came to see a cast of over 50 artists in a Phoenix Fundraiser at the Southbank Centre.

Over 5,000 people donated, from £1 to £100,000. And the government added £1million to help a fast moving fight back.

The support of the emergency services, our neighbours, the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Wandsworth council, our insurers, our dear, dear friends at Haworth Tompkins Architects, and many, many more, made sure we were open 24 hours after the fire and that we stayed open…with a promise…to rebuild brick by brick.

It was obvious that the 13th value for the 13th decade of this building’s history would be generosity.

Representing the incredible way people responded to the fire in the hours, days, weeks, months and years which followed.

Generosity of things, generosity of spirit, generosity of imagination.

Battersea Arts Centre is able to open its doors today because of that generosity.

So the 13th installation as part of our adventure trails – will involve the creation of a garden – and mini-allotments for local community groups on Town Hall Road.

We couldn’t think of a better way to respond to people’s generosity, than to further share the land we occupy – with local people who do not have access to green space.

Here is a short film created by Thea, a member of our producing team which remembers the Grand Hall.

[Play film – – 16:18]

People often ask us about how we managed the recovery from the fire – the communication – rehousing performances – getting the organisation back on its feet.

I have even been asked to present at disaster planning conferences.

Of course the truth is we didn’t have a plan.

But what we did have, as well as thousands of incredible friends, was Scratch.

Scratch process

Scratch is a simple iterative process, to develop an idea, listen to feedback, and redevelop that idea. Many of you will know that we have used scratch to make shows since 2000.

But since about 2006 we have also used Scratch as a creative process to underpin everything we do. From creating arts – to working with our community – to changing our organisation.

Crucially, this means that we often begin a journey with limited sight of our destination.

By using Scratch for so long, I now realise we had created a culture in which we were able to respond very quickly – to uncertainty.

By involving people in the process. By not pretending we had all – or sometimes any – of the answers. By growing an idea from an uncertain beginning.

In the days, weeks and months after the fire, we responded to what happened – with an instinct to survive – and Scratch.

The last email I sent before the fire, was in preparation for a change in the organisation’s core purpose. From “To invent the future of theatre”

To this.

Battersea Arts Centre’s new purpose

It represented a shift from prioritising art, to wanting to support the creativity of everyone in our community.

There is no doubt in my mind, that the fire and people’s response to the fire has super-charged this change.


So we plan to re-open the Grand Hall with what we are calling our Phoenix Season.

And we hope this will provide not just a window in to the world of exceptional artists – but will embrace the creativity of all kinds of people.

Over the last four decades BAC has often seeded change in the arts sector, supporting new artistic voices or new creative approaches like Scratch.

Less visibly perhaps, we have thought a lot about our purpose in connection to our community.

As we look towards the Phoenix Season we’ve been thinking about 5 questions.

Firstly, do we need to change the way arts organisations and museums are led and run?

I mentioned my white, middle-class-ness earlier, as part of my identity. If artistic directors and curators, come from largely one background, and they define the programmes of their organisations, then is it little wonder that the Warwick Commission in 2015 highlights that arts organisations are super-serving the most socio-economically advantaged people in the country?

We can have as many good and well-meaning education and participation programmes as we wish to create – but if the core invitation is to come and join in with what I like, then that is very likely to lead to more of the same.

It is a self-perpetuating model in terms of the leadership of arts organisations and museums. And if these organisations are to be relevant in 10 years’ time, this must change.

Two examples of other people’s ideas we’re currently engaged with are as follows…

Firstly, Up Next, a collaboration with Artistic Directors of the Future and The Bush Theatre. 3 artistic directors, Lekan, Saad and Tarek, are currently based here, in our leadership team, planning takeover seasons of work, reporting to the Board. If you would like to find out more, please talk with Lekan and Saad after this presentation.

Secondly, Touretteshero is helping us tackle the physical, cultural and social barriers which exist in this organisation, to open it up for more people. In the Phoenix Season we will be scratching and testing ways to make our work more accessible from chillout rooms to seeding the idea of a Relaxed Venue. If you would like to find out more, please talk with Jess and Matthew after this presentation.

But changing arts organisations is not just about changing the leadership. It’s also about our all of our everyday programmes of activity.

So our second question has been, how can we use creativity to drive social change?

