Imagine the imaginations of a thousand imaginative people.
They are all distinct. Not only are they all individual, but here at the ideas stage, they are also totally unreal, and utterly without form. They are each isolated, crystallised, silent ova, waiting to become. So, imagine all the ways in which these ideas might become real: all the choices to be made about which words to say, what colour to paint, how to treat the spectator, and on, and on. Under these laboratory conditions, the thousand imaginations multiply and atomise into a mist of possibility, like the Crab Nebula, or the Oort Cloud…
It’s bizarre what you see in the mist of VAULT applications. Extraordinary alignments happen (and note that I didn’t use the word coincidence). From year to year, the collective conversation moves on from subject to subject, and it is impossible to predict.
This year artists are talking about arctic or mountain exploration. They are talking about male suicide and modern masculinity. Lots of artists are talking about sport, and lots more are talking about race. (Artists have given us a preponderance of female characters called Jess, inexplicably, though I do wonder if there is an Ur-Jess who sparked all this off, a Blanche Marvin type character who’s elbowed into a hundred scripts and in future years will grin quietly to herself, recalling The Great Jess-Bloom of 2017….)
Of course it isn’t coincidence. All across the country, I believe, at every late night conversation where sharp minds lacerate one another, and at every rally or demonstration where policy and purpose are discussed, someone speaking or listening is an artist. Where a voice is raised, so is an imagination, and the VAULT applications process coolly collects what the interesting people of this country are talking about.
How do you deal fairly with this amount of imagination? Well, you can’t. It is a heartbreakingly small percentage of successful applicants – around 15% – that get into VAULT, and there are far more artists making great work than we have room for.
Think again of the Crab Nebula – it’s made of many different things, and that’s what makes it beautiful. That is the truth, it’s science. We want to be as beautiful as the Oort Cloud, so, scientifically, we set ourselves quotas. (Andy loves science.) We decide to have this much dance, and that much comedy, and just enough live poetry to satisfy, and all the rest.
This year we’ve made a new addition to our process. Data. (Mat loves Data.) Yeah, yeah, the old bandwagon of data, I hear you. But VAULT makes a big stink about being the people’s festival. About being London’s festival. So we have quotas too about female-led projects, about BAME-led projects, about whether a project is accessible to differently abled people or not… These things are so important to creating a programme that is truly representative of the national, and capital, conversations.
We also pay attention to the gap between ambition and capability. If someone’s pitching for a big auditorium but they’ve never put on a show, we might cushion them down a room or two. But it is another layer to add to the decision process.
So it turns out programming, or curating, is actually a tangible thing. It’s sometimes spun out to be an unearthly magic, or a Midas thing; I would say that’s the kind of bullshit you can expect to hear from a programmer who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
We know what we’re doing (I hope). Our mission statement guides us:
VAULT will fill and expand our cultural imaginations, and encourage audiences to fill their lives with creativity, adventure, and inspiration.
VAULT will always create the most accessible platform for creators to innovate, collaborate, explore and achieve and through which audiences can discover the bravest and boldest artistry.
VAULT will fulfil equally the interests of our three creative bodies; the artists, the audience, and our staff. We will create the opportunity of most value for all three parts and champion their involvement.
VAULT is committed to change; working to create an ever-improving platform and industry where artists, audiences, and staff are respected, supported and championed in a fully inclusive and diverse community.
These are our Prime Directives. And from this point on, once the Machine kicks into gear and starts inking in the pencilled offers that are going out around now, we begin the slow process of bringing to reality the thousand distinct, silent, unreal imaginations.