Tag Archive: local arts centre

Do we want a “local arts centre”?

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?

Local Arts Centre for Oswestry?

Girl With the Yellow Scarf – Bekah Ash, 2011. Iowa City Public Library Art Purchase Prize winner. via ipcl.org

Oswestry Library already does an excellent job of bringing art into the town and making it accessible and highly visible. Every month, there’s a new exhibition by the BVA in the library’s foyer, and an exhibition of local artists’ work in the main room upstairs.

Recently, there’s been much hand-wringing in the local arts world as the government’s cuts to local arts funding really begin to bite. Since 2008, local arts funding has dropped by almost 40%By 2020, under current plans, local arts funding will have dropped by close to 90%meaning that even very basic publically-funded support for local arts events, projects and initiatives will have all but vanished.

I came across this article from last year by the former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris. She argues that local arts and culture provision needs to amalgamate in order to survive – that local museums, libraries and arts centres must band together and share resources and funding. I couldn’t help thinking of Oswestry. Wouldn’t it be great if the library – already so supportive of the local arts – could become a vibrant local arts and culture centre? Jeanette Winterson has argued that local libraries need to reinvent themselves if they are to survive the next ten years – I’d say that Oswestry Library is an example of the direction local libraries should be heading.

In the United States, local and public libraries use all sorts of art-events – from prizes and competitions to workshops, drop-in events, demonstrations and classes – to keep their libraries centres for the local visual arts. What about doing more things like this in Oswestry Library?

Maybe, instead of simply thinking of the library as somewhere to hang our work, all us local artists could start brainstorming about ways to make the library the local arts centre Oswestry could really do with.


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