Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Having your say - Reading's Cultural Strategy


Yesterday Reading Borough Council hosted a discussion to encourage feedback from stakeholders (that is us) to enable the development of their future Cultural Strategy

Please visit the link to have your say

This would be a good topic to debate here, so please feel free to leave your comments on this blog too so we can all continue to discuss, debate and potentially find new ways of working.

Image from Reading resident on the walk
Ambulatiuncula, 2006-2007

Ambulatiuncula *a little walk* or *place to walk* , an Artists in the City sound project at the Forbury Gardens Reading.Seven contemporary artists and musicians were invited to make sound works in response to aspects of the Gardens and the Ruins.
artists in the city

12 comments:

Felix said...

This is the feedback I gave the council:

To make Reading a truly cultural city, the public have to stop being priced out of 'culture.' Theatre is often expensive to see in Reading; I cannot afford to go to many productions here, and I believe that if theatre was subsidised or if different pricing structures were put in place that made theatre more affordable to students, unwaged citizens etc. then that is one way you could immediately foster more interest in that aspect of 'culture.'
We also need to see a more imaginative approach to entertainment here in Reading. We are slowly seeing many independent bars who were trying to do something interesting getting priced out of venues and replaced by generic chainstores; culture is not just an art gallery, or a theatre performance. It can also be an amazing bar that acts as a venue for enterprising and original DJs, musical events etc. We do not have good platforms for experimental music or interesting musical events in Reading.
Art galleries are lacking in Reading. I was recently told about a gallery that's temporarily opened in Reading and I am currently investigating the possibility of putting some work into that venue with another artist I know. But art is increasingly moving away from white wall gallery spaces and into interventionist, site-specific and community-focussed projects. In order to cultivate a true atmosphere of culture in Reading, there need to be some initiatives that recognise these trends and which facilitate artists' intentions within them. There could be a lot more action, taken, for instance, to temporarily secure any/all of the deserted office buildings in and around Reading for the duration of a temporary carnival/exhibition, where visitors to the city get to see these spaces temporarily transformed. There could be grants made available to artists who wish to embark on educational projects or projects which have specific social aims.
To make Reading a truly cultural city, you have to think about what the city needs and you have to think about what artists need in order to create.
Wherever there is a truly brilliant atmosphere of culture, there is also a massive diversity in approaches, a wide-range of imaginative thinkers across the board (funding bodies, curators, town-planners, artists, visitors, etc.) and access to workspaces and funding.
It is difficult to access workspace in Reading and there is a lack of spaces or situations in which to show work. To encourage a creative culture within the city, you need to address these basics but also, to think about what Reading needs, for its imaginative life, as a city.

As an artist I was dumbstruck, when moving to Reading, at how difficult it has been to acquire studio space. In the end, we converted our garage so I could have a workspace. We were very fortunate to be able to do this but anyone without a garage to convert or the funds to do that simply can't find workspace in Reading. I contacted the council on several occasions to find out about studio spaces and cultural initiatives in the borough but got no response. So we need better information-sharing, more iniatives that allow artists to earn money through making work and more workspaces.

I also think that there ought to be more initiatives to bring culture to Reading's 'mainstream' culture as culture in Reading appears to happen mainly on the fringes of things and on the backs of a few individuals' hard efforts. This means that, because resources are so hard won, they are not easily shared and anyone who isn't massively motivated and enormously determined will be priced out of the entire culture-making-enterprise because they can't afford workspace, publicity costs, the cost of materials or the cost of hiring a venue.

alabama whirly said...

felix - you raise many points here that have been raised many times by different people - I think approaching the town as a newcomer brings a fresh perspective and a new drive into seeing positive change.

I agree with you that part of the problem here is lack of information. communication or where to find the knowledge and expertise - this is something that we can all begin to change. I am hoping that someone who is more expert in the music/ theatrical aspects of the town will pipe up and inform us of great things that have happened, are happening and will happen - there are so many things I know about that are in the pipeline and are independent but part of the reason that they appear underground is because of the difficulty sourcing funding and resources to push them out into the mainstream.

I am completely in agreement that is not about a one size solution fits all, it can be many things and appear in many guises, either permanent venue led, or spontaneous events or regular festivals but it is about really embracing the cultural community in town and taking the initiative

alabama whirly said...

erratum:
felix - you have raised many *valid* points here

Felix said...

Yes it's definitely a matter of sharing information more widely.
Information - sharing is defo something individuals can play a HUGE part in - especially with advent of blogs, facebook, myspace and other great publicity tools - but some kind of info hub feeding all these independant initiatives into one great arena is important if people are going to know about what is on, and where.

