In the third instalment of his series of reports from the 2013 Theatres Trust Conference, thriving theatres, Conference Reporter Fin Kennedy hears from Lyric Hammersmith’s Executive Director Jessica Hepburn, about the Lyric’s ambitious redevelopment – and how fundraising is all about having the right people doing the asking.
As Executive Director and Joint Chief Exec of London’s Lyric Hammersmith, Jessica is currently overseeing a £16.5 million redevelopment project. Historically, the Lyric has had two linked aspects: producing theatre, and the creative development of young people. Their redevelopment will see a two-storey extension of new facilities for young people and theatre artists to work together, and a full refurbishment of their existing theatre and audience spaces, with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.
However, Jessica had three words of advice for those considering undertaking such any capital project: Don’t do it. She was only half-joking – any such project will be long, hard and very messy, on top of which there is no guarantee that it will make your theatre thrive. The Lyric’s redevelopment had also been an exercise in negotiating capital works with their landlord. Jessica freely admitted that the project would not come in on time or on budget – and didn’t believe that there is one which has.
As if that level of uncertainty wasn’t bad enough, the world is also guaranteed to change during the period of redevelopment, Jessica said. The Lyric’s plans began under the last government, when they had specific funding for delivering education programmes – funding programmes that no longer exist.
What has focused the Lyric is a belief in two things: that their theatre should be a home for great art, and that it should emphasise young people’s creative development. The Lyric will consider anything to develop that – especially partnerships with other local organisations. Jessica has a vision of their new building ‘teeming’ with artists and young people – but not all projects have to be Lyric-delivered. A range of partners can bring in their own resources (a list of such partners will be announced in the autumn).
What Jessica looked for in potential partners was that they weren’t too much like the Lyric itself. She gave the example of Hammersmith Action for Disability, an organisation which would benefit from the Lyric’s creative expertise, while bringing in heard to reach groups which the Lyric would struggle to attract on their own.
The Lyric is lucky to have a supportive local council, the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. As a Conservative council, despite cuts to their budget, they have contributed £5 million to the Lyric’s redevelopment. The Mayor of London has also contributed, as has the Reuben Foundation, a trust which doesn’t normally support the arts. Jessica emphasised that they had not used a ‘development organisation’ (ie. professional fundraisers), which she characterised as ‘women in nice dresses who earn more than anyone else in the building’. She was clear that she felt this would not be appropriate for the Lyric. Instead, the theatre had instigated a culture of every senior manager at the Lyric being responsible for income-generation. Fundraising and business development was at the core of what they all do – and she used the word ‘business’ advisedly. It shouldn’t just feel like people asking for money.
Her top tip when fundraising was to ensure you have the right people asking the right people at the right time.
The week after the conference, the Lyric also announced a new season of work which will take place during their building work entitled ‘Secret Theatre’. The project aims to be a creative catalyst for changing some of the structures in which theatre in the UK is made currently. Click here for the full transcript of Artistic Director, Sean Holmes’ speech at the season launch.