United England

The great thing about having your own place to post opinion is that its your space to rehearse ideas. So i am going to try out a few thoughts that i might not fully agree with. I am writing them here to test what i really think about the conversations raging as a result of the Rebalancing the Cultural Capital – IE that a disproportionate amount of money is going into London. I have heard all sorts of arguments so i am going to revisit some of them and see which resonate.

But firstly, much like the ‘the show me yours’ conversation on the relationship  between artists and venues, it is in no-ones interest for us to be chipping bits off each other. It would be great if we found a way to have a conversation about the relationship we all have to each other. Now, more than ever, is a time for generosity, for collaborating, for listening…

I am sure that the authors wrote the report in good faith. Yes, they have got quiet a lot of the data wrong – including investment from DCMS to the National Museum, ignoring the fact that many national companies are based in London but, having read, and re-read it i think the report is well intentioned. I don’t think, as has been suggested, that they have a ‘North East axe to grind’.

I have heard the argument that it is a matter of history. that the centralising of resources around London started 500 years ago. Unlike in Germany, which started with a federate model or a younger model like France. And that it was a conscious, political decision by the ruling class to centralise power and resources in London.  Well its nice to know whose fault it is but its not an argument for the status quo.

What isn’t in doubt is that, because of decisions made over the past 500 years, many of our national institutions are based in London and are probably going to stay there. The National Portrait Gallery, the Science Museum, the Royal Opera aren’t going anywhere. More interesting is how they might use there collections, their resources, their intelligence to serve the whole Country. The Tate has a number of partner galleries across England, other art forms aren’t as distributed.

Whilst it is true that there are national organisations based in London, many could do more to develop regional partners and better distribute their best work further afield. I have spoken to a number of London companies about taking work out of London and have generally been underwhelmed by their level of interest. We are, however, in conversation with a major London theatre producer to tour a piece of their work to village halls. And i will delight in making it happen if we can because I am certain that we will both gain from the experience.

I cant help but mention buildings when it comes to our national theatres. Both the national theatre of Scotland and Wales have building-less models that allow them to make work of all scales across the country. The Scottish company has made work for the highlands and islands and Wales set work on beaches. Oh that we could have institutions with that mandate and status. By the way i am not arguing against the National Theatre in London – it does a great job at what it does (and the Shed has made it more permeable).

It would be a mistake if the main result of the ROCC report was every London institutions is put under pressure to send out work to the regions – some are doing it because they believe in the idea and see the relationship between supporting the development of new work and building an audience. Battersea Arts Centre is putting significant resources and effort into building a network of regional partners to take their best work and Fuel’s In Your Neighbourhood project shares similar ambitions.  

I should say something about the South East because it is were I work  and because the ROCC report speaks about this region differently on the basis that it is a two hour commute to London and can be served by the capital. Well firstly journey time is only one factor. Many parts of the South East feel further away from London than Nottingham or Manchester, time, money, transport links, opportunity are all factors. Secondly work needs to be seen and made everywhere. You can tell the health of a community by the stories it tells itself and i am disquieted by an argument that, potentially, dismisses the particularity of the communities of East Anglia or the Cinque ports of the South coast as having less value than Hull or Halifax.

So what so i think? London probably does and should get a disproportionate amount of investment. It is our capital, it is a world class city and we all benefit from its extraordinary cultural offer. But we could do better to build networks of co-intentional partnerships that allow work, ideas, resources, to flow both ways. We should use London’s profile to show work from all the Country – a festival of Britain? We should collaborate to ensure that the arts are valued by everyone. Building popular support and larger audiences for great art is the most obvious way of ensuring we all flourish – wherever we are.

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