It's enormously expensive to create ALL the publicity for independant artworks, which is where I think the council have a role to play. Someone with a salary and access to funds could be put in the important position of feeding info into the mainstream and printing and distributing information. And someone needs to recognise what a SKILLED job that would actually be...

...and how much publicising work ACTUALLY costs.

...so yes, I am in agreement with you. I basically pitched my comments to the council with an awareness of the council's role - as I see it - re: making culture...

what we can do as individuals is a whole other thing! Good space you set up here for debate, I hope others join.

Anne-Marie Carroll said...

I was at the discussion on Tuesday and it seemed to me the overriding feeling of people gathered there was a need for the better dissemination of information about the Arts and cultural news and events in Reading (perhaps by way of a large screen -or beaming information and Art onto the Gasometers but definitely a better website than currently exists)and also the need for an Arts Centre - something along the lines of South Hill Park which provides facilities for music, theatre, exhibitions and workshops covering printing, photography, ceramics and much more.
It is a disgrace that a town of our size provides almost no facilities for the expression of culture other than shopping! Any town of this size in continental europe has a Musee de beaux Art - in France or Kulture House - in Scandinavia for example. I would like to include a link to Woking Light Box here so you can see what can be done if we all pull together and that includes the council!:
http://www.thelightbox.org.uk/content.php?page_id=703
Lets keep this idea active and get us a centre within how long???? 5 Years???

alabama whirly said...

anne-marie also sent me this by email which I think we should post here:

Further to the discussion at Reading Town Hall on tuesday I would like to forward this link to The Light Box in Woking:

http://www.thelightbox.org.uk/content.php?page_id=703

It explains quite clearly how the residents and council set about building, funding and maintaing the Gallery/Museum and I think we could do the same - although we obviously do not need the museum role it provides. I think there are a lot of potential stakeholders in this area and we certainly need to show the council what a difference a supportive local authority can make!

I feel we should now try and work out how we can emulate the first steps taken in Woking "which found that 82% of Woking residents thought they would use the gallery if it were built." I was sitting on Broad Street the other day and saw how people obviously are running a gauntlet to avoid charity muggers and questionnaires there and wonder how we can poll our town more effectively......Take opinions outside gigs of an evening? In pubs? Outside cinemas? On council website? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I attended the cultural debate on the 29th July. Here is my contribution:
After the debate I visited Folkestone, specifically to see the first Folkestone Triennial. It seems that a town with a fairly big problem has pulled off an extraordinary feat in cultural terms - at least as far as the visual arts go. The town, although very run down in many places and aspects (beautiful seafront villas that could match those of Brighton, overgown with weeds, crumbling and boarded up; cliff stairs crumbling and railings rusting to nothing etc) has a vision for at least 2 more triennials, and this one was planned for 4 years before its openning. 22 British and international artists and artists groups of high repute (including a handful Turner Prize nominees) have responded to a brief that has resulted in dozens of temoprary and potentially permanent works dotted around the town, in public spaces landing it fairly and squarely on the cultural map. There were over a dozen diverse sponsors, including the Lottery, the White Cube gallery in London, SEEDA and the Goethe Institute. The key to this extraordinary event seems to have been in part at least due to the engagement of an experienced and respected curator (Andrea Schlieker in this case). Alongside it, the town is promoting what it calls its 'Creative Quarter', in which galleries, studios etc are being highlighted, as well as the acquisition of empty spaces for the Creative Foundation (as they have called it) to convert to creative spaces. There is some good publicity in the form of a triennial information centre and a guide which is similar to the Chronicle guide and works better than the website as an introduction for local audiences.
Perhaps Reading can learn a lot from this type of activity. If I am prepared to travel over 100 miles to a seaport and stay over night to get some new visual arts experiences under my belt, perhaps there are more who would do the same around the country. The cultural status of our town will not change without a long period of planning, but, like Folkestone if it is the right kind of plan, and the right kind of timescale, extraorninary things might start to happen here.
Take a look at the link, or better still, go and visit!
http://www.folkestonetriennial.org.uk/

Anonymous said...

...In addition, I (Linda) forgot to say - there are articles/reviews in the national papers about the triennial: the Times ran a positive article about some of the artists with interviews before it started,
The Guardian's Adrian Searle loved it and so does the Telegraph's Alastair Sooke. The Independent's Tom Lubbock, on the other hand demonstrates that his interest focusses it's relationship to 'art' more than 'community', and is more sceptical from this point of view.(links below)
There is also a very interresting article and comment on artreview.com wich was written before its opening in June, ending with this: Do the locals want art? Opinion is divided at the moment, with local organisations such as the Dramatics Society and the History Centre becoming active collaborators along with local businesses in some Triennial projects. Few people, in fact none that I've encountered, have been openly negative to the project, but as often with contemporary art, there does seem to be a general sense of 'it's not for me'. This is to be expected given the unknowns at play and the vaguely threatening mystery that contemporary art still presents to most people. There's never been a public art project on this scale in Britain with so many new commissions happening at the same time, one with such a big budget and bigger expectations. The worst failure of the Triennial when it opens would be to provoke nothing but ambivalence from the locals. Let's hope that despite being British, Folkestone speaks up for herself in June.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/jun/20/art
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/06/16/bafolkestone116.xml
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art-and-architecture/news/a-quirky-festival-of-art-inspired-by--folkestone-846932.html
http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article3938044.ece
http://www.artreview.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1474022%3ABlogPost%3A192219

