Culture is core to regeneration
The power of culture and art to shape how a community functions is immense. In many parts of the country, culture has played a major role in regenerating communities, economically, environmentally and socially. Cultural services offer the scope to look afresh at the powerful contribution they can make to building cohesion and addressing the most excluded groups. Few services are more willingly embraced by participants and perhaps it is timely to make them more central to tackling social issues.
Through my Chairmanship of The Lowry, the arts and entertainment venue in Salford Quays, I have seen this first hand. The vision of the City Council to take the bold decision to build The Lowry on what was a desolate site, must be applauded. Their reward is that there are now more people working within The Quays than did so at the height of its industrial power as a major inland dock. Indeed, the workforce is set to increase by a further 15,000 through the development of a world class media city on the site which is part of an initiative that will see the BBC move a significant part of its programme production to The Quays in 2011.
Along with the performing and visual arts which have local, regional, national and international reach, The Lowry has also placed a strong emphasis on learning, inclusion and diversity. Through its Community and Education programme, The Lowry now engages with over 30,000 people every year including successfully involving people in the arts not just as spectators but as performers, artists and thinkers.
Similarly successes can be illustrated by other venues in different parts of the country such as the South Bank in London, The Sage in Gateshead and The Baltic in Newcastle. However, to enable culture to deliver the economic and physical regeneration benefits of which it is capable, it must be embedded within and aligned with the strategic framework of the local authority including the relationships with other community and partner organisations.
Perhaps the time has come in a constrained financial position to maximise the investment made in these community assets by making them more central in delivering programmes designed to reach the most disadvantaged. The fact is that cultural organisations are seen as positive structures to engage with by those with some of the most pressing problems, whereas for some the bureaucratic structure of a local authority may be considered as being part of the process that has let them down.
Culture and art is no longer a luxury but is now a necessity.
- Rod Aldridge is chair of The Lowry arts and entertainment venue, Salford.