The Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival (HBBF) have announced that they have been successful in a bid to secure funding from Arts Council England. Believed to be the first time that ACE has contributed to an event of this kind, the grant will be used to fund this year’s festival which will be held over the weekend of 28 April – 1 May 2016 in venues throughout the Calder Valley.

The Festival was launched in 2013 by burlesque performers and producers Heidi Bang Tidy (above left) and Lady Wildflower (above right). Acclaimed by the industry media, it has become the burlesque festival to see and be seen at in the UK. This year’s event sees a number of British and international stars including Perle Noire, Scotty The Blue Bunny, Kitty Bang Bang, Abi Collins, Velma Von Bon Bon, Kiki Lovechild and Rubyyy Jones.

The Arts Council funding comes on the back of a trio of successful HBBF festivals. “We spent the first three years of the Festival working hard to establish our reputation,” said Heidi Bang Tidy, “but it was always our plan to use that as a platform to do more innovative programming, particularly in terms of highlighting and showcasing diversity within burlesque. One of the main reasons we launched the Festival was because we wanted to reach new audiences and promote the fact that burlesque is a progressive and inclusive art form.”

Lady Wildflower added that “getting this funding is a massive deal for us, because it has allowed us to fund 4 new shows this year and fly in international headliner Perle Noire. To our knowledge, we are the first festival dedicated exclusively to burlesque to receive Arts Council support and we are delighted that we are leading the field in that regard. It’s like a stamp of approval for the whole industry. It is also one in the eye for the vocal objectors in the town who have spent the last three years attacking burlesque, saying that it is ‘demeaning to women’.”

Heidi Bang Tidy continued, “We had come to a place with the Festival where we had grown it as much as we were able by self-funding the activity and relying on sponsors and sell out shows in order to break even. This funding has basically secured the future of the Festival by enabling us to stage this year’s event with less concern for commercial success and a greater focus on artistic quality. Basically, it meant we could take a few more risks with our programming – without it the Festival couldn’t continue to grow.”

Lady Wildflower has spoken about the problems faced by this year’s Festival. “This year’s budget was already stretched to the max when all four of our venues were flooded on Boxing Day. We were faced not only with having to secure new homes for several events but also a fairly sizeable hole in our budget due to the increased costs and reduced capacity in our replacement venues. We knew our programme was strong and we knew that we could make a case for artistic excellence and supporting artists in the development of new work. We also knew that this year’s event was doing something new in programming a show specifically showcasing the work of artists who define as LGBTQ, non-white or disabled.”

Heidi Bang Tidy added that “I don’t think a lot of people fully understand what it takes to stage an event like ours. They see full houses and do a bit of rudimentary mental arithmetic and they make the assumption that somewhere someone is raking it in. The truth is that for the first two years we didn’t even break even. Our tiny team do this for love of our art form, not because it makes any of us rich and every single person on the Festival team goes above and beyond to make sure the event is a success. Our volunteers especially, we would be lost without them.”

“When we started the Festival in 2013,” Lady Wildflower said, “we were really clear that we would pay decent artists fees and our budget has always been spent on our talent before anything else. We save like mad throughout the year, banking profit from our other events to fund the Festival but we always knew that, as the Festival grew, that wouldn’t be sustainable in the long-term. We are ambitious in that we want Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival to raise the profile of burlesque and alternative cabaret, whilst showcasing artistic excellence and celebrating diversity, and that’s why we applied for Arts Council funding.”

Applying for Arts Council funding was an intense process according to Heidi Bang Tidy. “It was a very steep learning curve for us. We spent a week in a darkened room crunching numbers and writing and re-writing our application, a week when we weren’t able to focus on selling tickets. We are really glad we did, though, if only because without it we know that we couldn’t continue to grow. We would definitely recommend other festivals consider doing the same. If it means that more festivals can use Arts Council Funding to support innovative programming, that can only be a good thing for the UK burlesque scene.”

More information can be found on the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival website.

Image: James Lynch Photography