Stanley White said...

They sat across from each other waiting for the water to boil. He could hear the television. He looked around the kitchen and then out toward the garden again. The water began to bubble.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts on Reading as a “Truly Cultural City” 6 August 2008

Whilst the Councils Open Space Discussion on 29th July would seem to be an open attempt at dialogue with the Tax paying residents of Reading, I have not been surprised to have come across a number of interested parties who knew nothing about it including the publicity department of the council itself! I also find the idea of holding it during the holiday period rather suspicious and is resonant of dubious planning applications being made in similar time periods.
I have been thinking about the discussion however and would like to say that the opening premise in the form of the speakers four questions:
“Who is here?”
“What is going to be achieved?”
“When should it start?”
“When is it over?”
and her answers:
“Who ever is here is meant to be here.”
“Whatever we achieve is all that could be achieved.”
“It starts when we say it starts.”
“Its over when we say its over.”
is astonishingly patronizing, to say the least.
My answers to her opening gambit would be as follows:
The only people who managed to hear about it and were not on holiday are the people who are here.
How can you pre judge what is going to be achieved ? - unless you have already decided ‘nothing’ will be achieved which of course is possible to guarantee.
‘It’ has already started - people are talking about ‘it’ in cafes and and interested groups and homes all over town. Reading is a cultural centre despite lack of facilities and funding and, often, it is felt, support from the council.
who are we, as previously discussed, to say, ” ‘it’ is over?” Whatever ‘it’ is?
Poor communications, lack of access and no central Galleries with facilities for the cultural arts seemed to have the consensus of opinion. Councilors frequently rejoined with the complaint of “no money available” and that they do indeed generously sponsor the arts in Reading.
Poor communication cannot be overestimated - if the Open Space Discussion had been better publicized a better consultation would have been arrived at. Many of sundry groups that were formed that afternoon, highlighted the need for some sort of unmissable noticing in the town centre. Perhaps beaming onto the Gasometers (when they are full and of course at night!) or the strange electronic notice boards (like those put up against local residents wishes on Shinfield Road) could display such information - not only the number of car parking spaces available.
Lack of access - along with availability - is the big one really isn’t it? it would be wonderful if all Reading School children could be taught signing at school - that would get you some good publicity! Physical access to all buildings obviously is expensive but the longer it is put off the more it will cost. I think what may have really be meant by ‘access’ by many people was the opportunity of use of various facilities which brings us back to the idea of an Arts Centre.
We came up with a lot of ideas as to facilities we would like as is always the case. A need for suitable gallery space is very apparent to all of the visual artists in Reading and of course this space could be used by orchestras and dancers or many other groups. Jenny Halstead, on behalf of The Reading Guild Of artists, in Wednesday 13 August Reading Post explained that they have been forced to exhibit in henley as no suitable Gallery at plausible rates is available in Reading (The museum can no longer provide exhibition space) It was also highlighted that other than the very poor ‘Hobby Craft” shop there is nowhere that artists can buy proper artists materials and that perhaps this could be catered for in some way. A subsidized cafe or drop in centre would be excellent for artists who often living on meagre earnings would benefit from whilst providing a suitable information interface for the various groups of culturally minded residents of Reading. The dream list might continue with some sort of studio, or workshops arrangement - available for hire with technical support for the amateur production of film for example or indeed any medium. A sound studio would be lovely wouldn’t it? Somewhere that amateur musicians or aspiring young hopefuls could record their talent...But where do we stop? What money is available? For if we are to “achieve all that could be achieved” we need to know the budget.
And this brings us on to the point that many of the councilors present felt that their support of the Arts in Reading went unappreciated. Well this should be rectified by the publishing of what monies have been spent supporting what events/groups/facilities over the last month in the local newspaper - forthcoming events could be published along with what funding they will receive. Members of the public would be able to correlate what value they are getting not only from the council, but also the event itself.
We would also like to see the running costs of the museum explored. What is the footfall? How many people work there? perhaps this space could be better, or differently used? If these things were published in newspapers, on the council website (which also needs a huge revamp) and on the large notice (plasma/digital/whatever screen) board in the centre of town - more people would become aware of the true cost of events and be grateful for what they receive. Whilst on the subject of housekeeping, what is going to happen to the space in and around the hexagon and market place adjacent to the Butts Centre? Rumors abound but nothing is clear, a theme is developing here in Reading - communications are not our strong point!
The Council obviously does want us to become a city - its hosting of the debate “How can we make Reading a truly cultural city?” implies that at least. It has been very brave to ask some of us to debate the issues and we certainly don’t want any Millennium Domes - wonderful though its design was - if there is really nothing to put inside it. I think the debate must be widened to ensure a user footfall and ‘inclusivity’ is after all another sort of ‘accessibility’ which is what so many of the people of Reading want. Lets poll the secondary school children of Reading - during school time and even if they are educated over the Wokingham borders - as to what they want. Shall we ask some of the disaffected youth hanging around and apparently ‘looking for trouble’ - what they are looking for? For many just the idea of somewhere to congregate in town would be good - how about designing a covered (or adaptable at least) market place that when not in use as a market/farmers’ market -could be a skate park? Could this be attached to the Arts Centre - that would ensure some footfall at least!
If a new build is not possible immediately - defeatist talk I know - let’s use as many ‘empty’ shops and buildings as temporary housing of music and art exhibitions. I know people have been attempting to do this for some 20 years now in Reading - I myself entered into negotiation with the Bristol and West Arcade owners some 6 years ago and there were vague murmurs of interest from various council workers then, but it came to nought. Wokingham and Bracknell Councils however have been more successful of late in achieving such schemes in their areas.
I still think the idea of theming or associating Reading with a speciality art has a lot of potential and this would give us an impetuous for what sort of arts facilities should be provided in an Arts centre. An idea I have written about to the council about three times, and never had an acknowledgement of (!) is to have a bi - tri or even four yearly, Photo competition in Reading. With a commercial partner (Thames Water? Reading Buses? Vue Cinema?) and theme the subject matter on the sponsors interest; Open the competition to all tax payers of Reading - retired, those in full time education, junior, unwaged, everyone and put the winning pictures of each category on the back of bus tickets, huge bill boards, in commercial partners shops and offices have a few special themed cinema events - some of the pictures could definitely be put in amongst the adverts there, a few lectures in the town hall, involve both TVU and The University of Reading, publish a lovely glossy book and a calender for the next year - really the possibilities are endless!. Invite big name judges (photographers preferably). In short make it an event that will grab the notice of all media in the UK and europe. Such things are done in similar sized towns all over Europe - why not Reading????I can imagine we will end up having a camera styled Arts centre!

This is the sort of thing that is possible in a town of our size - if we want to be a cultural city we must start making Culturally mature decisions now so that in 5 years time things have moved on. What can the council, our elected representatives, provide us in the way of ideas? After all this is their professional provenance - haven't they got anything up their sleeve?

Anne-Marie Carroll said...

Thoughts on Reading as a “Truly Cultural City” 6 August 2008

Whilst the Councils Open Space Discussion on 29th July would seem to be an open attempt at dialogue with the Tax paying residents of Reading, I have not been surprised to have come across a number of interested parties who knew nothing about it including the publicity department of the council itself! I also find the idea of holding it during the holiday period rather suspicious and is resonant of dubious planning applications being made in similar time periods.
I have been thinking about the discussion however and would like to say that the opening premise in the form of the speakers four questions:
“Who is here?”
“What is going to be achieved?”
“When should it start?”
“When is it over?”
and her answers:
“Who ever is here is meant to be here.”
“Whatever we achieve is all that could be achieved.”
“It starts when we say it starts.”
“Its over when we say its over.”
is astonishingly patronizing, to say the least.
My answers to her opening gambit would be as follows:
The only people who managed to hear about it and were not on holiday are the people who are here.
How can you pre judge what is going to be achieved ? - unless you have already decided ‘nothing’ will be achieved which of course is possible to guarantee.
‘It’ has already started - people are talking about ‘it’ in cafes and and interested groups and homes all over town. Reading is a cultural centre despite lack of facilities and funding and, often, it is felt, support from the council.
who are we, as previously discussed, to say, ” ‘it’ is over?” Whatever ‘it’ is?
Poor communications, lack of access and no central Galleries with facilities for the cultural arts seemed to have the consensus of opinion. Councilors frequently rejoined with the complaint of “no money available” and that they do indeed generously sponsor the arts in Reading.
Poor communication cannot be overestimated - if the Open Space Discussion had been better publicized a better consultation would have been arrived at. Many of sundry groups that were formed that afternoon, highlighted the need for some sort of unmissable noticing in the town centre. Perhaps beaming onto the Gasometers (when they are full and of course at night!) or the strange electronic notice boards (like those put up against local residents wishes on Shinfield Road) could display such information - not only the number of car parking spaces available.
Lack of access - along with availability - is the big one really isn’t it? it would be wonderful if all Reading School children could be taught signing at school - that would get you some good publicity! Physical access to all buildings obviously is expensive but the longer it is put off the more it will cost. I think what may have really be meant by ‘access’ by many people was the opportunity of use of various facilities which brings us back to the idea of an Arts Centre.
We came up with a lot of ideas as to facilities we would like as is always the case. A need for suitable gallery space is very apparent to all of the visual artists in Reading and of course this space could be used by orchestras and dancers or many other groups. Jenny Halstead, on behalf of The Reading Guild Of artists, in Wednesday 13 August Reading Post explained that they have been forced to exhibit in henley as no suitable Gallery at plausible rates is available in Reading (The museum can no longer provide exhibition space) It was also highlighted that other than the very poor ‘Hobby Craft” shop there is nowhere that artists can buy proper artists materials and that perhaps this could be catered for in some way. A subsidized cafe or drop in centre would be excellent for artists who often living on meagre earnings would benefit from whilst providing a suitable information interface for the various groups of culturally minded residents of Reading. The dream list might continue with some sort of studio, or workshops arrangement - available for hire with technical support for the amateur production of film for example or indeed any medium. A sound studio would be lovely wouldn’t it? Somewhere that amateur musicians or aspiring young hopefuls could record their talent...But where do we stop? What money is available? For if we are to “achieve all that could be achieved” we need to know the budget.
