Observer Column 28 October 2022
The Power of Art
I have always believed that the arts can be life-changing, either by taking part or creating yourself, or just being in an audience. We can all find plenty of music, cinema or books to enjoy on radio and tv, but there is nothing like being there in the flesh.
Hastings has a long and proud record of creativity, and as our reputation has grown, more and more artists are attracted to live here. The Hastings Creatives online support group now has well over 2000 members!
However things are changing, with housing costs here rising fast, and our performing and visual arts venues finding it increasingly difficult to earn enough to stay open.
So the Council, also struggling with reduced budgets, has to look for more and more creative ways of supporting this invaluable sector.
It is for example important to build relationships with national organisations that can help us, and this week I have been working at this in a number of ways.
When the Jerwood Foundation chose Hastings to build their art gallery ten years ago, it was a welcome surprise. They were determined to find a great location and then create a great building, and after much controversy they achieved this, mainly due to the dogged vision of their founder, Alan Grieve. The gallery now hosts major exhibitions and events, attracts visitors from far and wide and works with children right across Hastings. So it has been another great surprise for the Foundation to gift this unique building to Hastings. I don't remember any other example of a town being given an arts venue, and so I went to London to thank Alan Grieve and promise him that the Council will take good care of Hastings Contemporary on behalf of our residents. It will continue to be run by the excellent charity there who I am asking to find ways of making the gallery more accessible by increasing their outreach and education work, and by reducing or even abolishing the admission charge for local residents.
The gallery, and several other local arts organisations, such as Project Artworks and Home Live Art, have been helped by annual Arts Council England funding for some years. Other local groups have applied for this funding recently and we expect to hear how Hastings has done very soon. As this national funding has amongst its current priorities investing outside London and reaching communities most in need, I will be disappointed if we don't see an increase for our cultural community.
The Council values our venues greatly, and is determined to keep them open, even in the current financial climate. When St Mary's sadly closes this weekend, I hope it won't be for long. Anyone interested in running this gem of a building, much loved but financially challenging in equal measure, please contact our agents Dyer and Hobbis for an information pack.
Similarly we are looking at ideas for the next phase at the White Rock Theatre, where the current contract with Trafalgar finishes in Spring 2024. Our largest and most well attended venue (1066 seats and room for more at standing gigs) deserves investment as it approaches its centenary.
Many local groups manage to find venues for their innovative projects: I attended a passionate and important debate about the black artists sector last weekend, held at the Greenhalf Gallery in Market Street, where you can see the powerful exhibition Playing the Race Card until November 6th.
And on the same day our exciting Storytelling Festival, produced by the ever imaginative 18 Hours, took to the streets in the Old Town, and at Downs Farm and Hollington. And this week Art in the Park have plenty to keep families busy during half term.
Hastings is lucky to have so many brilliant creative people living here. Please explore their work, and maybe you will get involved yourself as a result!
Council Leader's column