The past 15 years or so, with the advent of National Lottery Funding via the Arts Council and The Millennium Commission, has seen the provision of many new arts and cultural centres. For example, The Lowry, The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff; The Baltic in Gateshead, and more recently Turner Contemporary in Margate and The Hepworth in Wakefield. The early projects have certainly seen their neighbouring areas improve and be regenerated, and this has led many people to claim that arts and culture can work miracles and that all of an area’s problems can be solved by building a museum, art gallery or theatre. In the past few months others have begun to question whether arts and culture can really be responsible for regeneration, and even if they do, have we reached saturation point?
In reality, of course, no one thing can solve all of an area’s problems but I think it is fair to point to many of these projects and claim that they have had a positive effect, and have acted as a catalyst for the general improvement of an area, its economy, and changed its image. Some have failed, for example The Centre for Pop Music in Sheffield, but I think it is possible to identify an aspect of why the successful have been successful.
Building a new venue for the arts and culture isn’t enough. It must not be insular and mustn’t be seen in isolation. In addition to linking with its physical hinterland and thus offering opportunities to other businesses, it needs to have a programme of events, a series of ‘happenings’, to reach out and spread from the building into the local area and community. This is exactly what Turner Contemporary in Margate is doing – it has an extensive programme of masterclasses; creative workshops with artists and storytellers; courses and education; events, and out-reach programmes so that it reaches people who may not consider that art or culture is for them, and gives opportunities for other artists to put on ‘fringe’ events. It is this, as well as the building, which helps turn around an area’s image and morale, and makes the world think that its best days may be ahead of it rather than in the past.
As Mr Punch would say ‘That’s the Way to do it!’.
Well, part of it anyway.