National Theatre to advise regional venues on fund-raising

Natalie Woolman
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The National Theatre is to offer guidance to two regional theatres in a pilot scheme designed to “unlock local philanthropy”.

The initiative, announced by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner and executive director Nick Starr, follows recent news that the venue was in talks with a number of subsidised London theatres to share its back office services.

The team at the National has pledged to work with Bristol Old Vic and one other regional theatre – as yet undecided – to try to stimulate philanthropy at a local level.

Starr said: “On the whole, theatres like Bristol Old Vic, which has a fantastic reputation and an extraordinary, dynamic leadership, are doing relatively badly on individual philanthropy. We plan to put together a kind of pilot model working with Bristol, and one other regional theatre that we haven’t chosen yet, working probably over a couple of years at board and executive level on fund-raising.”

Starr said regional theatres had generally adopted structures to stimulate giving, but often needed to oversee a culture change within their organisations.

Speaking to The Stage, he explained: “Things like having an ethos where the board all give at whatever level – that is something which is beginning to be standard practice even in the smaller theatres in London and it generates that enormous sense of buy-in. It is what the Americans got absolutely right – it is not just the catch, it’s the demonstration of buy-in.

“You have got to ask yourself the question, why would someone give you money if the people sitting on your board are not giving you money? It is an impossible question to answer.”

In October 2010, Travelex chairman and National Theatre board member Lloyd Dorfman made a personal donation of £10 million to the NT towards its capital project.

NT is offering its help to the regional theatres for free. Starr said the initiative was not directly in response to Arts Council England’s announcement that, under the new system of national portfolio funding, major institutions will be required to take on greater responsibility for the sector. However, he said that the National was “completely in support of what the arts council is asking big companies to do”.

Neil Darlison, director of theatre for London at ACE, said: “The National Theatre partners with organisations in London and throughout the country in many ways – by providing a London base, mentoring and offering support for artists and administrators – that are hugely helpful for British theatres and are characteristic of an organisation willing to share its expertise and success.”

Last autumn, the National announced that it was in talks with London venues including the Royal Court and the Donmar Warehouse about the possibility of sharing services including box office, legal, IT support and contracting.

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