For too long, there has been a hierarchy inside our cultural organisations which says that the team that make or produce the art is at the top. And education or participation teams, indeed everyone else, is secondary. This is nonsense. One could argue that it contributes to a culture in which abuses of power can thrive. It’s also an attitude which belongs to an old-fashioned patrician view of art and culture. The truth is of course that everyone is creative. That everyone’s creativity has equal value. We just express our creativity differently.

As we launch our Phoenix Season, this year, we are setting up a national and international network called Co-Creating Change.

It will be for organisations and people who want to come together to explore different ways in which we cultural organisations co-create with communities. Not in the conventional manner of arts organisations – i.e. on our terms.

We are a theatre come and act – we are an orchestra come and play – we are a museum come and curate.

Co-Creating Change is interested in people who are helping to develop the creative ideas of communities, in whatever shape or form they take.

And then, crucially, and unusually, learn how we “tour” or share these creative methodologies.

Currently if someone in the arts sector makes a hit show or exhibition – everyone wants it.

But if someone creates a brilliant and creative approach to social change, it’s likely to remain, in one location.

We want this to change. And for the arts sector to get much better at growing and spreading creative approaches to change.  If you would like to find out more, please go and talk with Liz who is our Head of Creativity and Social Change who can tell you about the network – and related programmes which run here in Battersea.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, how can cultural organisations support young people to realise their potential?

Cultural organisations often think our role is to introduce young people to art – even to encourage them to consider working in “the arts”.

But what if they are not interested in the art that I’m interested in?

Am I going to try and find out what they are interested in?

Or, no, I am just going to stick to my own interests, and hope that they join in…

This is the participation model of most arts organisations, including this one until recently.

The consequence is that a generation of young people are growing up thinking that cultural centres don’t have anything to do with their lives.

The truth is we have are everything to do with their lives.

We should be helping them to creatively invent their future.

When we started The Agency we went to find young people on local housing estates to ask them how they wanted to lead change in their community or territory.

A young man called Osmond told us he wanted to create a game called Life is what you make it – about growing up on a housing estate. A young woman called Sydney told us she wanted to develop her ideas about creating skin care products from the things that people could find in their kitchen cupboard. A young woman called Daisy told us she wanted to set up workshops and a recycled clothing line for young mums in the area.

At this point do I turn around and ask those young people to join our youth theatre?

Or do we share a creative process, like Scratch, and help them develop, their ideas and pursue their passions?

The arts are just one branch of creativity.

Organisations like this one must ask ourselves how we help young people to tap in to their creativity.

And perhaps instead of just fighting for drama and dance qualifications to be maintained in schools, we should be actually be working together to fight for creative schools – who champion creativity in every aspect our children’s education.

The Agency is not about making art. It is about using art-making process – to shape and develop – all kinds of ideas.

This year The Agency – a partnership between Battersea Arts Centre, Contact Manchester and People’s Palace Projects, is set to grow with new partners, in Cardiff with National Theatre of Wales, in Belfast with FabLab, and another major partner to be announced.

If you want to find out more about The Agency find Dean and Henri after this presentation.

Fourthly, how can cultural organisations improve the prosperity of the communities in which they work?

We have been thinking about the enterprising potential of cultural centres like this one. The creative industries remains the fastest growing sector of the UK’s economy.

How can we make sure that this fastest growing sector – benefits people in Battersea? Offering opportunities for people emerging from schools, colleges and universities in Wandsworth.

So this year, launching as part of our Phoenix Season, is a new resource at Battersea Arts Centre, called the BAC Scratch Hub. This will be based in the network of spaces beneath the Grand Hall, for 150 members – using this new co-working space as a home for developing new ideas. We hope young entrepreneurs like Osmond, Sydney and Daisy will adopt the Scratch Hub for their developing ideas.

We are especially interested in providing a base for creative businesses who have an interest in social change. We will also be dedicating a new space right at the front of the building for use by Scratch Hub members to share developing ideas with audiences who come to the building every evening.

If you would like to find out more about the Scratch Hub – or Local Roots – our programme with more than 60 Wandsworth and Lambeth charities, please talk with Miriam after this presentation.

Finally, how can we connect beyond our building?

It remains important for cultural centres, and I think especially those in London, to find all kinds of ways to connect with audiences and other organisations, beyond their four walls, their territory, their city – and their comfort zone.

