I became aware of the conversation over speaker fees as I settled in to my new role as Chief Executive at Cheltenham Festivals last year. We pay all our writers a fee however this is part of a wider discussion; a conversation in which we are keen to participate with others to resolve and improve.
Our charity works across music, literature and science. The writers, artists and scientists that we work with play a massive part in making Cheltenham Festivals a vibrant destination. As well as presenting incredibly well established writers and artists, we also provide a platform for emerging and currently unknown talent. We are lucky to have audiences who are willing to sample new experiences and support this talent, while also wanting to see the most popular and well-known speakers and artists.
We also strive to reach out and encourage new audiences, partly through work with younger people and local communities, but also through bringing down ticket prices for sections of our community. The work we do in education is essential to us as this contributes to forming the writers, musicians, scientists, engineers and audiences of the future.
We are passionately committed to ensuring that writing, science and music are at the very heart of our culture and I believe that Festivals play an increasingly vital role in this.
As most cultural charities know, it is a complex balancing act to create great events that attract audiences, raise the necessary funding and sell enough tickets (with vital concessions to broaden access) to cover our costs and build reserves to ensure the longevity and future development of, in our case, four Festivals and an education programme.
That balance will not stay static as we seek to get the best solutions for audiences, participants and our stakeholders, while working within Charity rules. Having just appointed new Directors of our Literature and Science Festivals, we will work with others in our sectors to find valuable ways of supporting writers, as well as looking at solutions to an on-going issue of fees for writers.
The majority of our events at Cheltenham Festivals, except our Music Festival and our education programmes, take place in tented villages in the heart of the town. Although these environments are expensive to mount, they are part of what makes Cheltenham what it is. They allows us to create capacity and ‘marketplace’ in the way we need it to cover the wide range of activities we offer, from free activities and demonstrations, to schools’ and ticketed events. The Festival hubs also provide a vital hub for writers and performers to network.
We understand that every speaker’s time is precious and so we work hard to ensure a visit to Cheltenham is as effective for writers as possible. As well as paying a fee we also ensure that transport costs and good standard accommodation are covered either by Cheltenham Festivals or the publisher. We provide complimentary meals throughout the visit for writers and their guests, as well as complimentary tickets and tailored itineraries that are managed by a professional team.
We want to ensure that speakers coming to Cheltenham enjoy their visit, meet friends and their audiences but also maximise their publicity and sell books. Last year more than 36,000 books where bought during the Literature and Science Festivals combined.