Today The Stage leads with a call from Sadiq Khan to save cultural space:

"Once these things are gone – arts centres, live music venues, they’re gone forever, they’re not going to come back".

"But we’re also making sure the new generation of developments think about having theatres, community spaces, pubs, because what we don’t want is a dormitory city".

It follows on from an article in the Guardian on a new book that sounds a warning knell for the arts and creative space in London:

Vital resources, such as studio space and alternative arts venues, should not be taken for granted. Without them, London’s preeminence as a creative city is at risk.

As one of those non-subsidised ‘alternative arts venues’, providing development, work and performance space, we feel the pain of surviving on a daily basis. Cashflow crises, funding rejections, inventing non-arts income streams, and struggles with councils are our daily, sometimes-hard-to-swallow, bread and butter.

Yet, we work with some of the UK’s most progressive and supportive property developers. People that we are so grateful to be working with. The problem is that supportive property developers aren’t enough, and sometimes their support isn’t enough, not when the whole system is rigged to only support a profit-making ecosystem. Surviving as a venue – one that actively and meaningfully creates affordable and accessible services and events for artists and audiences – is an increasingly complex game. 

Explaining to a capitalist world that your main 'product' – live, artistic, creative experience - is not only unable to break-even, but by necessity works at a deficit, gets confused looks at best and disgust at worst.

Even within the industry there is a lack of knowledge around how the finances work, or rather don’t work. The current debate around performers' pay that has included some critics declaring they won’t see shows that don’t pay performers, while not helped by an all-too-regular lack of transparency from producers and venues, highlights a desperate need to teach everyone how the money works in the arts, and how to talk about it.

Explaining to people that the small profit made from ancillary products that are not art, like food and drink, desperately need to go to filling the deficit or possibly just pay for the heating, is increasingly falling on deaf ears. Particularly when most people – 92% at last count - don’t care about your 'product', even when we know it's making their life much much better.

How do you pitch to potential investors, partners, property owners, councils, donors and even to the Arts Council, that because it's art, your financial starting point isn’t zero, it’s somewhere very much minus zero? And that art can’t pay rents, services charges, electricity costs, business rates and any normal costs of a city business. And that the value they will be getting back will not be financial. And - here's the kicker - there’s a risk that because art is risky and often fails, it may not even feel like there’s artistic value.

How the fuck do you explain all of that AND make them understand that ALL of it is ESSENTIAL to creating something much much bigger? That without this part of the structure there is no structure. Without this part of the structure there is no London, or maybe, no culture anywhere at all.

I sometimes feel we have very similar issues in the UK to those experienced by environmentalists on the desperate need to save water – how do you convince a population that gets rained on all the time to turn the water taps off? 

How do you convince a population who are arguably drowning in culture and stories and narratives – Netflix releasing 700 new shows, a record-breaking West End, a thriving gaming industry, record-breaking art sales, the internet – that the ecology that is the life blood of this incredible success is actually drowning?

How do you convince them that a fringe show, made on nothing for nothing, is like turning off the water tap at home – it seems so small and unnecessary relative to the big picture – but is actually a radical act that is essential to the survival of that picture?

For both the environment and for culture, there’s something weird going on. The dead canary in the mine approach doesn’t work anymore because right now the mine is buzzing with squawking canaries, multiplied to overwhelming amounts. Unfortunately no one noticed, in the flurry of feathers and cacophony of noise, that at the end of the tunnel a group of miners have quietly collapsed and stopped breathing.

Next time: Solutions....?