This year we are continuing our Collaborative Touring Network – our partnership with emerging cultural organisations in towns and cities such as Wigan, Gloucester, Peterborough and areas such as Torbay in Devon and Medway in Kent. The idea is to support local arts organisations to develop regular cultural programmes. I think we have learnt more from our partners than they have from us.

Wigan Old Courts has created the third largest arts centre in Europe and I believe has a more sophisticated CRM than any other arts organisation in the country. While Strike A Light in Gloucester and Doorstep Arts in Torbay have recently become ACE NPOs because of their innovative approach to creative community development.

We are also continuing to strand produce Performance Live in partnership with BBC Arts and Arts Council England, encouraging independent theatre companies to produce their own work, for BBC2 on Saturday Nights. The next programme, Winged Bull in the Elephant Case, by choreographer Wayne McGregor and photographer Robin Friend, airs on 17th March at 10.40pm, followed in late April by hip hop artist, writer and social entrepreneur Akala and The Ruins of Empires. Both programmes are part of the BBC Civilisations Season

If you want to find out more about the Collaborative Touring Network talk with Christy and Nassy – and with Maddie or Thea about Performance Live.

We see all the ideas I have talked about as part of our Phoenix Season.

Also in the Phoenix Season there will be 100 individual performances in the reborn Grand Hall

  • Of these, there will 11 theatre and comedy shows
  • 3 music gigs, and one fully accessible multi art form party

Of the theatre shows there will be:

  • 3 new commissions
  • 3 world premieres
  • 2 London premieres
  • 2 BAC co-productions
  • And 1 BAC production across the front of the building
  • There will be 10 free events to say thank you, especially to 5,000 people who have supported Battersea Arts Centre with their advice, their time and their imaginations. These events will also be open, along with the rest of the programme, to the wider public.
  • We will also be offering 2,000 tickets to the Phoenix Season for £1 each. These will be available exclusively to our local community partners through our new Local Roots programme, so the tickets reach low-income families in Wandsworth and Lambeth
  • And there will be more than 50 Curtain Raisers introducing artists, social entrepreneurs or local charities to a wider audience. [Thea’s slideshow]
  • So first theatre show in the reborn Grand Hall will be Gecko’s Missing, opening on September 6th. The run of Missing was rudely interrupted by the fire in 2015 and so, quite simply, Gecko is back at Battersea Arts Centre in 2018, in the newly restored Grand Hall to finish the run of the show. We are absolutely delighted that Roz from Gecko is here this morning, please do talk with her after the presentation or when we tour down to the Grand Hall.
  • The National Theatre of Scotland will present the London premiere of Adam. BAC’s relationship with Jackie Wylie, the new AD of NTS, goes back many years when she ran The Arches in Glasgow. It is great to be beginning what we hope will be a long, creative and exciting journey between NTS and BAC’s Grand Hall.
  • Bryony Kimmings will present the world premiere of I am a Phoenix, Bitch. This will be her first solo show in nearly a decade and I am so happy she has found such a connection with the story of BAC’s Grand Hall.
  • BAC’s Beatbox Academy is ten years old in 2018. And in their birthday year they are celebrating the 200th birthday of Frankenstein with their best ever show. I am so proud we will present them in the Grand Hall with a huge 10th birthday party for the Academy.
  • I Am Next is a creative enterprise developed by Seshie Henry via The Agency. Back in 2014 Seshie presented an I Am Next gig in the Lower Hall. One of the young grime artists he invited was called Stormzy. Who the following year won a Mobo. And this year a Brit. A few years earlier I’d encouraged Seshie to come and see one of the artists who is actually in the Phoenix Season. Seshie was asleep within 5 minutes. The Agency has enabled Seshie to pursue his own passion, not mine. And now he’s in the Phoenix Season. Along with the artist whose work he fell asleep in. And I’m not going to tell you who that was.
  • Battersea Arts Centre is a UK centre of excellence for beatboxing. And to illustrate that, in 2018, we will present the UK Beatboxing Championships. And we will be rooting for members of our own academy who enter the competition.
  • Dead Centre’s Chekhov’s First Play is a BAC co-production which has already toured to 11 countries around the world, and we are delighted to welcome it home, for its London premiere, and to be part of the Phoenix Season.
  • Lekan Lawal is one of the Artistic Directors working at Battersea Arts Centre, as part of Up Next. I have had the honour of learning lots from Lekan over the last 6 months. We are very proud to support SUPERBLACKMAN in the Grand Hall as part of the Phoenix Season.
  • Our Associate Artistic Director, Sarah Golding, creator of the acclaimed immersive adventure for families, The Good Neighbour, in 2013, now mines the history of the remarkable Jeanie Nassau Senior. A long time ago, on the very spot where Battersea Arts Centre now stands, a brave woman known for her generosity, lived in Elm House. Return to Elm House will be a new building wide adventure in search of the story of a social pioneer and Britain’s first female civil servant, who invented modern foster care.
  • Little Bulb scratched Orpheus over a two year period. This production, previously presented in the Grand Hall four years ago, has inspired us to create a new Phoenix Award to grow work on a larger stage with more resources and grow ambition. More of that in a minute. Orpheus has toured nationally and internationally to Salzburg and Brisbane – and we welcome it home as a joyous musical for Christmas.
  • Daniel Kitson has researched and developed many of his most brilliant shows in this building. We’re delighted he will feature in the Phoenix Season in the Grand Hall. Some will remember him from the Southbank Centre fundraiser and his legendary version of I Didn’t Start The Fire.
  • And in A Grand Night Out, curated by Daniel Kitson, and so far featuring Bridget Christie and Nish Kumar, we are looking forward to a wonderful Grand Hall night of variety, as a special fundraiser for Battersea Arts Centre.
  • Touretteshero return with Brewing in Battersea for the Grand Hall. This will be a celebration of accessible, immersive performance and play – for disabled and non-disabled people of all ages. Dates and further details to be revealed later this year.
  • There’s lots more to tell you about, including our new open air courtyard theatre, but I don’t have time. So I will finish with a brief mention of our Phoenix Events.
  • We thought long and hard about how we thank literally thousands and thousands of people who have helped us – from donations, to donations of stuff, to re-housing shows, to shoulders to cry on. The problem is that we can’t possibly fit everyone in to one re-opening event. So we are inviting the 5,000 people who saved us to one of ten free, re-opening events across the Phoenix Season. From a ceremonial photo in the Grand Hall on Friday 13th July, to Gecko’s first night on September 6th, to a vow renewing ceremony as part of Orpheus – for all the couples who have been married in the Grand Hall – to helping us cook Christmas dinner on Christmas day for people who are seeking an alternative home for the day.
  • We hope the Phoenix Events offer range of options for an amazing range of people without whom we simply would not be re-opening. Many of you in this room will be one of those people, you should be receiving an email invitation from us around midday today. And these events will also be open to the wider public to come and enjoy all together, as part of our Phoenix celebrations.

