Labour council’s “arts strategy” unravels

I recently attended a meeting of the Council’s Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee held to discuss the Council’s Draft Arts Strategy. As you would expect the document was largely waffle – a point made by several of the representatives from arts organisations that truned up.

There was an effort for some tangible content to be included. Cllr Lucy Ivimy suggested that the council should provide a listing of arts event in its email bulletin to residents. I suggested a business rates discount for pubs that opened theatres in their basements (or upstairs rooms).

What about a Ravenscourt Park Literary Festival? Sponsorship could probably defray the modest cost of a few large tents.

What about the council providing some venues from its array of buildings sitting empty at evenings or weekends for performances or exhibitions? What about the council helping to match up local artists with cafes willing to display art work for sale?

What about releasing some of its art collection kept in storage at the Lilla Husset centre in Talgarth Road? There are many picture of local scenes by amateur artists that could be placed on the walls of libraries, schools, GPs surgeries and council offices.

Theer was no undertaking to proceed with any of these ideas. But there was a lot of talk about “inclusion” (and of being against “exclusion”), “focus”, “strategic discussions”, “consultation”, “creation”, “establish a panel”, “establish a forum”, “arts for everyone”, “stimulating ambition”, “expanding horizons”.

Even the few specific points that were in the document crumbled on examination.

The document says:

“We will appoint an arts officer to provide support and advice.”

But the Cabinet Member responsible, Cllr Andrew Jones, then announced that the Council wouldn’t.

Well done Cllr Jones. With scarce resources for the arts the available money would be better spent on grants to arts organisations rather than being diverted to fund a new post for a council officer.
But I sought clarification.

The council officer responsible Sue Harris replied:

“My understanding is that the draft strategy is a series of ideas and  nothing has been decided as yet.”

The Arts Strategy document also says:

“We will develop a long-term plan for the borough’s own art collection – the Cecil French Bequest. This includes restoring the collection and fundraising to find a permanent home for its display in the borough.”

I have written about this before. The collection is worth £17.8 million but is kept locked away for nobody can see it. Meanwhile the councils spends millions a year on debt interest.

Of the plans to put the collection on display I put in the following query:

“This is very vague. Please advise the deadline with is plan to be achieved, the amount of funds that would need to be raised and if that in the event of a failure to raise the required funds whether selling all or part of the collection will be considered.”

Donna Pentelow on behalf of the Council replied:

“The draft arts strategy is emerging, and nothing has been decided as yet. Once the strategy has been agreed and finalised, further work will be undertaken to confirm how the Cecil French collection is to be put on display and the amount of funds that would need to be raised.

“Officers are currently looking at the condition of the collection and what restoration work is required. Officers are exploring ways in which external funds can be raised to carry out any restoration work. There are currently no plans to sell all or part of the collection.”

In other words there is no genuine plan to put it on display. But not to sell it either. Just to keep it hidden away. A complete scandal


One thought on “Labour council’s “arts strategy” unravels

  1. Depressing stuff. It’s basically a question of handing out subsidies. Set the budget, let people and organisations come forward with ideas, make choices against sensible criteria, review and learn as you go along. This shouldn’t be complicated as people involved in the arts are generally pretty innovative and don’t need too much help or encouragement to get things going. Meanwhile the council is looking at cutting back on street cleaning and waste collection…

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