Opening the outdoor: Arts Industry cover the success of Platform 4: UK

This article was originally published in Arts Industry on 20/06/2018.


Opening the outdoor, by Simon Tait

Outdoor arts have become the sector for bringing together professional performance and community participation, and it’s growing, according to Xtrax and its Platform 4: UK project.

A decade ago outdoor arts in the UK had little investment and it was widely supposed that UK work was inferior to that of other European countries. The sector itself has challenged that assumption, created the conditions in which good work is developed, and with festivals working together, sharing creative ideas and programmes, raising the profile of street arts.

Xtrax is the Manchester-based organisation celebrating 21 years of promoting festival arts since it was set up as a showcase by Manchester International Arts as part of the Streets Ahead Festival. In 2001 it became a separate company as a street arts development agency and has used its experience to study opportunities for opening new markets for the UK’s outdoor arts, with the support of Arts Council England, through its international showcasing strand Platform 4: UK. Five languages are now spoken in the Xtrax office

In its three years Platform 4: UK has worked with partners in this country and overseas to raise the profile of our outdoor arts. It has embraced 101 companies, 603 individual artists, and no fewer than 87 socially diverse or deaf/disabled artists. The covered a huge range: dance, circus, installation, physical theatre, street theatre, puppetry, sound installation, interactive games, digital technology and participation, from intimate pieces to large-scale spectacles.

Although the sector is traditionally low cost, fund-raising for it is notoriously hard, and the programme has generated almost an extra £1m, drawing £886,000 in matched funding; it has also helped those 101 street arts companies to get 366 bookings in 32 countries. Platform 4 has also conducted international focus events, professional development sessions and provided networking, as well as organising four UK showcases. More than 260 new contacts were made in 33 countries.

Platform 4: UK worked with the partners here and abroad to deliver five UK Focus events in Belgium, Germany, France and South Korea, and to host seven stands at international marketplaces in Germany, Spain, and South Korea promoting UK outdoor arts. In particular, Xtrax has been able to develop a strong relationship with several arts organisations in South Korea, a possible focal point for a future partnership.

The result is that artists and companies supported by Platform 4: UK project have been able to develop their own networks, increase their profile and build their knowledge of the international outdoor arts scene.

Here’s what some of them said:

Lorna Rees, Gobbledegook Theatre (main image): “Platform 4: UK has actually done something quite profound for me because before I’d always wanted to vaguely take my work elsewhere – I thought maybe I could go to France or Germany, which I’m still very keen to do – but I think I hadn’t conceived of myself as the kind of international performer that presented work at Seoul Street Arts Festival, and that’s a big deal for me. It’s made my aspirations grow”. At the end of 2017, Lorna was selected to be one of the Sura Medura Artists on the International Residency in Sri Lanka for six weeks.

Anna Shlonsky, Acrojou: “Platform 4: UK contributed a lot to the development of Acrojou. We managed to get two commissions for our latest production Vessel as well as nine direct bookings and lots of interest”.

Brendan Walker, Thrill Laboratory: “TheXtrax partners have been incredible in kick-starting me, getting me on the road, and then getting Platform 4: UK promoting me in Europe and internationally. I couldn’t have hoped for a better year”.

Kevin Edward Turner co-artistic director of the Manchester dance troupe Company Chameleon: “I can’t thank them enough. We wouldn’t have got to Korea if it hadn’t been for them. I think they gave us an international platform outside of Europe and gave us opportunities to see work we might not have seen in Europe and find some other opportunities for the company”.

Platform 4: UK has completed its first three-year programme, but Xtrax is applying for ACE funding for a second.