Notes on IdeasTap

What’s Next? How Will Arts Forums Respond to the Closure of IdeasTap?
An in depth forecast into the future of online forums for national opportunities in the arts.

By Charlotte Sabin, a young writer based in Cornwall. Charlotte is currently undertaking a Masters in Professional Writing at Falmouth University.

In June 2015 after six successful years, IdeasTap will close. This huge project, the vision of trust director Peter De Haan, has grown beyond all realms of imagination. Where will its closure leave the forum’s 200,000 strong audience of young creative talent? How will other online creative arts forums fare in the coming years?

Arriving at the offices of IdeasTap headquarters, it is impossible not to feel a huge sense of loss. All this space, usually a hub of creative enterprise from workshops, to mentoring and seminars by industry experts, now empty. As IdeasTap Editor James Hopkirk realises, “this trust always had a finite lifespan”. Funding will always, due to its very nature, be realigning targets, but now, post General Election, it is more important than ever to make sure that it continues to exist and be directed towards the right organisations. But who can take on the mantel? Having given out £2.3m in funding since 2008, IdeasTap’s closure will leave a gaping hole in the industry. Its closure has received national media coverage, and the legacy it will leave behind will not be forgotten quickly. For me, IdeasTap has been a constant throughout my years of education and establishing a career as a writer. I have used the forum to find jobs and in turn to advertise jobs. IdeasTap has been my connection to an industry that at times feels impenetrable. IdeasTap was always about establishing a sense of community, Hopkirk explains when I ask to what he attributes the forum’s success. It seems as though at the heart of its success is a creative diversity that has the power to unite real people. This will not be an easy feat to replicate.

In February this year the Warwick Commission published the results from Enriching Britain: an investigation into the future of culture, creativity and growth. The results have shown that the creative industries are the fastest growing in the UK, with a combined economic contribution of £76bn in 2013 . The response from Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairman of RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is clear, “The creative industries need to take a united approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education.”

Looking forward to the next few years, what developments can we expect within new arts opportunities? Hopkirk suggests that the key to progression could lie in regional devolution, but this will come at a cost, “We need to create networks of people that extend these regions”. As he goes on to explain, it is the case studies of IdeasTap members, people who have built up networks of contacts through the forum that have benefitted most from the trust, which is something that could be lost with devolution.

It is the connections that IdeasTap has built with the creative industries that have allowed for so many incredible briefs over the years. As Ben Power, Associate Director of the National Theatre explains, “IdeasTap is a hugely valuable and unique resource that we rely upon.” Schemes run collaboratively between IdeasTap and well established national organisations like Bristol Old Vic have proved their worth over many years. Miranda Cromwell, who was Director of the Young Company at the Old Vic throughout some of the biggest partner projects with IdeasTap explained to me the mutual benefits of this relationship, “[IdeasTap] work as a bridge into the professional industry to cover the cost of opening up more placements and taking risks with young artists”. This is a recurring theme in the growth of online arts forums – risk. Looking to the future, young creatives must try to ensure that organisations are not afraid to take chances and be innovative in creating new opportunities.

Arts forums across the country are gathering momentum. I spoke with Grace Davies, Director of Visual Arts South West (VASW) which is part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network (CVAN). We discussed the possibilities for achieving national communication using online platforms. Davies explained, “the key at the moment is for organisations to work together to enable bigger projects, we need to support each other.” This is always going to be a challenge nationally, but fighting against a London stronghold over the arts has the potential to present new opportunities with a more diverse selection of young people. The Creative Arts have always been an industry built on collaboration, but establishing communication channels online and bridging between regional organisations could have a hugely positive impact on maintaining and growing networks of artists, writers and all veins of the creative industries.

The reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery and the prospect of the city’s devolution is already creating opportunities for local young artists. One organisation that is flourishing is Future Artists, a new media film studio, they feel “there is a cultural difference between the artists of Manchester and London, we have different influences, we have an individual flair and a different mentality.” This is a prevalent attitude countrywide; each region has its strength and its weaknesses. With larger, more ambitious collaborative projects and communications between regions there could be more opportunities for learning and growth. Davies (VASW) suggested that subject specific transmission might be the key to national development; by hosting events in niche areas and involving new talent nationally. We have tools at our disposal to achieve this more easily than ever before with social media. Promotion of opportunities is free and accessible, “it offers us a broader and more diverse audience” explains Davies. Looking forward, online mentoring and networks developed through social media have unlimited potential for translation into events, cross platform publications and exhibitions nationally. We each have a voice within this industry and we can each establish a creative practise that contributes to change.

Speaking with IdeasTap mentees, industry professionals who had their first opportunities through the trust, a couple of names have been mentioned repeatedly. Lindsey Fairweather, recipient of six months of professional development mentoring from through IdeasTap in 2014, told me that WoMentoring, a project that provides free one-on-one mentoring by professional literary women, is where she will turn next. The scheme, set up by Kerry Hudson in 2006 now has over 100 mentors based across the world. Each mentor selects their own mentee, and then offers a combination of one-to-one tutorials, feedback and support. The goal is simple, establishing connections between exceptional women to create a network of new, talented and diverse voices. Francesca Main, Editorial Director at Picador, is both mentor and advocate of the scheme, describing it to me as a great opportunity for new talent. To apply, all you need to send is a 1000 word extract of your writing and a 500 word statement of interest. This type of online forum replicates the values of IdeasTap, of creating a network of people at every stage of their career, with industry professionals who have benefited from schemes in the past to return the favour and help to establish opportunities for new emerging talent. Julie Mayhew, author of upcoming novel The Big Lie explained to me, “It’s a sign, no matter what, that the arts’ social conscience is strong.” This is why these organisations, growing steadily, will survive after IdeasTap’s closure. It has paved the path for an arts community connected by a national responsibility.

Mayhew also suggested I research Arts Emergency, an organisation offering mentoring and training in the arts founded in 2012 by patrons Josie Long and Neil Griffiths. Since the GE2015, this charity organisation has received huge attention in the UK press and an overwhelming influx of donations and support. This has been helped by Jessica Hynes speech at BAFTA TV Awards last week. She urged, “[Arts Emergency are] working to raise money to ensure that the next generation of artists, producers, actors, directors, are from all walks of society”. This is what we need for the future; organisations that communicate and allow opportunity for all. Continuing on from what James at IdeasTap describes as “a transparency in briefs”, an open call without prejudice to all submissions. Under strain from cuts to the arts, we are back fighting on a level playing field, creating free and flexible, regional and national networks will connect creative industries, continuing the work of IdeasTap.

Arts forums are changing and adapting to an online existence. It will take time to generate the level of national communication that has been achieved by IdeasTap, but with multifaceted organisations that have specific skills and experience working together, the future is optimistic. Each organisation I have spoken to during the researching of this article has expressed a myriad of emotions: anger, disappointment, disillusionment, but they are all united in a commitment to the arts. Out of this commitment come ideologies of hope and excitement for a future that will be full of risk, because, in IdeasTap’s James’ final words to me, “It is all or nothing – we were never going to have a slow death.” Their time was up, but the legacy will remain. The future is without restriction, it is limitless. IdeasTap will close but it has inspired 200,000 people, who are ready to defend the arts, to create free opportunities for a diverse new talent that will continue to create, change and inspire.

Follow for more details of closing @IdeasTap competitions and funding opportunities

Keep up to date with @WoMentoringP and @ArtsEmergency

Many thanks first and foremost to James Hopkirk at IdeasTap. Also thanks to Grace Davies (VASW), Miranda Cromwell (Twisted Theatre), Future Artists, Rosie Thomson-Glover and Cat Bagg at Field Notes, Cultshare, Julie Mayhew, Lindsay Fairweather, Francesca Main (Picador), Bryony (Arts Emergency), Neil Griffiths (Arts Emergency), Kerry Hudson (The WoMentoring Project) and The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester.