Jarkko Lehmus Blog: Artistic Director – a customer service professional

<I>Eyes In the Colours of the Rain</I> by Rootlessroot.<br />© Vojtech Brtnicky. (Click image for larger version)
Eyes In the Colours of the Rain by Rootlessroot.
© Vojtech Brtnicky. (Click image for larger version)


Jarkko is Artistic Director of the JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre based in Northern Finland (map). This month he blogs about himself, trust in the arts, pays homage to Tero Saarinen and talks about his OuDance Festival, which runs from 10-14 September 2014…

How time flies. Regardless of us the time flies. Each and every moment comes and goes entirely independent of what we do. What we can do is do things during those moments. What we do makes those moments either significant or insignificant in relation to our lives and the lives of the people we interact with.

Let’s take the artistic planning of JoJo – Oulu Dance Centre, a production house and a guest theatre without its own space, as a personal example. Here’s a list of a few of the things I need to take into account while doing the artistic planning: the artistic budget, other resources (chiefly the available theatre, studio and other performance spaces and the working hours of me and my colleagues), possible pre-existing production obligations, the local artists, the board of directors, the socio-political environment of the area and the country, pre-existing partnerships and the history and the current standing of the organisation I work for. A complex cocktail I’ve been coming to terms with over the past ten months. Ten very short months, it seems. The budget is intimately linked to the number of paying audience members we manage to attract. One major part of building up the audience is obviously the artistic content we offer and the other major part is marketing and audience development work. One simply doesn’t exist without the other. More paying audience means more money for the organisation. More money leads to more possibilities of facilitating diverse artistic activity. Striking the balance between artistic freedom and the long term development of the organisation and the artistic field it serves is a precarious business. A turbulent balancing act on a matrix of ropes that stretch to the haze of the future all around us. We all have our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. How well we manage to grasp them and act upon them is what makes the difference. We observe, analyse, plan, execute, rinse and repeat in an endless overlapping cycle. Some plans succeed and some don’t. Such is life.

Tero Saarinen Company in <I>Borrowed Light</I>.<br />© Laurent Philippe. (Click image for larger version)
Tero Saarinen Company in Borrowed Light.
© Laurent Philippe. (Click image for larger version)
Over the past ten months I have read about two hundred co-production applications and guest performance proposals. It has become evident that the applicants very rarely know what the possibilities of JoJo as an organization are. To put it bluntly: we are very small scale. There are three of us in the office (me at 70% and Helena, the managing director, and Anna, the producer, full-time) and the annual artistic budget provided by the state and the city is in the region of 165,000€. With that we currently co-produce 4-5 premieres each year, host 5-7 guest companies, organise 3-4 artist residencies here in Oulu and have a five-day international dance festival, OuDance, with 6-8 performance slots in mid-September. That is not much money at all to go towards all that activity.

Partnerships are very important and all of the productions have to bring some money of their own. Our main theatre, Valvesali, a modular black box in the heart of Oulu is owned and subsidised by the city, seats a maximum of 138 and needs to be booked at least a year in advance. We also have an existing collaboration deal with the city theatre for two productions each year. That deal gives us access to a 527 seat theatre and three smaller stages ranging from 80 to 160 seats. Plenty of theatre spaces to go around as long as I get the planning done early enough in advance. At the moment I’m able to plan about a year and a half ahead. Of course plans need to be made further ahead, but they can only be solidified once our annual funding is secured. Like so many other artistic organisations we currently have a yearly cycle of funding. In addition to that some parts of the funding are only secured during the season. A bit like juggling a chainsaw.

Interesting, but what does it mean? It means making Plan A, B, C and D and trying to figure out which one will be the winner. Sounds a little precarious, but I guess this is pretty much the case everywhere else on the arts field. If insecurity is not your cup of tea what can we do about it? Number one in my books is interesting artistic content. However the content is pointless if it doesn’t reach the audience, so that’s where communication, marketing and networks step in. That is a field I know far too little about at the moment. To ease the burden of my colleagues I try to organise my planning work in such a way that we have all the necessary information early enough in advance to be able to communicate it to our audience. That means planning earlier. Funny that.

Jarkko Lehmus.© Jukka Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)
Jarkko Lehmus.
© Jukka Nuutinen. (Click image for larger version)
Enough of admin blah-blah. Let’s talk OuDance, our annual festival. I planned the first one in January 2014 and it took place in September of the same year. I’d only just started when the festival planning landed on my lap. What did I know? I knew a bit of dancing and some about good times. Most of both was had and more likely than not much more of both will be had in the future editions. The 2014 festival went pretty well. No great audience numbers to speak of, but very good feedback about the quality of the programming from the artists (from no less than seven different countries) and my peers. A baby step. Now that I’ve done it once I know quite a bit better what to do next. The aim is to fill the houses, fill in the programming gaps and provide a heck of a lot more public performances. If the audience doesn’t yet find its way to the theatre the theatre needs to find its way to the audience. I absolutely, imperatively, must make the festival more visible in the city. I want the inhabitants of the city to be proud to have a dance festival in their city. Roll on some serious work in the public spaces in addition to the daily theatre performances! There are a few hurdles and loops to be navigated still and I’m certainly going to give it all I don’t yet know I have. Rock on! Right here! Right now! Because dance as a performance art is right here and right now.

The way I see it the strength of dance as an artform is its physicality. If the physical aspect is taken away and the value and justification is sought solely in, let’s for example say, conceptual pseudo-intellectual content, I have hard time believing in it. An idea can be explored intellectually and physically. Both general ways produce different kind of answers. Both are equally valid and can complement each other, but neither is superior. Do the physical work! Dig deep and find those physical questions and answers and then come and show me your work. If you’re not ready to sweat, I’m not interested. That’s just my view. You are absolutely welcome to yours and I am happy to agree or disagree.

What we have in Oulu are strong core groups of contemporary dance, folk dance, street dance and ballroom dance. Based on that I am going to pursue the virtues of fusion and crossover work between different dance styles and art forms. That’s where I see Oulu’s strength and the future direction of JoJo and OuDance festival. A big old mix of ingredients with a strong physical undercurrent. Cooking up some international scale rocking and rolling. The OuDance 2015 applications are still open until 14.12.2014 and the 2016 programme open call closes 31.1.2015. Bring your bad self!

My planning timeline at the moment goes something like this: 2014 has been learning while planning for 2015 and 2016, 2015 is all about developing partnerships and 2016 is when the first proper flowers will (hopefully) bloom and the precious balance between local, national and international will be struck. Lot’s of work to be done. And I relish the challenge! I see myself much more as an implementer than an innovator. There are so many good ideas out there that I don’t know of yet. Dialogue is the key, so contact me and propose ideas when they are still just ideas. Dream big, aim high and rock on!

About the author

Jarkko Lehmus

Jarkko Lehmus trained at the Finnish National Ballet School and at Millennium Performing Arts in London eventually becoming an award winning soloist at Scottish Ballet. He was also well known for blogging on Balletco.

Now freelance and based in Finland he has worked with Tero Saarinen Company, Susanna Leinonen Company, Finnish National Ballet, David Hughes Dance Company, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Arc Dance Company among others. In his own artistic work Jarkko concentrates on spatial imagination, the physicality of emotions and kinesthetic empathy. He is on Twitter @LehmusWorks and his home on the web is: www.lehmus.works.

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