And this brings us on to the point that many of the councilors present felt that their support of the Arts in Reading went unappreciated. Well this should be rectified by the publishing of what monies have been spent supporting what events/groups/facilities over the last month in the local newspaper - forthcoming events could be published along with what funding they will receive. Members of the public would be able to correlate what value they are getting not only from the council, but also the event itself.
We would also like to see the running costs of the museum explored. What is the footfall? How many people work there? perhaps this space could be better, or differently used? If these things were published in newspapers, on the council website (which also needs a huge revamp) and on the large notice (plasma/digital/whatever screen) board in the centre of town - more people would become aware of the true cost of events and be grateful for what they receive. Whilst on the subject of housekeeping, what is going to happen to the space in and around the hexagon and market place adjacent to the Butts Centre? Rumors abound but nothing is clear, a theme is developing here in Reading - communications are not our strong point!
The Council obviously does want us to become a city - its hosting of the debate “How can we make Reading a truly cultural city?” implies that at least. It has been very brave to ask some of us to debate the issues and we certainly don’t want any Millennium Domes - wonderful though its design was - if there is really nothing to put inside it. I think the debate must be widened to ensure a user footfall and ‘inclusivity’ is after all another sort of ‘accessibility’ which is what so many of the people of Reading want. Lets poll the secondary school children of Reading - during school time and even if they are educated over the Wokingham borders - as to what they want. Shall we ask some of the disaffected youth hanging around and apparently ‘looking for trouble’ - what they are looking for? For many just the idea of somewhere to congregate in town would be good - how about designing a covered (or adaptable at least) market place that when not in use as a market/farmers’ market -could be a skate park? Could this be attached to the Arts Centre - that would ensure some footfall at least!
If a new build is not possible immediately - defeatist talk I know - let’s use as many ‘empty’ shops and buildings as temporary housing of music and art exhibitions. I know people have been attempting to do this for some 20 years now in Reading - I myself entered into negotiation with the Bristol and West Arcade owners some 6 years ago and there were vague murmurs of interest from various council workers then, but it came to nought. Wokingham and Bracknell Councils however have been more successful of late in achieving such schemes in their areas.
I still think the idea of theming or associating Reading with a speciality art has a lot of potential and this would give us an impetuous for what sort of arts facilities should be provided in an Arts centre. An idea I have written about to the council about three times, and never had an acknowledgement of (!) is to have a bi - tri or even four yearly, Photo competition in Reading. With a commercial partner (Thames Water? Reading Buses? Vue Cinema?) and theme the subject matter on the sponsors interest; Open the competition to all tax payers of Reading - retired, those in full time education, junior, unwaged, everyone and put the winning pictures of each category on the back of bus tickets, huge bill boards, in commercial partners shops and offices have a few special themed cinema events - some of the pictures could definitely be put in amongst the adverts there, a few lectures in the town hall, involve both TVU and The University of Reading, publish a lovely glossy book and a calender for the next year - really the possibilities are endless!. Invite big name judges (photographers preferably). In short make it an event that will grab the notice of all media in the UK and europe. Such things are done in similar sized towns all over Europe - why not Reading????I can imagine we will end up having a camera styled Arts centre!

