What's new with Strategic Touring?

Posted By Michelle Dickson on 13 October 2016

Michelle Dickson, Arts Council England’s Director of Touring, explains how we’ve simplified our Strategic Touring guidance

Before I joined the Arts Council, I was running a theatre with a resident touring company. I remember going along to an early briefing about the Arts Council’s Strategic Touring programme, and came away thinking that it would be a tough one. The invitation was for applicants to approach the planning and delivery of touring in an entirely different way.

A male performer sits on a chair - two female performers stand next to him holding his hands
Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with Ramps On The Moon: Kiruna Stamell, David Carlyle and Francesca Mills in The Government Inspector at The New Wolsey Theatre, 2016. Photo © Robert Day

I grappled with the challenge for a few months, as partner on a couple of projects, but then jumped ship and came to work for the Arts Council. I look after the Strategic Touring programme now, and I still think we ask a lot of applicants and partners. However, I think the rigour of the process has led to the consistently high-quality applications we receive. The projects delivered through Strategic Touring – more than 200 to date! – are genuinely changing how arts and cultural organisations are reaching people across the country.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for us to improve. That’s why we commissioned some research into the programme, which gave several recommendations on how we could make things better.

New guidance, same aims

A key recommendation was to simplify the application process and guidance. And after much deliberating, reflection, refining and cross-checking, I’m glad to say that we are ready to launch an updated set of guidance

We hope it will be a more straightforward process for applicants without watering down the programme's strong focus on outcomes, audiences and reach. The guidance is clearer; plus, the application form is shorter, and (I hope!) easier to complete. 

A woman in red and gold costume swirls a piece of material above her head, as a musician plays a round drum in the background
Adverse Camber’s The Shahnameh: The Epic Book of Kings. Photo © Adverse Camber / Chris Webb Photography 

Our purpose throughout this process has been one of continual improvement - to learn from grant recipients and unsuccessful applicants, partners, projects, evaluators and Arts Council staff, in order to ensure that the programme is as successful as possible in achieving its aims.

Those aims remain resolutely the same - to give people better access to quality work across a range of venues to more people across the country, targeting places with low levels of art engagement and those that rely on touring for arts and culture. Strategic Touring welcomes applications for a wide range of high-quality work on tour. We’re particularly interested in more work by and for people from diverse backgrounds; from mid-scale drama; and from incoming international work. 

Audience development plans

The new guidance kicks in next spring, and for those projects applying for less than £100,000, the requirement for an audience development plan will move from the application stage to a date after the applicant knows the project has been selected for funding. A suitable plan will still be required before any of the grant is released, and the application itself will still demand a strong commitment and evidence of the approach for identifying and reaching target audiences.

Additionally, the guidance increases the emphasis on strong partnerships between the producers of the touring work and the venues presenting it. It encourages these partners to work together to consider how the project will effect change, how new audiences are reached and retained, and what its legacy will be for all involved in the project.

Four actors in period costume on stage during a fight scene
Eugene Onegin at Garsington Opera by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Photo ©  Mark Douet

Using Grantium

Another change is that applicants will now apply for Strategic Touring funds through Grantium, our new grants management system. Don’t worry if you haven’t used it yet; the updated guidance walks you through the process step by step. That means the guidance is longer than before, but overall you should find it simpler and easier to follow. And as ever, you’re welcome to call our Customer Services team if you’ve any questions.

Next steps

Now that you know what to expect with our new Strategic Touring guidance, do have a read and start thinking about your application.

If you’re still trying to decide if the Strategic Touring programme is right for you, look at our funding page. You’ll find lots of information about deadlines and requirements there.

You may also be interested in reading the evaluation I mentioned earlier. It’s full of useful and interesting case studies about projects we’ve funded in the past, which could spark some ideas.

And finally, you can read our response to the evaluation, which gives you more details about the programme changes.

All of this material should help you decide if Strategic Touring is the right route to support you to achieve improved access and lasting change to great art for more people around the country.

Best of luck in your application!

Two actors stand in a metal cage: one man with a moustache dressed in dark uniform and another in a pale polo neck
Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with Ramps On The Moon: Robin Morrissey and Daryl Jackson in The Government Inspector at The New Wolsey Theatre, 2016. Photo © Robert Day

Find out more

Read the new Strategic Touring guidance document

Read the full evaluation report

Read the Arts Council’s response to the evaluation report