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Relationship Manager

June 19th, 2017

The taste of humble pie is becoming familiar. Now I admit my original scepticism was wrong, everyone should have a relationship manager.

The relationship manager ensures you no longer forget birthdays or anniversaries, they gauge the aptness of presents, nudge you to call neglected relatives, prompt you to throw parties, organise trips to the with friends cinema and host dinner at yours; they help smooth things over at work, they let you know when you’ve stepped out of line in the bar and they broker reconciliations after yet more misunderstandings. Now I don’t know how we ever managed without one.

We were grumpy when we first met Laura White but tried not to show it. She was foisted on us. Arts Council England had merged three regions and our engagement with Laura – based in Nottingham – was part of an effort to dissolve the old boundaries. It meant our long-standing engagement with Alison Gagen – based in Birmingham – had to be dissolved, which was a great wrench; we’d been with Alison for years, we trusted each other and it was comfortable. Alison was an Arts Officer when we first met but she was soon transformed into a Relationship Manager. Originally this shift caused much derision and rolling of eyes but looking back at it now we can see the title is a much better reflection of the job she and Laura do.

I was with a group of artists a few months ago and who claimed Arts Council staff knew nothing of and cared nothing for art. It’s the kind of sweeping statement that comes easily those disenfranchised artists who relationships with the Arts Council are distant or unrequited. I sympathise with their frustrations but contest their conclusions. We have only ever met people working at Arts Council England who love art.

Semi-lapsed playwright, semi-mystic Mick Yates was our first contact, back when West Midlands Arts acted as a kind of devolved regional version of the Arts Council. His procedures weren’t entirely conventional but his was ‘taking one for the team’ and ‘working on the other side’. He was intrigued, enthusiastic and encouraging and before too long released a little bit of money for us to make Canute the King in Moseley Road Baths on the strict condition that we became members of the Independent Theatre Council – a condition that we still abide by today.

Mick was hugely passionate about art, knowledgeable, idealistic and opinionated, he had given himself a strict time limit for being ‘in the system’ and when that time was up he moved on to pursue other projects. He now lives the life of a poet in the North West of England – I’ve recently bought his collection artefacts, it’s really good.

With Mick going we got passed to Anouk Perinpanayagam. Being an awkward to categorize company it was deemed that Anouk’s particular interest in dance and physical theatre would suit us well. Anouk was great, friendly and encouraging she guided us through some rocky early times.

The rumour was that Kate Organ came from the literature festival, which we felt didn’t bode well. Everyone said she was great, but we were sceptical, being from a literature festival must mean she would have limited sympathy for our lack of deference to sanctity of the text. She confirmed our fears “What would you say to someone who said ‘if you were going to make it you would have made it by now’?” crafty, couched in a hypothetical third person but the punch is the same. “We’d question that person’s definition of ‘making it’ we think we’ve done pretty well so far”. The stakes got raised further when a source told us one of Kate’s children was in a youth theatre production I was directing – I hadn’t noticed as the surnames didn’t match.

It turned out that everyone was right, it turned out Kate was great, we hadn’t ‘made it’, she loved the youth theatre production and once she ceasing working for ACE Kate went freelance and became a friend and better than a friend, a babysitting friend.
After Kate, Alison and after Alison the fantastic Laura who attended almost every production we staged, plus significant Creative Learning events and board meetings. With great professionalism she brokered our relationship with Arts Council England and we’ll miss her and our discussions about art. She’s moving on from ACE to another job in the arts, why? Because, like everyone else we’ve ever met who works for ACE, Laura loves the arts.

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