Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Limitations of Croydon’s Culture Seminar on 8 July

Given the structure of the Culture seminar held on Tuesday 8 July, the new Labour administration has a lot to learn about consultation events. For my news summary of the event see:

The initial presentations left only 35 minutes for round table discussions, a classic problem with the format of so many consultation meetings in the past. The seminar was ended  with no opportunity for broader discussion or to discuss priorities. Therefore there was no chance for any consensus on urgent issues to emerge. This leaves Cllrs Godfrey and Lewis  free to decide what they will take action on and what they will not take action on, with no basis for accountability back to those present. The seminar represents a half-way house in Labour’s goal to be more open and transparent and involve people more in decision making.

It would have been useful to have been able to sound out the whole meeting about some of the big and urgent issues raised from the discussion tables, as to whether the Council should:

  •      reinstate the £50,000 Council funding to the Croydon Music Service. This now appears to have been a 100% cut in Council support, leaving CMS dependent on funding from other sources.

  •      withdrawal of the proposal at the 14 July Cabinet meeting to purchase SEGAS House for an Oasis Academy, given the site’s inappropriateness for a school, and instead to investigate the feasibility of e.g. making it the base for a substantial Croydon Museum.

  •      return the Section 106 money originally transferred to the Council when Warehouse Theatre closed, given that the developer’s new planning application provides for a 200 seat theatre.

  •      give more importance to the allocation of funding for culture from the Community Infrastructure Levy. 

  •      negotiate with Westfield/Hammerson and other developers to invest more in public art.

  •      put resources into looking at how to create a cluster of cultural venues linking Fairfield Halls, the Clocktower, the possibility of SEGAS House as a museum, etc.

  •      reduce the barriers to organising cultural events by simplifying rules and regulations and charges.

Diversity and Racism

One table suggested that because the cultural offer does not reflect the diversity of the Borough’s residents, this was  tantamount to racism or institutional racism. This is an issue I have examined in my discussion paper.  The general emphasis on digital publicity and a one-stop website has the danger of reinforcing institutional racism because of the digital divide: the large number of households that do not have home based internet access.

Where Next?

Cllr Godfrey’s announcement that the Council would be working on a  Borough wide Croydon Festival for 2015 is very much a  top-down initiative and was not open to discussion about the genuine differences of opinion as to whether such a Festival is needed or whether more effort should be put into local Festivals.

The people attending the seminar are now in limbo, having to wait to see how Cllrs Godfrey and Lewis develop a new Council cultural strategy, without any ability to influence the detail until a draft policy is available. There may well be a drip feed of  top-down announcements. 

What is needed is a clear position statement of where things stand now on a whole range of issues such as those raised in my list of questions to bring people up to-date: see:

Placing the Seminar In the Wider Context of Culture Debate

It will be crucial that when the Godfrey’s draft cultural strategy is available that the new pre-Scrutiny process is undertaken on it.

None of the above is a criticisms of Godrey’s decision to hold the seminar. But was not held out of the blue.

There has been much dialogue over the last couple for years, helped by the South Croydon Community Association initiated discussion on the future of Fairfield Halls leading to the formation of the Croydon Arts Network, the scandal of the sale of items from the Riesco Collection, and the activities of the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign.  All of this has been supported by the mushrooming of activities from below, including the development of Matthews Yard and the Spread Eagle as venues, and the Fun Palace and Turf Projects.  It is because of those initiatives that Labour realised it had to change the Council’s approach to culture following the years of vandalism by the previous Tory administration.

The danger is that the approach being taken is still to top- down. This is why it is important that through the Arts Network that cultural activists and organisations develop their own strategy of demands, including  principles and methods of working with the Council.

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