This is the sort of thing that is possible in a town of our size - if we want to be a cultural city we must start making Culturally mature decisions now so that in 5 years time things have moved on. What can the council, our elected representatives, provide us in the way of ideas? After all this is their professional provenance - haven't they got anything up their sleeve? Thoughts on Reading as a “Truly Cultural City” 6 August 2008

Whilst the Councils Open Space Discussion on 29th July would seem to be an open attempt at dialogue with the Tax paying residents of Reading, I have not been surprised to have come across a number of interested parties who knew nothing about it including the publicity department of the council itself! I also find the idea of holding it during the holiday period rather suspicious and is resonant of dubious planning applications being made in similar time periods.
I have been thinking about the discussion however and would like to say that the opening premise in the form of the speakers four questions:
“Who is here?”
“What is going to be achieved?”
“When should it start?”
“When is it over?”
and her answers:
“Who ever is here is meant to be here.”
“Whatever we achieve is all that could be achieved.”
“It starts when we say it starts.”
“Its over when we say its over.”
is astonishingly patronizing, to say the least.
My answers to her opening gambit would be as follows:
The only people who managed to hear about it and were not on holiday are the people who are here.
How can you pre judge what is going to be achieved ? - unless you have already decided ‘nothing’ will be achieved which of course is possible to guarantee.
‘It’ has already started - people are talking about ‘it’ in cafes and and interested groups and homes all over town. Reading is a cultural centre despite lack of facilities and funding and, often, it is felt, support from the council.
who are we, as previously discussed, to say, ” ‘it’ is over?” Whatever ‘it’ is?
Poor communications, lack of access and no central Galleries with facilities for the cultural arts seemed to have the consensus of opinion. Councilors frequently rejoined with the complaint of “no money available” and that they do indeed generously sponsor the arts in Reading.
Poor communication cannot be overestimated - if the Open Space Discussion had been better publicized a better consultation would have been arrived at. Many of sundry groups that were formed that afternoon, highlighted the need for some sort of unmissable noticing in the town centre. Perhaps beaming onto the Gasometers (when they are full and of course at night!) or the strange electronic notice boards (like those put up against local residents wishes on Shinfield Road) could display such information - not only the number of car parking spaces available.
Lack of access - along with availability - is the big one really isn’t it? it would be wonderful if all Reading School children could be taught signing at school - that would get you some good publicity! Physical access to all buildings obviously is expensive but the longer it is put off the more it will cost. I think what may have really be meant by ‘access’ by many people was the opportunity of use of various facilities which brings us back to the idea of an Arts Centre.
We came up with a lot of ideas as to facilities we would like as is always the case. A need for suitable gallery space is very apparent to all of the visual artists in Reading and of course this space could be used by orchestras and dancers or many other groups. Jenny Halstead, on behalf of The Reading Guild Of artists, in Wednesday 13 August Reading Post explained that they have been forced to exhibit in henley as no suitable Gallery at plausible rates is available in Reading (The museum can no longer provide exhibition space) It was also highlighted that other than the very poor ‘Hobby Craft” shop there is nowhere that artists can buy proper artists materials and that perhaps this could be catered for in some way. A subsidized cafe or drop in centre would be excellent for artists who often living on meagre earnings would benefit from whilst providing a suitable information interface for the various groups of culturally minded residents of Reading. The dream list might continue with some sort of studio, or workshops arrangement - available for hire with technical support for the amateur production of film for example or indeed any medium. A sound studio would be lovely wouldn’t it? Somewhere that amateur musicians or aspiring young hopefuls could record their talent...But where do we stop? What money is available? For if we are to “achieve all that could be achieved” we need to know the budget.
And this brings us on to the point that many of the councilors present felt that their support of the Arts in Reading went unappreciated. Well this should be rectified by the publishing of what monies have been spent supporting what events/groups/facilities over the last month in the local newspaper - forthcoming events could be published along with what funding they will receive. Members of the public would be able to correlate what value they are getting not only from the council, but also the event itself.
We would also like to see the running costs of the museum explored. What is the footfall? How many people work there? perhaps this space could be better, or differently used? If these things were published in newspapers, on the council website (which also needs a huge revamp) and on the large notice (plasma/digital/whatever screen) board in the centre of town - more people would become aware of the true cost of events and be grateful for what they receive. Whilst on the subject of housekeeping, what is going to happen to the space in and around the hexagon and market place adjacent to the Butts Centre? Rumors abound but nothing is clear, a theme is developing here in Reading - communications are not our strong point!
The Council obviously does want us to become a city - its hosting of the debate “How can we make Reading a truly cultural city?” implies that at least. It has been very brave to ask some of us to debate the issues and we certainly don’t want any Millennium Domes - wonderful though its design was - if there is really nothing to put inside it. I think the debate must be widened to ensure a user footfall and ‘inclusivity’ is after all another sort of ‘accessibility’ which is what so many of the people of Reading want. Lets poll the secondary school children of Reading - during school time and even if they are educated over the Wokingham borders - as to what they want. Shall we ask some of the disaffected youth hanging around and apparently ‘looking for trouble’ - what they are looking for? For many just the idea of somewhere to congregate in town would be good - how about designing a covered (or adaptable at least) market place that when not in use as a market/farmers’ market -could be a skate park? Could this be attached to the Arts Centre - that would ensure some footfall at least!
If a new build is not possible immediately - defeatist talk I know - let’s use as many ‘empty’ shops and buildings as temporary housing of music and art exhibitions. I know people have been attempting to do this for some 20 years now in Reading - I myself entered into negotiation with the Bristol and West Arcade owners some 6 years ago and there were vague murmurs of interest from various council workers then, but it came to nought. Wokingham and Bracknell Councils however have been more successful of late in achieving such schemes in their areas.
I still think the idea of theming or associating Reading with a speciality art has a lot of potential and this would give us an impetuous for what sort of arts facilities should be provided in an Arts centre. An idea I have written about to the council about three times, and never had an acknowledgement of (!) is to have a bi - tri or even four yearly, Photo competition in Reading. With a commercial partner (Thames Water? Reading Buses? Vue Cinema?) and theme the subject matter on the sponsors interest; Open the competition to all tax payers of Reading - retired, those in full time education, junior, unwaged, everyone and put the winning pictures of each category on the back of bus tickets, huge bill boards, in commercial partners shops and offices have a few special themed cinema events - some of the pictures could definitely be put in amongst the adverts there, a few lectures in the town hall, involve both TVU and The University of Reading, publish a lovely glossy book and a calender for the next year - really the possibilities are endless!. Invite big name judges (photographers preferably). In short make it an event that will grab the notice of all media in the UK and europe. Such things are done in similar sized towns all over Europe - why not Reading????I can imagine we will end up having a camera styled Arts centre!

