On Tuesday I was lucky enough to meet Helen Goodman MP, the Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport. She was visiting Lincoln as the guest of the Labour parliamentary candidate for city Lucy Rigby. I gave her a tour of Lincoln Drill Hall and we had an interesting conversation about funding, audiences, the future of the arts and Ms Goodman was incredibly passionate about her subject which was reassuring.
We also touched on the perception of Lincoln and Lincolnshire in terms of artistic and cultural output, inward investment, resources and what we offer to our communities. This part of the conversation stemmed from the Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital report from late last year which focused on a perceived imbalance of Arts Council funding between London and the regions.
I and many others have long felt that, it isn’t a case of investment just between the capital and regions, but sub regionally as well with Lincolnshire taking the perceived role of poor relation in the East Midlands when compared with larger urban centres such as Leicester or Nottingham. Indeed, some (very) unscientific calculations of NPO spend in 2010 shows Lincolnshire receiving less than half the next lowest amount of per head spend of that NPO allocation.
Now this is a very simplistic way of looking at things as there are other organisations that are ACE funded who regularly bring their work into the county, programmes such as rural touring which are very active, but funded through organisations outside the county, plus projects delivering activity and funded through strategic funding programmes.
It has though, got me thinking about the perception of Lincolnshire as an artistic and cultural location.
At the end of February I spent 4 consecutive nights engaging with the arts. First night I was in Louth to see Pilot Theatre’s Ghost Town, as well as a performed response to the themes of the play from local secondary school students who’d worked with the theatre company and a Young People’s Arts project in the lead up to the show. Second night I was at The Odeon in Lincoln where I along with 1000 others watched War Horse as part of the NT Live season. Night three at my own venue Lincoln Drill Hall for the wonderfully inventive Ockham’s Razor and their show The Mill. Night four saw me in Swayfield Village Hall with a packed house watching New Perspectives Theatre Company perform their latest rural touring production Him With His Foot In His Mouth.
Lincolnshire is packed with art and culture. 10 visual and performing arts centres across the county offering year round programmes of professional and community performances alongside a joined up participation project aimed at 12-26 year olds, 100+ village hall performances each year in the county’s rural touring programme, Transported, a project working to bring the arts to the least engaged areas of the county, Soundlincs celebrating 15 years of bringing music activity to young people across the county to name but a few. Planning is well under way to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, including plans for a countywide artistic response. This is a county oozing culture.
I didn’t say when I met Ms Goodman, but I was reminded of when I got my first arts jobs in Lincolnshire 10 years ago. My colleagues in a London Housing Office couldn’t quite believe that a county like Lincolnshire had any need for an Arts Development Officer. Little did they realise. There is need for more resource for the county, but not because there’s nothing happening already, but because, with what we’ve got we’re doing a lot, and with additional funds we could deliver so much more.