Excellent evening at the Tower

Another excellent evening at the Tower on Friday night listening to Angela Brown and the Mighty 45s. The Tower was completely packed. The band was on fire. Angela Brown was awesome! A brilliant end to the week and start to the weekend.

There was just as much energy in the room (although much less on stage) at the public meeting on Thursday night about the future of the Tower Arts Centre. Alistair Marsden has written at some length about the evening (the public meeting that is, not Angela Brown) on the Save Tower Arts blog.

The continued incompetence and – more worryingly – obstinacy shown by the County Council on this remains breathtaking. As time goes on and the County makes no attempt to budge, more and more people are getting more and more angry at the situation. The original decision was embarrassingly half-baked. The combination of Thursday evening and the consultant’s report has confirmed what we knew all along (and which the County denied):

  • The Discovery Centre is not going to be any kind of replacement for the Tower
  • The current proposal to transfer Tower Arts to Kings School will effectively end the evening programme
  • There was a complete lack of consultation behind the original proposal
  • The County has made no serious effort to find partners – or even work with the City Council – to keep Tower Arts open
  • The County (or at least the Portfolio Holder on the County) has no apparent vision for arts provision in Winchester or in Hampshire – and no idea of the value it brings to the economy and quality of life to the city and the county

Ken Thornber was right to ask for a review – and the extra time should have been a chance to sit down round the table with possible partners and seriously try to find a way forward that preserves and builds on what’s so special about the Tower. But the clock is ticking and there is depressingly little sign that the County is going to move.

The Guildhall was absolutely packed with supporters of the Tower. And they weren’t just from Winchester. People spoke from all over the County. It’s not just Winchester residents who are angry.

Among the many questions that Councillor Snaith – the Executive member for Recreation and Heritage – failed to answer was what proportion of county council spending was represented by the Tower. The answer is 0.02%.

And what proportion would she need to find of the £38 million Culture budget (one of the ones she’s responsible for)? 0.3%!

The failure to save the Tower is not due to financial crisis. It’s due to lack of political will and lack of political vision.

As I walked away from the concert on Friday, I was uplifted by the concert, but depressed that we could be only months away from losing that kind of event from the Tower. The arts has got to form a core part of the future of Winchester – we have an Arts School – a University specialising in the arts. It’s madness to be going backwards. And you don’t have to believe me on this. On Friday, the County Council published a draft cultural strategy (about which more later) which included the following:

Hampshire County Council, through the Recreation and Heritage Department, is investing £34m per annum in culture from the revenue budget. Through its own facilities and its support of independent organisations this provides employment for over 1800 people and generates a total turnover of some £38m. It has been estimated that the total benefit to the economy
that can be linked to spending by the Recreation and Heritage Department could possibly total more than £1.2bn.
Aggregate figures for investment in culture in Hampshire by all local authorities, the voluntary, not-for-profit and private sectors are not available at the moment, but are likely to confirm that culture is a vital part of the economy of the county.

The economic importance of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) sector indicated by these figures is borne out by research conducted for the South East England Cultural Consortium and the South East England Development Agency:

  • Employment in the CCIs grew by 28.4% in the South East in the period 1995–2000; almost double the average for England as a whole
  • About 560,000 people are employed in the CCIs in the South East – 19% of England’s total employment in this sector
  • Employment in this sector accounts for 13.2% of the regional workforce
  • The CCIs in the South East generate a turnover of c£46.5bn

The important thing now is that the County doesn’t believe that just because they’ve held a public meeting that the campaign to save the Tower is going to go away. We need as many people as possible to write in with their views about the consultation to arts.office@hants.gov.uk – making sure they copy Ken Thornber on the email. Please print out and sign the Tower Arts Petition to Winchester City Council and sign the online petition challenging Hampshire County Council’s decision if you haven’t already.

The Tower campaign group is meeting in the next few days to see what else can be done to maintain the pressure. I’ll let you know what they agree as soon as I know.

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One Response to Excellent evening at the Tower

  1. Cath Church says:

    As someone who started going to The Tower Arts Centre Youth Theatre when she was 15 and who now (at the age of 36 ) runs Platform 4 (Arts Council funded for 10 years and based in Winchester) Theatre;
    I was shocked at the inept response from Councillor Snaith to the nearly 500 strong gathering last night at The Guildhall.

    I know quite a bit about the politics that lie behind arts funding decisions – and even I was surprised at how out classed and bewildered Yinnon and the councillor became during the evening.
    If I, as a single woman who has founded her own company can attract from the Arts Council 100,000 per year for some of the years I have been making and creating in Hampshire, then I really don’t see how the whole of HCC cannot raise 100,000 per year (amazing value for money) to keep The Tower within the arts sector.

    At some point HCC has to be pragmatic, instead of following a strategy just for the sake of it. All HCC’s core target audience for The Discovery Centre (different ‘classes’/young/old/from all walks of life and bits of Winchester) were in that hall last night. They are the people who will continue to turn up for the arts events put on at the Discovery Centre – they will be the ones still there when the novelty wears off – and judging by the anger felt in that hall last night – the discovery centre is going to have a very bad start if those people feel alienated by bad politics and leadership.

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