This is the sort of thing that is possible in a town of our size - if we want to be a cultural city we must start making Culturally mature decisions now so that in 5 years time things have moved on. What can the council, our elected representatives, provide us in the way of ideas? After all this is their professional provenance - haven't they got anything up their sleeve?

Anne-Marie Carroll said...

Thoughts on Reading as a “Truly Cultural City” 6 August 2008

Whilst the Councils Open Space Discussion on 29th July would seem to be an open attempt at dialogue with the Tax paying residents of Reading, I have not been surprised to have come across a number of interested parties who knew nothing about it including the publicity department of the council itself! I also find the idea of holding it during the holiday period rather suspicious and is resonant of dubious planning applications being made in similar time periods.
I have been thinking about the discussion however and would like to say that the opening premise in the form of the speakers four questions:
“Who is here?”
“What is going to be achieved?”
“When should it start?”
“When is it over?”
and her answers:
“Who ever is here is meant to be here.”
“Whatever we achieve is all that could be achieved.”
“It starts when we say it starts.”
“Its over when we say its over.”
is astonishingly patronizing, to say the least.
My answers to her opening gambit would be as follows:
The only people who managed to hear about it and were not on holiday are the people who are here.
How can you pre judge what is going to be achieved ? - unless you have already decided ‘nothing’ will be achieved which of course is possible to guarantee.
‘It’ has already started - people are talking about ‘it’ in cafes and and interested groups and homes all over town. Reading is a cultural centre despite lack of facilities and funding and, often, it is felt, support from the council.
who are we, as previously discussed, to say, ” ‘it’ is over?” Whatever ‘it’ is?
Poor communications, lack of access and no central Galleries with facilities for the cultural arts seemed to have the consensus of opinion. Councilors frequently rejoined with the complaint of “no money available” and that they do indeed generously sponsor the arts in Reading.
Poor communication cannot be overestimated - if the Open Space Discussion had been better publicized a better consultation would have been arrived at. Many of sundry groups that were formed that afternoon, highlighted the need for some sort of unmissable noticing in the town centre. Perhaps beaming onto the Gasometers (when they are full and of course at night!) or the strange electronic notice boards (like those put up against local residents wishes on Shinfield Road) could display such information - not only the number of car parking spaces available.
Lack of access - along with availability - is the big one really isn’t it? it would be wonderful if all Reading School children could be taught signing at school - that would get you some good publicity! Physical access to all buildings obviously is expensive but the longer it is put off the more it will cost. I think what may have really be meant by ‘access’ by many people was the opportunity of use of various facilities which brings us back to the idea of an Arts Centre.
We came up with a lot of ideas as to facilities we would like as is always the case. A need for suitable gallery space is very apparent to all of the visual artists in Reading and of course this space could be used by orchestras and dancers or many other groups. Jenny Halstead, on behalf of The Reading Guild Of artists, in Wednesday 13 August Reading Post explained that they have been forced to exhibit in henley as no suitable Gallery at plausible rates is available in Reading (The museum can no longer provide exhibition space) It was also highlighted that other than the very poor ‘Hobby Craft” shop there is nowhere that artists can buy proper artists materials and that perhaps this could be catered for in some way. A subsidized cafe or drop in centre would be excellent for artists who often living on meagre earnings would benefit from whilst providing a suitable information interface for the various groups of culturally minded residents of Reading. The dream list might continue with some sort of studio, or workshops arrangement - available for hire with technical support for the amateur production of film for example or indeed any medium. A sound studio would be lovely wouldn’t it? Somewhere that amateur musicians or aspiring young hopefuls could record their talent...But where do we stop? What money is available? For if we are to “achieve all that could be achieved” we need to know the budget.
