Your Cultural Regeneration Strategy
Dear Hastings Borough Council,
I have read and thought at length about your draft Cultural Regeneration Strategy, it seems you're either out of touch or over-looking some big points, points that are important to those of us locally.
I'll introduce myself quickly, as I don't think you know me. My name is Erin, I'm a 27 (I think) year-old artist. I graduated with a Fine Art degree and then came back to Hastings and St Leonards. I work in care to fund my artistic practice and enjoy getting heavily involved with the art scene in Hastings. I've worked with Radiator Arts and Rock House. I've taken part with St Leonards Festival, basically I'm an active member of the creative community here.
I'll address your points in the draft of your Cultural Regeneration Strategy as you have laid them out:
Encourage community cohesion and social engagement through accessible and diverse cultural activity
I'll ask if any of your board have ever been to a local exhibition, or visited a cultural activity? Did you not go to the opening night of 1067 Mind Invasion at the Observer Building? There was an impressive amount of community cohesion, with many local artists exhibiting their work, international artists were also included. At the private view (where I totally did not drink too much) there was a wide variety of people from all backgrounds, I had one guy who worked in engineering telling me about why they invented the 'foot'. The variety of works on display came from women, men, those accustomed to the local community and those who were not.
Did you ever visit Shakespeare in The Park? The year I set up the scenery it was delivered by Nick Pilton and his band of actors. It was attended by young, old and many of those in what you, Hastings Borough Council, know as 'marginal groups'.
You cite that 'There is a need to work proactively with areas and communities with low cultural engagement', I ask have you ever spoken to the participants of Walking The Fish or The Umbrella Parade? Those areas you identify as having low engagement actually make up much of the crowds for WTF and TUP.
Ensure high quality cultural opportunities within formal and informal education are available to all.
This is one for your marketing department, I'm sure. Within your cultural regeneration strategy I hope you're asking why those that you say are not attending for their reasons why. Again, after providing workshops for Amicus Horizon through Radiator Arts I have engaged those from your 'marginal groups'. I won't say much more, because otherwise my points will over-lap (and no-one needs to read the same thing twice).
Build the creative economy, supporting creative and cultural businesses and practitioners to become more sustainable and attracting new investment
When I was invited by Culture Shift to lecture and provide workshops in schools this was an unpaid opportunity, I'm not sure how this supports creative partitioners, but I know that Culture Shift received monies from HBC to run their scheme, but at no point were artists paid. I have no time or inclination to work for free. I shouldn't have to either. To build a creative economy you need to pay people, not just hope that those of us in the creative industries care enough to do it all for free.
Root 1066. If you didn't think I wouldn't bring this up you were mistaken. The local creative community is so angry about this. SRSLY. I'll quote you from your first point:
There is an opportunity to utilise the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings to reach out to communities with low engagement in cultural activity. One of the four aims of the ROOT 1066 International Festival is to, ‘Embed deep and broad public engagement, addressing areas of poor access and participation’ and several of the commissioned projects have this as their focus.
You're plan to reach out to communities with low engagement is to provide them a host of artists they've never heard about to create works around an event that happened over 900 years ago? Really? REALLY? Do I need to explain to you how this really would not work? It's about as clever as sticking the Jerwood Gallery in an area of Hastings that doesn't need regeneration. Granted, maybe if my proposal to you about my ideas for Root 1066 had said "I'm going to recreate the Battle of Hastings with the drunks that spend their time in bottle alley" I might have got it, but I doubt it.
Develop and promote a refreshed identity for Hastings and 1066 Country which brings the contemporary arts and traditional heritage together in a coherent and marketable brand.
By bringing in outside artists and creative practitioners? Surely that would create an 'artistic holiday' brand? Am I missing the point? Don't get me wrong, I love that big name artists and musicians come to this town, it means I don't have to haul my underpaid and lazy arse to London or Brighton, but surely it makes more sense to raise the profile of those of us locally that are exhibiting and creating and making changes? It seems at times your Cultural Regeneration Strategy is about bringing people in instead of making use of the resources you already have. That doesn't seem like very good business acumen, and considering within the proposal you comment that creatives need to be thinking more like businesses it reads like you're shooting yourself in the foot.
Develop and support a year round cultural offer that links to and compliments regeneration and tourism strategies.
But we have one? It kicks of with Fat Tuesday (Bob Tipler and Adam Daley), through to Jack in The Green, Seafood + Wine, Old Town Week, St Leonards Festival, Coastal Currents, Voodoo Vest, HI Fest, Bonfire.
You mention that the Jerwood Gallery attracts 'xxx visitors per year, many coming to Hastings specifically for the gallery' (kudos for the actual number there). I beg to differ, and yes, The Chapman Retrospective did raise the profile of Hastings, but many were angry about how they did it. The best bit about the Jerwood Gallery is the Stade Open Space. Even that though, has it's downfall. I'm not so angry at you Hastings Borough Council, but the Jerwood Foundation for that one.
You mention that a number of these festivals are run by local volunteers, meaning they miss out on professional resources and links. What about wages? I hate to bring it back to money, but unless these people are being paid can you really expect these events to continue indefinitely? Food does not come free, and neither does having a roof over your head.
Support and enable the preservation, development and use of cultural our assets
Finally you bring a point across that appears to focus on those locally. Except again you make no mention of financial support for these cultural assets. Now I'm not well versed in economics, but I'm guessing that money follows in a circle. As I have mentioned, this town has a large array of creative folk, artists and musicians, it is these creative folk that attend the cultural activities (as well as those from other groups and tourists). Many of these creative folk are self-employed (or working for the man like myself), with the raising price of living it becomes a question of paying for electricity or visiting one of these cultural activities. If those of us that are local cannot afford to attend, numbers of participation drop dramatically, which then leaves the activity taking less money. Do I need to explain the rest?
The draft of your cultural regeneration strategy concerns me, not just for the variety of points I have raised above. Your draft proposal sets out the position that you're looking to recruit more people to Hastings and St Leonards that have a higher disposable income. Why and for who? Rental prices are already disgusting, the cost of living too. We do not need prices in Hastings and St Leonards to rise, pricing out those of us that have helped create this town for what it is. We do not need more DFL (down from London) buying second homes and not spending their well-earned incomes here, we need an injection of money locally, for the locals. You give the opinion that those of us locally are a bit shit at doing anything for ourselves and so others must be bought in to do it for us. That's pretty damned rude to be honest, considering how much the local cohort has achieved.
Basically Hastings Borough Council, your draft cultural regeneration strategy sucks and I really hope you can adapt it to focus more on those of us living and working here.