Friday, 7 November 2014

Can the Council Contribute to Improving Croydon's Cultural Landscape?

Culture encompasses:

‘…the performing and visual arts, craft, fashion, media, television 
and video, museums, artefacts, archives, design, libraries, 
literature, writing and publishing, the built heritage, architecture, 
landscape, archaeology, tourism, festivals, attractions, 
and informal leisure pursuits.’ 
(Department of Culture, Media and Sport. 2000)

At first sight the report The Cultural Landscape of Croydon by Jane Doyle, Director of Community and Support Services, that will be considered by the Scrutiny and Strategic Oversight Committee on Tuesday 11 November, looks very welcome with its use of the above definition. 

However a careful reading suggests that the way forward by the administration and the officers is a top down bureaucratic strategy which ignores the grass roots activists.

Inadequate Reflection of Grass-roots Activity

A short para. discusses the cultural landscape in Croydon. Note that it does not include the developments of the last three years such as the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival, the area festivals like the one in Purley, the Save the David Lean Campaign, the activities of the local history groups, the Croydon Heritage Festival and Fun Palace. But the most significant omission is that of the grass-roots Croydon Arts Network that developed out of the review of the management of the Fairfield Halls initiated by South Croydon Community Association, and its involvement in initiating the Just Croydon website for organisations and events.


Doyle’s distillation of the key themes that emerged at the Culture seminar on 8 July into five draft overarching objectives seems to be spot-on.

·         To increase participation in, and attendance at, venues, events and cultural activities

·    The provision of services that reflect the multi- cultural nature of Croydon and promote  racial equality and harmony
     To have a value for money, sustainable, borough-wide, community led approach h to the delivery of cultural activities
     To recognise and maximise the contribution that arts and cultural activity makes to the health and well-being, education, cohesion and economic regeneration of Croydon
     To raise awareness of the broad image of arts and cultural activities on offer in Croydon already.

     The discussion of the need to understand the barriers to cultural participation is very welcome: economic, social, geographic, communication, perception, aspirations, and safety and convenience.

     The next stage of wider community consultation is seeking the views of targeted and under-represented groups and includes a survey which can be completed on the web up to 31 December:

     Key questions are:

·         Is the Council doing enough to ensure that culture is important across the Borough?
·         What are people’s three top priorities for culture in Croydon?
·         How do we make sure that culture in Croydon reaches as wide an audience as 
          possible - including those that do not traditionally participate in or attend events?
·         The Council is designating an area of central Croydon as its 'Cultural Quarter'. What
          activities should be happening there to best meet the needs of you, your family and
          your community? 
·         If you never attend a cultural activity in Croydon please tell us why not.

     The consultation work will be undertaken in three strands: youth, protected/marginalised groups, wider community (inc. older people and ethnic minorities). It gives examples of the organisations and activities through which views will be sought. Missing from young people is mention of schools and Croydon College, and in relation to wider community audiences events run by cultural organisations involved in the Croydon Arts Network.
     Minimum Public Subsidy

     The paper recognises the problem well understood by grass roots cultural activists that there is going to be minimum public sector subsidy. The new Labour administration has inherited from the Tories the idea in the Croydon Challenge of ‘bringing together a broad range of cultural services that face similar financial challenges together in a new delivery vehicle’, drawing on financial resources from the redevelopments and investment that are underway in Croydon.

     Criteria for Model
     The following criteria ‘have been identified as being critical for any future model in Croydon’:

·         Identity and independence to grow and innovate
·         Capacity and resources to deliver the Cultural Strategy
·         Enables local participation
·         Minimise council financial risk ongoing
·         Maximises tax efficiency and income generation
·         Reputational benefits and enables partnership working.

     The ‘early thinking’ is to set up a charitable Trust with company limited by guarantee status to be the delivery vehicle. The plan is to report to Cabinet in December on the concept of a Trust and ‘the principles that could underpin such a development.’

     The paper includes appendices on an officer briefing on Arts Council England’s funding in Croydon written in October 2013, Lottery funding. These show how poorly Croydon cultural groups have done.

     Bureaucratic Approach

     The obsession with key outcomes and possible success measures as set out in another appendix, plus the Trust idea seem to be an incredibly bureaucratic way of moving forward. There will be many cultural activists who will see this as potentially stifling, and will reinforce their view that they need their own umbrella group (Croydon Arts Network) and strategy in order to engage in discussions with the Council from a position of strength. 

     Opinion seems to be divided as to the extent to which the new administration is listening on culture.

     The Cultural Quarter, which is not mentioned in Doyle's report, was unveiled at the Cabinet meeting without public discussion or pre-Scrutiny review. The claim at the 6 October Council meeting by the Cabinet member for Culture that the vision of the Cultural Quarter was discussed at the seminar on 8 July is not supported by wording in the report of it  included as an Appendix to Doyle’s report.

     The announcement that there will be a weekend Croydon Arts Festival in the summer was made without consultation, picking up suggestions at the 8 July seminar, but not the reservations many hold because of the way local Festivals and the Heritage Festival have developed. 

     While the definition of ‘culture’ includes museums, artefacts, archives, the built heritage, architecture, landscape and archaeology, the report does not reflect the admission by the planners that over the years the heritage of the built environment has been damaged, and does not address the heritage aspect of culture. 

      The brief for the Cabinet member for Culture does not include an explicit brief on ‘heritage’.
      Questions for the Scrutiny Committee

     The Scrutiny Committee can obviously question Jane Doyle on her report, but political issues can only dealt through questions to Timothy Godfrey. There is no paper by him dealing with them. So what questions could be asked of him?

·         Should his post’s terms of reference specifically include a brief for ‘heritage’?

·         How does he envisage the need to develop a strategy to make good the damage to          the built environment the administration  has inherited which the planners admitted 
          in their Sustainability consultation?
          When will he propose a Cabinet resolution that there will no more sales of items from      the Riesco Collection and that the former idea of a Trust for the Collection be re-            examined.

·         Will he cite which sections of the notes at the 8 July seminar indicate discussion 
          of the Vision for the Cultural Quarter?
          When will he seek to set up a forum with the Friends of the Parks and Open Spaces?

·         How does he plan to involve the history and heritage organisations in the
          development of the heritage aspects of cultural activities?

·         Will he set in motion the return of Local Archives to its original premises in the
           Library so that all the material that was publicly accessible becomes so again, and 
           to turn the ground floor room used by Local Archives into a gallery for the whole of 
           the Council’s art collection?
           Does he support the idea of trying to acquire SEGAS House for a Museum and                     Cultural  Centre?         
           How does he propose to end the conflicts of interest he and other Councillors have
           through their membership of the Fairfield Halls Board of Trustees?
           When will he propose a Cabinet resolution to rescind the Tory decision to take
           control of the Board of Fairfield Halls?

          For aspects of the background see: 

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