Entertainment & Arts

Arts world gets creative in funding crisis

With public grants for the arts shrinking, many venues and artists are looking for new ways to fund their works. From fan funding to hosting weddings on stage, here are some of the more innovative schemes that arts bodies around the UK are turning to.

Personalised plays

Theatre company Angle is looking for the best new playwrights - but it needs money.

Image caption Angle Theatre staged Commercial Road by Mina Maisuria after a search for new playwrights in 2009

In the supermarkets, cafes and community centres of west London, its activists will be accosting people and asking them to scribble down script ideas on beer mats, the backs of envelopes and in notebooks.

Angle has already done something similar in east London, staging five full productions by promising first-time writers in 2009.

To mount the best new plays this time, Angle is attempting to raise £3,000 by attracting small donations through the Wedidthis crowdfunding website.

Wedidthis allows individuals to donate anything from £5 to £15,000 to arts organisations for specific projects, and get rewards in return.

So if you give £10 to Angle, you will get a handwritten postcard of thanks from the selected new playwrights.

Or for £500, you will get a personalised 20-page play written by one of the new playwrights about you or a topic of your choice. "You never know who they might become!" Angle's sales pitch enthuses.

Others currently raising funds through Wedidthis include Turner Prize nominee Zarina Bhimji and the Classical Opera Company, while other similar crowdfunding sites include Sponsume and Wefund.

"A handful of quangos, foundations and wealthy individuals hold too much power over what art gets funded," the Wedidthis manifesto says. "By giving small amounts in great numbers, audiences and supporters of the arts decide what gets funded."

Dinner with a musician

For £6,000 over three years, an orchestra lover can sponsor a musician from the Northern Sinfonia, based in Gateshead, through its Principal Partners scheme.

Image caption Supporters of the Northern Sinfonia can meet its musicians for dinner

You choose a principal musician to support, and get exclusive access in return. "You meet that principal on a regular basis over lunch or supper, and become close to that instrument and understand what it is to be a player in an orchestra like this," explains director of marketing and development Lucy Bird.

You also get access to rehearsals, invitations to special events and your name in the programme. Eleven of the 13 musicians are currently filled.

"It's been hugely successful," Ms Bird says "We've done it now for six years so people have come back twice and they're all renewing again. Nobody's dropped out, despite the recession. Clearly they get something out of it."

It is an extension of the more traditional sponsor a seat schemes, where supporters pay to get their names on a plaque in their favourite auditorium.

The prices vary depending on the venue - it is £200 for 10 years at Derby Guildhall or £5,000 for a seat in the stalls at the refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Weddings on stage

For those who really want to make a show of their big day, a growing number of theatres are letting couples get married on stage.

Image caption The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond was built in 1788

They include The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, north Yorkshire, a gem that has changed little in 220 years and is the UK's oldest working theatre that is still in its original form.

Opened in 1788, the venue still has some of its original paintwork and can wheel out Georgian scenery for the occasion.

The 214-seat venue also prints mock tickets for guests to present to the ushers as they file into the stalls to watch the happily-ever-after drama unfold on stage.

Other theatres that allow happy couples to tie the knot on stage include the Nottingham Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic and Bath Theatre Royal.

Many more, including the National Theatre and Shakespeare's Globe, hire function rooms for receptions, while a range of art galleries offer the same thing.

Weddings are not the only occasions for which venues are hired out. Many play on their cultural appeal when attracting conferences, corporate seminars, dinners and award ceremonies - and those functions will become more important as funding is eroded.

Expert coaching

Live Theatre in Newcastle has a long reputation for staging new writing and has spawned hits such as Cooking With Elvis and The Pitmen Painters.

Image caption Budding playwrights get online tutorials through the Live Theatre's course

So as well as selling tickets for its shows, it also sells something else that is in demand - its scriptwriting expertise.

The venue set up an online playwriting course last year, charging £495 for a step-by-step guide for budding writers around the world, culminating with the completion of a full script.

Students get regular live online feedback from the tutors - actor, playwright and literary manager Gez Casey and The Royal Court's deputy artistic director Jeremy Herrin.

That is not the only scheme Live Theatre has to increase income from other sources.

It is opening a gastropub with Terry Laybourne, the first chef to win a Michelin Star in the north-east, and is hoping to convert an adjoining former schoolhouse, which it would rent out to digital and media companies.