News: The McMaster Report & dance

Friday 11 January 2008

*Supporting Excellence In The Arts*, commissioned by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and written by James McMaster, former Director of the Edinburgh Festival, was published this week.

Introducing the report Arts Minister James Purnell says: “This review will mark a real shift in how we view and talk about the arts in this country. The time has come to reclaim the word ‘excellence’ from its historic, elitist undertones and to recognise that the very best art and culture is for everyone; that it has the power to change people’s lives, regardless of class, education or ethnicity.”

Download a copy of the report here

Dance UK has been evaluating Supporting Excellence in the Arts, canvassing opinions of people working at the forefront of the dance world and finding much to welcome. It responds to key issues which the dance sector has expressed serious concerns about in recent years, “specifically the demise within cultural policy of the importance given to the artist and the development of their work, as funding criteria prioritised the instrumental impact of the arts.”

Initial responses to Supporting Excellence In The Arts

“Vincent Dance Theatre welcomes this report’s recommendations to put innovation and risk-taking at the centre of the funding framework and to prioritise excellence over bureaucracy. Working at the edge of dance and making work that encompasses theatre, live music and text, Vincent Dance Theatre’s artistic choices are consistently left of centre, challenging expectations of what dance can be and aiming to make work that moves people. Artists need to be better supported to do this – in recent months my company, along with many others, has taken additional risks simply by continuing to operate in an unstable and uncertain climate – artists and arts organisations cannot grow unless they have a stable base from which to operate, and funding bodies must recognise this.”

__*Charlotte Vincent, Artistic Director, Vincent Dance Theatre*

“The report is a pleasure to read and gives me fantastic energy. Many artists and organisations are already doing what has been highlighted in the report and it’s great to sense the recognition and appreciation of all that work. But nevertheless it’s going to take each and every one of us to help turn the report’s recommendations into reality.”

Siobhan Davies CBE, Artistic Director of the Siobhan Davies Dance Company

“It is fantastic news that there is now a clear focus on excellence and innovation and risk. The McMaster report is very positive, particularly the move away from assessing art in terms of targets, towards a more generic judgement as to whether something is good or not. Dance UK is particularly pleased that the report signals a reconsideration of the value of peer assessment. People will be much more comfortable with judgement decisions if they feel there is some representation by people working in the field.”

Alistair Spalding, Chair of Dance UK, and Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s Wells

“It is refreshing to have so simply and clearly articulated, and endorsed by government, the belief that investment in excellence requires support for the conditions that allow it to emerge and be sustained, namely – ‘time and space to experiment and develop practice’.

My anxiety is how long such a shift in vision might take to filter through to impact upon the working lives of artists and organisations, especially in the light of recent funding cuts which seem to have been informed by the former instrumental and quantitative criteria……”

Gill Clarke, MBE, dance artist, Co Director of Independent Dance and Dance UK Board member

“We live in times of enormous change and upheaval – globally, nationally and even within our own sector. Brian McMaster’s report throws down the gauntlet – to all of us as creators and producers of cultural activity and to those that fund the arts – to do everything in our power to enable artists to respond to our times in ways that artists are uniquely placed to, and to continue to find ways of engaging ever more meaningfully with our audiences..__.”

Nadia Stern, Chief Executive of Rambert Dance Company

“I am delighted to see that the importance of excellence is heralded first and foremost in the McMaster Report. Everything else follows from this. Dance has the most extraordinarily transformative power. Whether one experiences dance as an audience member, as a participant in recreational dance, or as a professional dance artist, time and time again dance has demonstrated its power to both touch and transform people in the most profound and unexpected ways. At The Place we are dedicated to changing lives through dance and to creating the best possible conditions in which to grow the seeds for future life-changing moments in dance.”

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, Chief Executive, The Place

“We welcome the report’s emphasis on the importance of diverse, world class and risk-taking art in all our lives. That is what our company has been striving to create over 20 successful years. It is good to be reminded that quality is what matters. We passionately support the call to break down the “it’s not for me” syndrome, and the innovative ideas to ensure that everyone is able to take up their birthright of excellent art. We welcome the report’s recognition of the importance of learning and teaching both for the companies themselves and their potential audience._

_If the welcome accorded to this report by the Minister is translated into policy then art in England can look forward to a dynamic future where risk-taking, striving for the best and working to develop a knowledgeable audience comfortable with contemporary work will be valued and recognised as vital for the future of a culturally confident, socially healthy community.”

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company

“Sir Brian’s report is extremely welcome and I’m excited by the prospects it presents. The proposals for professional development are completely in tune with the needs of our artists and practitioners. The pursuit of greater trust in artists, alongside informed judgement, is encouraging – peer review and self-assessment have been neglected for too long. I’m really pleased to see the value of artists’ contributions being recognised. The international focus is also warmly welcomed and has long been important to us – dance is a proven international relations miracle.”

Julia Carruthers, Head of Dance and Performance, Southbank Centre

Dance UK believes that dance is in a strong position to respond to many of the recommendations in the report. For their full analysis visit

The report comes in the same week that may arts organizations are protesting about the latest round of Arts Council funding decisions and their implementation. Equity members carried a vote of no confidence in Arts Council England at a packed meeting on Thursday. Read more in the Guardian, 10 Jan 08

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