And this brings us on to the point that many of the councilors present felt that their support of the Arts in Reading went unappreciated. Well this should be rectified by the publishing of what monies have been spent supporting what events/groups/facilities over the last month in the local newspaper - forthcoming events could be published along with what funding they will receive. Members of the public would be able to correlate what value they are getting not only from the council, but also the event itself.
We would also like to see the running costs of the museum explored. What is the footfall? How many people work there? perhaps this space could be better, or differently used? If these things were published in newspapers, on the council website (which also needs a huge revamp) and on the large notice (plasma/digital/whatever screen) board in the centre of town - more people would become aware of the true cost of events and be grateful for what they receive. Whilst on the subject of housekeeping, what is going to happen to the space in and around the hexagon and market place adjacent to the Butts Centre? Rumors abound but nothing is clear, a theme is developing here in Reading - communications are not our strong point!
The Council obviously does want us to become a city - its hosting of the debate “How can we make Reading a truly cultural city?” implies that at least. It has been very brave to ask some of us to debate the issues and we certainly don’t want any Millennium Domes - wonderful though its design was - if there is really nothing to put inside it. I think the debate must be widened to ensure a user footfall and ‘inclusivity’ is after all another sort of ‘accessibility’ which is what so many of the people of Reading want. Lets poll the secondary school children of Reading - during school time and even if they are educated over the Wokingham borders - as to what they want. Shall we ask some of the disaffected youth hanging around and apparently ‘looking for trouble’ - what they are looking for? For many just the idea of somewhere to congregate in town would be good - how about designing a covered (or adaptable at least) market place that when not in use as a market/farmers’ market -could be a skate park? Could this be attached to the Arts Centre - that would ensure some footfall at least!
If a new build is not possible immediately - defeatist talk I know - let’s use as many ‘empty’ shops and buildings as temporary housing of music and art exhibitions. I know people have been attempting to do this for some 20 years now in Reading - I myself entered into negotiation with the Bristol and West Arcade owners some 6 years ago and there were vague murmurs of interest from various council workers then, but it came to nought. Wokingham and Bracknell Councils however have been more successful of late in achieving such schemes in their areas.
I still think the idea of theming or associating Reading with a speciality art has a lot of potential and this would give us an impetuous for what sort of arts facilities should be provided in an Arts centre. An idea I have written about to the council about three times, and never had an acknowledgement of (!) is to have a bi - tri or even four yearly, Photo competition in Reading. With a commercial partner (Thames Water? Reading Buses? Vue Cinema?) and theme the subject matter on the sponsors interest; Open the competition to all tax payers of Reading - retired, those in full time education, junior, unwaged, everyone and put the winning pictures of each category on the back of bus tickets, huge bill boards, in commercial partners shops and offices have a few special themed cinema events - some of the pictures could definitely be put in amongst the adverts there, a few lectures in the town hall, involve both TVU and The University of Reading, publish a lovely glossy book and a calender for the next year - really the possibilities are endless!. Invite big name judges (photographers preferably). In short make it an event that will grab the notice of all media in the UK and europe. Such things are done in similar sized towns all over Europe - why not Reading????I can imagine we will end up having a camera styled Arts centre!

This is the sort of thing that is possible in a town of our size - if we want to be a cultural city we must start making Culturally mature decisions now so that in 5 years time things have moved on. What can the council, our elected representatives, provide us in the way of ideas? After all this is their professional provenance - haven't they got anything up their sleeve?