Hello and welcome to The Common Place, Inside Out's new blog!
Welcome... I've realized that over the last couple of years this has become my favourite and most frequently used word. Welcoming is the motivation behind starting this account of what we do here at Inside Out, and why. We want to welcome our community of artists, audience members, partners, and strangers into our process.
It's a time of many new things with our company; growth, expansion, learning, processing, documenting, convening, all in service to the vision - to make participating in our city's cultural communities an accessible, inclusive, and welcoming choice for every body in Calgary.
On this page we'll also welcome accountability, transparency, help and advice.
This is Col writing by the way, I'm the Artistic Director here at Inside Out. Throughout this page’s life you'll also be hearing from members of our team and community.
Now then, today's actual blog post...
It's Not Accessible til It's Financially Accessible
September’s on us, and with it the Calgary theatre season is up and running, which means The Good Host program has officially entered our second year! The Good Host is an Audience Accessibility and Inclusion Program where we partner with fellow theatre companies to facilitate accessible performances of their plays. These accessible events include ASL/English Interpreted Performances, Audio Described shows for folks with Low Vision, and Relaxed Performances.
We’re coming off of the program’s inaugural year and the response from the theatre community was overwhelming. We hoped to have twenty events last season, we ended up with over forty. Forty events in partnership with over a dozen companies, big ones, medium ones, festivals, all sorts.
Beyond everyone’s sincere excitement and belief in creating more accessible spaces the other factor behind the big take up is that we were able to, by and large, offer the program services at no cost to the partners (by and large in that in the latter half of the season some companies did cover the costs of ASL/English Interpreted performances.) We had a couple of significant grants to pilot the program, with the inherent promise that we’d develop a sustainable financial model that would let us continue the program after those grant dollars went away.
And we were so close to adopting a “sustainable model” that wasn’t actually sustaining the programs mandate, wasn’t a model for much beyond status quo-ness, and would’ve hamstrung the growth of the program indefinitely.
We had spent the better part of the year assuming that the way forward was to charge our partner companies the cost of hosting the event (say the artist fee for the Audio Describers) plus a small percentage to cover some of our staff and overhead cost. In one of those moments of epiphany that comes when you read something you’ve written yourself I realized what was bound to happen is that companies that could afford the program would still partner, namely the largest companies in town who also typically have the most expensive ticket prices, and audience members who could afford those tickets would go.
That’s not the worst outcome, but that sure didn’t seem like the promise we had made to welcome in Calgarians into the broader cultural community.
Before moving forward we had to recognize that financial accessibility was just as crucial. We had to admit that we could be a part of the most accessible event ever held in a theatre but if cost, that ur barrier to entry, blocked people from entering the theatre then it didn’t really matter.
Not only that, we needed to consider financial accessibility not just for our audiences but for our Good Host partners too. Much of the most vital performance happening in Calgary is created by mighty artists with strapped resources. Many of those artists are barely, if even, making a living wage, the prospect of them having room in the budget for ASL/English Interpretation seems unlikely. But that is exactly the type of work that we want our Good Host audiences to have the choice of attending.
So we went back to first principles, we wrote out the values we held around The Good Host program and money. That list looked like:
We value making the Good Host program financially accessible to all partners and audiences.
We value the labour of our accessibility artists, consultants, and staff – and paying them accordingly.
We value making a thriving and sustainable program that does not financially exclude anyone.
So here’s the financial framework that emerged from those values:
All Good Host services will be offered to current and future partners through a Pay-What-You-Can model. We will provide an honest and transparent description of the total cost of the event and trust our partners to contribute the portion of the cost they are able to - be it all, some, or above the cost to help subsidize programs for others. We’ll pay the rest.
Regardless of the cost-share agreement we reach we value every partnership equally, all Good Host events will be equally weighted in our community outreach and will all receive the same amount of commitment and attention.
In return, we ask that partners make every effort to make their Good Host events as financially accessible as possible, and if that means a decrease in the cost-share that is okay. We will work with partners to make this happen.
To be a sustainable and thriving program we will cultivate a community of supporters through individual giving and corporate sponsorship programs.
I really like the idea, it feels right and has shaken that depressing feeling you get when your actions are misaligned with your values. I’m also excited because there’s a chance it won’t work, maybe the program becomes over-subscribed and under-resourced, maybe the idea of a constellation of funding coming from partners, donors, sponsors, and grants won’t come together, maybe there’s a fatal flaw in there obvious to you right now that I haven’t noticed.
I know that’s all possible. I also know that this is a big idea and that we only get so many chances to develop big ideas from scratch. If we didn’t put these policies in place here at the beginning and had started charging full price to those who could afford it I can’t imagine that in a couple of years from now we’d be able to do an about face.
I know too that we’re optimistic, and that ultimately time will tell, and that we’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for reading.
p.s. For another approach to financial accessibility check out Downstage’s Pay-It-Forward Program.