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- 2 September 2013
For this new column in Art Quarterly, we invite views on the art world's issues of the day. In autumn, we asked: What impact can a local authority's support for culture have on its community?
"This is a difficult time for councils up and down the country as we battle to make savings in the face of unprecedented government cuts. Whether organising our summer events, getting more from our libraries or working to bring a cinema back to our borough, Waltham Forest Council’s goal is always to invest wisely and in a way that will have maximum benefit for local people, and our transformation of the William Morris Gallery perhaps exemplifies this.
"Firstly, we wanted the new-look gallery to form a cornerstone of our wider regeneration plans for the borough. While pulling an area up by its bootstraps is hardly a simple job reliant on just one element, the refurbishment nevertheless serves as a marker by which future achievements can be measured.
"Beyond such large-scale plans, local authority support can impact in less tangible ways. For example, the borough has long been home to a fantastic amount of artistic talent, and we wanted to bolster this by raising the bar locally, regionally and nationally. We also wanted to fulfil the ambitions of those who simply expect more from us and more from their home borough.
"By supporting the arts and transforming the William Morris Gallery we believe we have been able to satisfy one of Morris’ own core beliefs: to create something that is beautiful but also useful in terms of education, regeneration and fostering community spirit."
Chris Robbins, leader of Waltham Forest Council
“The local authority investment has enabled world-class art, architecture and design to be a meaningful and useful part of Wakefield life in a new social hub.”
"Our very close working relationship with Wakefield Council has provided significant benefits for our local community in the two years we’ve been open. It was the Council’s vision to create the gallery and to ensure culture plays a central part in the further development of the city and region.
"The Local Authority’s support has been crucial in leveraging further private and philanthropic investments. It has enabled us to significantly increase the local visitor and tourism economy with 884,231 gallery visitors to date. We are a well used and highly valued resource for local schools with 686 school visits and 26,250 participants. This has broadened the educational experience and aspirations of children and encouraged regular family visits.
"Our popular family drop-in weekend workshops have engaged 65,365 participants. They provide an important opportunity for cross-generational dialogue and creativity. We’ve created £7.5 million worth of advertising value equivalency in the media for the city and region, helping build its national and international profile. The local authority investment has enabled world-class art, architecture and design to be a meaningful and useful part of Wakefield life in a new social hub."
Simon Wallis, director, The Hepworth Wakefield
"The support that my local authority provides for culture can keep me and my spending money in the borough itself. I love the fact that I can visit museums and attend the theatre near where I live. I can meet my neighbours and participate in my local community."
Shirley Mukisa, Art Fund member, London
"In Bromley, we look to facilitate an environment where culture can thrive. We have a rich history of theatre and creativity, with two theatres in Bromley town centre alone – the Churchill Theatre and the Bromley Little Theatre. We show our support for outdoor summer performances in our parks, including a fantastic amphitheatre in Bromley. Our libraries display art from local artists, we run entertainment and events in our high streets and we have an abundance of heritage walks and trails around the borough, with blue plaques to commemorate our many noted residents, including HG Wells, Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton.
"We are also committed to ensuring the future of Henry Moore’s famous ‘Old Flo’ sculpture by doing all we can to keep it on public display as was originally intended. Even in these difficult times, with constraints on our budget, we are continuing our work to ensure culture can flourish in our borough."
Peter Morgan, executive councillor for renewal and recreation at Bromley Council
“Without museums, libraries, galleries, parks and concert halls any community is a barren desert”
"Without museums, libraries, galleries, parks and concert halls any community is a barren desert. For individuals and families struggling to survive on low incomes or inadequate benefits, free access to such resources and all that they offer in terms of information, stimulation, communication facilities or opportunities for fresh air and exercise, they can literally be a lifeline.
"Even the better-off often depend on their neighbourhood library or the local museum for engagement with the world beyond their homes. It’s not just that money spent by local authorities on the arts can mean money saved in crisis support later down the line, but local authorities have a duty to support what’s important in life, both the tangible and the less-so."
Clare Stevens, Art Fund member, Presteigne
"In times of continued austerity, there is a temptation for local authorities to cut all cultural and arts funding. However, this fails to recognise the cultural, economic and social value of the arts. Culture makes residents proud of where they come from. It can transform a community and regenerate an area.
"The arts have a progressive impact on people’s wellbeing through community empowerment and social cohesion. It is for this reason that I have been campaigning to save Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman (1957-8) in my constituency. Draped Seated Woman, a sculpture affectionately nicknamed ‘Old Flo’ by the artist, was the former centrepiece of the Stifford housing estate in Stepney.
"Moore sold it on the understanding that it would be displayed in the community, accessible to everyone and for the enjoyment of working-class people in London’s East End. Local authorities should not underestimate the economic and social importance of the arts in enriching the life of communities in socially deprived areas."
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow
The question for winter Art Quarterly is: "As Royal Museums Greenwich launches its campaign to acquire George Stubbs's paintings of a kangaroo and dingo (1772), which have been export-stopped after being provisionally sold to an Australian buyer, it is timely to consider whether we should always try to 'save' works of art for Britain?" Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.