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Another Plan B for the Arts? A profile on What Next? Generation

It’s difficult to plan for an uncertain future. In a political climate where even Labour are talking arts cuts if they are elected into Government next year, and in a time when it’s clear that pleading for an economic case for arts funding is currently falling on the coalition’s seemingly deaf ears, what’s certain is that Arts Organizations, professionals and practitioners, both established and just starting out, in London and outside of it, are having to take things into their own hands and ensure that the arts groups and centres they represent, engage further in a two way conversation with their audiences and build on a deeper level of engagement with their communities, in order to safe guard the artistic future of the UK itself- and to avoid what Richard Eyre referred to in 2011, as a cultural apartheid.
Apart from individual organizations forming policies that will further embed them into the communities within which they serve, in a bid to hand over the management to the public rather than national or local government, there are also movements afoot that are attempting to bring organizations together in a form of collective brainstorming, a sort of collaborative conversation that will find ways to further engage with the public as an ‘active participant who takes part in the work made with, for and by them’.*
In order to find out what, why and how voluntary run groups like What Next? and its sub groups are working to promote greater arts awareness and find new and engaging ways of reaching out to the public and with each other, I met Daniel Harrison,  Taking Part and Administration Assistant at The Young Vic, and asked him a series of questions regarding the sub group he is a participant of, What Next? Generation.
What is What Next? Generation and how did it begin?
What Next? Generation was formed in response to and as a sub group of What Next? a movement chaired by David Lan, Artistic Director of The Young Vic, which was shaped to enhance conversations about art and its value in the cultural life of this country and to ‘argue strongly for adequate government investment’* in arts organisations.
As a younger arts professional just starting out, others and I decided we didn’t yet have the tools or knowledge to attend the larger meetings of What Next? and felt that we wanted to represent the ideas and concerns of a younger generation of practitioners, and be a driving force to highlight the issues of higher tuition fees and the difficulties of studying art based subjects in schools for example, which will have a huge impact on how our future arts industries will be shaped.
We are a small group formed by young professionals from the Young Vic, the Unicorn, BAC, the Roundhouse, the ITC, to name but a few, but we are also joined by people on gap years who have an interest in the arts, by directors, writers, filmmakers and by those who represent audiences and works with them, like Janet Morris.
 What are What Next? Generation’s main aims and ideas?
At our core is the sense that the arts in general can be the main driving force behind all reform- be that in mental health, tourism, the economy, social cohesion, and our social spaces. We want to try and help expose the perceived myth of binary opposites, that the public may be crudely given the choice by local/national bodies to fund either an arts centre or a hospital for example and instead look at ways in which Government and cultural bodies can create joined up thinking- a holistic approach to understanding the value the role the arts play in this country, hand in hand with sectors like health care, be that mental or physical, schools, education and those in the marginalised areas of our society.
We also want STEM, The Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics Network inspiring youngsters across our schools and colleges into study and further training, to become STEAM, The Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Network, which would help support the arts, rather than encourage the current policy, in which courses, especially at degree level, are being cut.
What does What Next? Generation hope to achieve and what does it actively do?
We are currently preparing our manifesto, which we will present to Youth Leaders and the Youth Reps of the main political parties and the YPA [Young Professionals in The Arts Network]. We have 5 manifesto points, which, because they all feed into each other, are more like a Venn diagram. They are Employability, Education, Joined up Government, Audience and Diversity.
We are particularly interested in supporting the London Living Wage within the arts sectors, encouraging more entry level jobs [where a person is not in need of a degree/ relevant degree or experience to work in the arts] and encouraging organisations to get rid of unpaid internships and instead, invest in apprenticeships, which is already happening at places like the Young Vic and the Unicorn, amongst others.
We also approach universities and student groups and invite in guest speakers.
We are very interested in supporting theatres to include audiences and communities in a much more varied and empowering way. For example, Theatre Royal Stratford East is really engaging with young people on both a local and national level and places like The Albany devote pages in their show’s programmes to local education and community news. This is great because it hopefully helps to link the patron with the venue, something that’s needed to build powerful audiences, rather than having a mass of arts consumers who don’t feel particularly engaged by the organisation they are visiting.
 What next for What Next? Generation?
We really want to increase the diversity of our own members. Diversity does not just refer to the colour of a person’s skin or ethnic background, although when I look around the table I see mostly white middle class professionals. But it also means having young or emergent professionals and practitioners from different backgrounds and with varied experiences who are interested and want to participate. We need to reach out to other representatives of other arts organisations and individual artists; at the moment we are rather theatre heavy. We would welcome interest from visual artists for example, filmmakers or any other kind of artist or organisation that’s interested in joining in the conversation about the value of art in our society and how we can reach out to further audiences in future years and help promote it to young people. It’s also about pooling ideas, skills and helping to share resources. We want to get to the people who aren’t engaged and this can only happen if we reach out to other more diverse organisations and artists.
Also, apart from working on the manifesto, we want to find other ways to engage with young people and different social groups.. It’s about paper and public action.
How does What Next? Generation work?
We meet every few weeks, at a time as mutually convenient as possible. Each participating organisation will host a meeting, this means we all get to see and experience other venues we might never previously have been aware of. For example, A Younger Theatre in their offices at Ideas Tap, hosted our last meeting, the time before it was at The Young Vic. But we also have meetings at Central School of Speech and Drama, or Sadler’s Wells.
How can others get involved with What Next? Generation or What Next?
We can be found on twitter @WhatNextGen. There is also a What Next? website http://www.whatnextculture.co.uk where you can find out more about the movement as a whole. Or, if you want to contact me with questions or wish to get directly involved, you can use this email danielharrison@youngvic.org
Daniel Harrison is part of The Taking Part Team at The Young Vic and Verity Healey is a writer and filmmaker
 * text taken from What Next culture
nb this article will shortly be appearing in Theatre Bubble.com

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