Artists impression of how a new Local Arts Centre in Oswestry probably won’t look. (Syd Mead)

The Oswestry Advertiser has expressed some interest in running a story in an upcoming edition based on my blog post last week: Local Arts Centre for Oswestry? They think it’s an idea that the Council might be interested in. I suggested to them that if that’s the case, it should be incorporated into the Oswestry 2020 project – and approached with some caution.

There is a problem with the arts in Oswestry. Just about everyone is agreed that the arts are “a good thing”, and that they should be “encouraged” and that they can “contribute” to Oswestry’s social, cultural and economic wellbeing/growth – but no one can agree just what any of that actually means. Does “encouraged” mean funded? Does “contribute” mean pay its way? As the Oswestry 2020 planning gets underway, these phrases are being repeated and not defined.

I think there’s a lot of great art happening in and around Oswestry, but I also think it lacks focus, and a lot of great events and exhibitions are going by without much notice. Initiatives such as “Art In And Around Oswestry” (Jas Davidson/BVA) have tried to address this, as has this blog. Shops around the Bailey Head have also contributed window space for impromptu art/culture noticeboards. A local arts centre of some description may help to provide this kind of focus.

But a local arts centre – whether an actual place or just the hub of a network – can only really work if it responds to the actual day-to-day needs of people involved with art, whether local artists/crafters, art students, people teaching or taking art courses, school groups, or people who just like to look at art.

If discussion about a “local arts centre” is going to go any further – into the Advertiser, to the Council, etc. – perhaps one of the most useful things we can contribute at the moment is answers to the following two questions:

What would you want from a local arts centre?

What would a local arts centre be able to provide that places like the Qube, The Willow Gallery, Oswestry Heritage Gallery, Chicken Gallery, etc. can’t or don’t?

Exhibition space? Working space? A good cafe? An arts library? A shop? Visiting exhibition space? Information boards? Or would an arts centre simply be a waste of time and effort – should we just make the most of the facilities that we have at the moment?

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