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Animated Edition - Spring 2006
Take your partner...
Ruth Lloyd, Dance DevelopmentOfficer for Halton Borough Council reports on the developingrelationship from 'blind date' to 'marriage' with dance artist JoRhodes and her company Arcane
In April 2005 I received a call from choreographer and dancer, Jo Rhodes. Jo had received Grants for the Arts funding from Arts Council England, Northwest, to develop her choreography and company Arcane. They were looking for a home, Jo had already received offers from other venues (including other local authority venues) but was still searching for the perfect partner. In this article Jo and I have tried to pin point how we come to be in this partnership and why as a local authority-run venue the partnership works.

I was keen to meet Jo, as a long held ambition for Halton's Arts Development Team was to offer locally based companies and artists the opportunity to develop their art form in a great new space, The Brindley, which opened Sept 2004, and offer support from a specialised arts development team.

Jo's list of needs was not extensive and easy for us to achieve. But as anyone who has been on a blind date knows, there are always questions and desires that get ignored until the second date. However after just one 'date' I could already see the potential for the partnership. So in exchange for space to work and grow in, some friendly advice and support and a bit of money, what could the local authority hope to gain from this investment?

For sometime we had been trying to develop youth dance opportunities in the borough. Although Halton has a very popular street dance culture we were still failing to engage young people in other dance forms. As Jo herself came through the ranks of a youth dance scene it seemed like a natural choice for her to lead Halton's emerging youth dance programme. Not only is Jo an inspiring artist, she is a true role model as teacher and mentor. She also knows how participation in community dance can inspire and be a positive influence on the lives of young people.

Alongside developing community dance initiatives in Halton, Jo is also carving out a new audience from local High Schools for her company and choreography. Parallel to developing new work, Arcane has just finished touring 10 Green Bottles, an education project that looks at the culture of binge drinking. Not only has it earned them some well needed 'bread and butter' it has helped profile them as a company and raised the profile of contemporary dance in the local schools. It has also aided recruitment for Halton's Youth Dance group.

So where are we at? What the partnership is beginning to demonstrate is that an 'artist in residence scheme' can mean different things to different people and it is more than just the artist and the venue who gains, but the wider community. In this case a community arts venue can support and develop artists in a practical way by providing funding support and space to rehearse but along the way provide other benefits (advice, mentoring etc) but the local authority can also gain from the partnership.

It is like any great relationship: it may start out based on mutual attraction but once you get to know your potential partner (second date time!) your needs, desires and expectations start to change. Like an long-married couple you begin to mould to each other's ways. You find yourself thinking, 'What would Jo think?', 'I wonder if this is something Arcane would be interested in?'. Unlike so many associations with local authorities there is no person specification, and desirable/essential criteria for making this 'partnership' decision. It comes down to whether it can be a real partnership, that local authority, venue, officer and artist can genuinely support each other and ultimately develop the art form.

In Halton we are very lucky to be able to watch our art forms flourish and grow. We don't have a 'one size fits all' mentality. We watch, we listen, we find understanding partners and we grow together, and hopefully embed the arts in the wider community.

I am glad to say that as we draw to the end of the first year's residency with Arcane we have already started to plan for a second year. What we are left with now is a truly exciting opportunity to seriously develop contemporary and creative dance in the community. And with the success of our first steps into community youth dance we hope in the future to hear the patter of tinier feet as we look forward to launching an even younger youth dance programme.

contact Ruth Lloyd email / visit

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Animated: Spring 2006