Finally, we are excited to announce, as the Grand Hall re-opens, a new prize.

We are launching a new Phoenix Award in recognition of the fact that there are many brilliant artists making work on the small scale who don’t get the opportunity to try out their ideas in bigger spaces. So for at least the next 3 years we will select an artist or company who has a relationship with BAC to receive a new Phoenix Award to enable them to Scratch new ideas in the Grand Hall.

This will be an award for artists who haven’t previously presented their theatre work on the mid-scale. They will receive:

–  A £4,000 commission

– The chance to Scratch their work in the Grand Hall and see all the other work in the season

– Along with lots of residency time and an artist bedroom to live in the building

I am very proud to announce that the first recipient of the Phoenix Award will be Amy Leon.


To finish, I want to thank a few people…

Firstly our Board, and most especially our Chair, Michael Day, who has been a rock, throughout the last three years. And all the other volunteers who support this charity. You are exceptional.

Secondly, to Haworth Tompkins, our architects and friends. We have worked together since 2006, I think it must be one of the longest architectural collaborations in history in the arts. We have learnt so much from Steve and his team.

Thirdly, to the funders who have leaned-in, to support BAC, during an exceptionally challenging three years. Every single programme I have talked about this morning has a funder, or funders who have taken a risk to make it happen.

I have not mentioned them as we have gone along otherwise we would have added another 5 minutes – but I would like you all to see who they are, right now. [Refer to screen] Without this group of organisations we simply could not move forwards, change or even open.

And massive thanks to the 5,000 people who donated time, money and imagination.

And to Amy, Amber and the wider BAC team who have worked on today’s event.

And to all of you – and all of you in this room – thank you for coming this morning.

13 Mar 2018

Categories: Developing creative ORGANISATIONS FIRE in Battersea's Grand Hall

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