Dear Horse and Bamboo board
I am writing to you all as a co-founder of DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre which is a small touring theatre company based in England’s North West. I am also writing as a board member of Puppet Centre Trust, a former board member of Horse and Bamboo and on behalf of the Puppetry Development Consortium a collective of leading puppetry organisations and practitioners in England, including Horse and Bamboo.
DNA has benefited enormously from the artistic leadership and support offered first by Bob Frith and then by Alison Duddle, their generous encouragement, advice and use of facilities at The Boo – an important resource for artists and communities in Lancashire and Yorkshire. We have always regarded Horse and Bamboo as a company that puts artistry and the role of the practising artist at the heart of your activities – a passionate, committed, vital and necessary beacon of artistic engagement with the communities of England’s North. Slowly but surely the baton of artistic leadership has been passed in a very careful and considered way to Alison Duddle who has for 17 years immersed herself in the philosophy and practice of artistic engagement with your communities in a very distinct and particular way which is the heart and soul of all of Horse and Bamboo’s activities and mission.
Alison at Horse and Bamboo has been providing leadership, advocacy, opportunities for training and innovation and a beacon of light for those puppetry practitioners seeking opportunity, advice and guidance particularly in England’s North where all of these things are difficult to find.
Without an Artistic Director, Horse and Bamboo risk losing artistic focus, reducing opportunities for innovation, experimentation and risk. This, along with a commitment to provoke, inspire, entertain and challenge communities in England’s rural North are in my opinion essential to the core mission of Horse and Bamboo
It’s important to note that Puppetry Development Consortium has identified Horse and Bamboo as a strategically important asset for the artform of puppetry in England, for the opportunities it provides to artists, the leadership Alison in particular has shown and the training she has promoted. In recognition of Alison’s importance as an artistic figurehead the consortium has made Alison, in her role as Artistic Director of Horse and Bamboo, the chair.
As a board it is your duty to govern the organisation through the good times and the bad, making sure that the organisation achieves its mission with as much successful impact as possible without taking the risk of overstretching limited and sometimes dwindling resources available. Also as a board you need to take responsibility for ensuring that all effort is taken to balance the ambitions of your artistry with your economic viability. I know it can be hard to hold the twin responsibilities of managing the demands of running a building with the ambition of committing resources to the act of artistic creation.
Mark Whitaker – one of your associate artists – recently wrote to the management group of the PDC expressing his concern about the decision to offer Alison Duddle redundancy and to appoint an Executive Producer as the lead role at Horse and Bamboo. I and my colleagues, both at Puppet Centre and within PDC group, recognising Horse and Bamboo’s historic championing of artists, would like to express our concern about the apparent change of focus that this represents for the company: apparently placing administrative leadership as a priority over artistic leadership. We recognise that it takes many different skills to create an organisation and company that is as unique and creative as Horse and Bamboo and we seek your assurance that the board will continue to place artistic leadership at the heart of the organisation. I and my PDC colleagues would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further so that the changes underway are better understood across the whole community.
DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre